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Mr. Khan: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that 14 days is the limit, and that any period of detention without charge that was greater than 14 daysforget 90 dayswould be unacceptable to him and his colleagues?
Mr. Oaten: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to give him a direct answer. We do not believe that there is a case for moving beyond 14 days. When we discuss how we move forward on the matter, we should not have some kind of auction for 90, 60 or 28 days. We wish to persuade the Government that there are alternative approaches that suggest that we do not need to go beyond 14 days.
We have been cautious about the number of days for which a person may be held for decades. The police have the automatic power to hold individuals for 48 hours, with a possible time extension of up to four days for serious cases such as murder. A complex murder case is allowed a time extension from 48 hours to just four days. Of course, provisions passed in 2003 extended the time limit for terrorism cases from seven to 14 days. We have rightly trodden carefully when changing the time limits. The history of the changes shows that we have been cautious, which is why it is remarkable that it is suggested that we could suddenly smash that approach apart under the Bill and move to a 90-day period.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP):
I am struggling with the question of 90 days myself, but several hon. Members' criticism of the Home Secretary has been unnecessarily harsh. I think that he has made a compelling case that more time is needed, especially
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when we consider the collection of video tape evidence. What alternative is the hon. Gentleman offering us to deal with the situation?
Mr. Oaten: I am just coming to that part of my speech. Let me acknowledge that I think that the police have made a case. I shall go through the police's arguments one by one and outline how we could find an alternative measure.
The police's arguments were neatly set out by Andy Hayman, the deputy commissioner, in a letter to the Home Secretary that he made public. In essence, it listed eight compelling reasons why we should move towards a time period of 90 days. Some of the problems could be easily overcome, while several points have merit.
One argument was that suspects needed to be allowed time for religious observance. It is frankly ridiculous to suggest that a person praying five times a day will hold up an inquiry to a great extent. Two of the five prayers take place before sleeping and after waking, when no questioning would take place anyway. This country's questioning system already allows a suspect a 15-minute break every two hours, plus an additional 45-minute break. Surely there is adequate time in the current system to allow for such observance.
The police's second argument related to interpreters. I understand the Home Secretary's point that it might be difficult to track down interpreters for such cases, but surely there are other ways to solve the problem, such as training and finding new interpreters and using interpreters who are already involved in the immigration process. Is the problem with interpreters so real that we should be prepared to break such a strong principle? Surely the answer is no.
A further argument in the police's list of eight was that there could be problems with clarifying a person's identity, but, believe it or not, one does not need a person's correct name before charging them. Indeed, it is an offence for people to withhold their names anyway, so that issue can be overcome.
Mr. Cash: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we are dealing not with ordinary questions of criminal jurisdiction, but terrorist activities that verge on being threats of war and could lead to public emergency, which is why the question of derogation arises? Does he also realise that there is a whole stack of case law on the matter, including the Lawless case in Eire in 1961, when an even longer time period than that contemplated was upheld?
I now turn to the four matters on which I have made it clear that the police have a genuine case. The police are justified in saying that it would be difficult to deal with forensic evidence, encryption, mobile phone records and the international data trail in a 14-day period. However, we think that there are other ways in which those difficulties could be overcome.
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The Bill creates the kind of offences that could be used as a tool to charge individuals within a 14-day period. I was grateful for the Home Secretary's acknowledgment today and during his appearance before the Home Affairs Committee that he wants to consider that matter. I acknowledge that there are two problems with moving towards that position. First, such lower charges could have bail attached. Secondly, it is currently difficult to interview someone after they have been charged. However, both those problems can be overcome. As the shadow Home Secretary said, there must be a way in which we can deal with those difficulties by, for example, changing guidelines under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to see whether or not lower offences should have bail attached. Making such changes, as the right hon. Gentleman said, is a lesser change than those that have been proposed. I believe that the Attorney-General is looking at these issues and, if we can speed up that review, it will be tremendously helpful in finding a way forward. If the Home Secretary suggested that changes were made to allow individuals to be charged with lower offences it could be argued that some individuals would not fall into that category, as they could not be charged with a lower offence. I find that argument questionable. If the police decide to arrest someone, they must have grounds and evidence for doing so. I find it hard to believe that there are circumstances in which such evidence could not be used to charge someone with an offence.
Mr. Llwyd: May I commend to the hon. Gentleman the use of section 47(3) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which, coupled with stringent conditions such as tagging, curfew and reporting requirements, is a way of meeting his concerns?
There will be few occasions on which individuals cannot be charged with a lower offence. If the police had arrested someone but could not employ the evidence that they had used for arrest to charge them with an offence, a change in the Government's policy on intercept communication would be key. I accept that there is a narrow category where information from intercepts could not be used to create lower-order offences, which is why the Government should move to allow intercepts to be admissible. That would allow us to deal with the problem.
The hon. Gentleman is floundering, so perhaps I may be of assistance. The police can arrest someone if they have reasonable grounds to believe that they have committed an offence. That does not have to be based on admissible evidence. If someone was held for two months at Paddington Green police station and, in his 15th interview, named a particular individual, the police could arrest that individual because they had
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reasonable grounds to suspect that he had committed an offence. However, that would not be evidence admissible in court. I hope that that makes it clear.
Mr. Oaten: I think that I am grateful for that intervention, but I am not sure that it makes the position clear. I have argued that alternative offences could be used and that, with the use of intercepts, other individuals could fall into that category
Mr. Hogg: Should not the hon. Gentleman stress the fact that the essential vice is allowing the police to question people who have been in custody for weeks if not two months or more? Such confessions are inherently unsound.
Mr. Oaten: The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a valid point, but I am arguing that someone could be charged with a lower offence or one of the new offences that we are creating. If such a charge is brought within 14 days, I support the police having the opportunity to continue questioning that individual. I do not completely agree with him, because doing so would be intellectually wrong. We are arguing that, having brought that initial charge, the police can continue to charge and work to achieve a higher offence at a later date.
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