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Mr. Byrne: The purpose of the new clause is to give registrars general in England, Wales and Northern Ireland the statutory authority to share death registration information with the police, special police forces, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and other organisations specified by order, for use in the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of offences.
The primary purpose of the supply of such information is to allow the police and other organisations to identify attempts to perpetrate fraud by using the personal details of those who have recently died. The new clause will help us not only to combat such fraud but to mitigate the impact on recently bereaved relatives, who have to deal with the consequences of the identity of their loved ones being stolen.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend on his appointment as deputy Home Secretary. How will the new clause affect the review of the coroner service? It aims to improve the way in which death certification and the service operate.
Death registration information is in the public domain as soon as a death is registered. Any person can obtain a copy of an entry in a death register in the form of a certificate, provided he or she can identify the entry and pay the statutory fee for the certificate. However, under current statutory provisions, it is available neither quickly enough to those organisations with an interest in preventing and detecting fraud involving the identity of a deceased person nor in a format that would assist them for those purposes.
Identity crime is increasing. The UKs fraud prevention service estimates that there were 70,000 instances of fraud involving the identity of a deceased person in 2004, at a cost to our economy of £300 million. At the
current rate of growth, that figure is forecast to reach 100,000 instances a year by 2007.
The new clause and consequential amendments will allow us to stem the predicted increase by allowing registrars general in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to supply death registration information to specific organisations as soon as it becomes available to them. They will also be able to supply it in a format that can be used effectively by the police and others to help detect any attempt to use the identity of a deceased person.
All the evidence supports the proposition that the most effective use of that information is in the period immediately following a death. Administrative arrangements will be in place to monitor the supply and use of the information. There will also be sanctions for its misusefor example, the suspension of the supply of information.
Keith Vaz: I thank my hon. Friend for his generosity in giving way a second time and I am grateful for his statement that he will write to me. Legislation on the new coroner service will be introduced this year. Is he satisfied that full consultation has taken place with the Department for Constitutional Affairs on the issues that we are considering? They have a direct impact on the work of the coroner service.
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that. I am advised that the proposals to release death registration information will follow completion of the death registration process and should not, therefore, affect other proposals for the processes and procedures prior to the registration.
Administrative arrangements will be put in place to monitor the supply and use of information. The ultimate sanction available to registrars general, should the information be misused, is the ability to withdraw the supply of information.
In section 37 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c.60) (duties of custody officer before charge), in paragraph (a) of subsection (7) (officer's duties when he determines that there is sufficient evidence to charge), for shall be released without charge and on bail for the purpose there is substituted shall be
(2) If a relevant prosecutor determines that a person arrested under this section has failed, without reasonable excuse, to comply with any of the conditions attached to the conditional caution, the person arrested may be'.
(6A) A person who is released following an arrest under this section shall not be re-arrested without warrant for the same suspected failure to comply with a condition attached to a conditional caution.'.
(6B) A person arrested under this section may be released on bail (without any variation of the conditions attached to the caution) if further investigations are necessary for the purposes of determining whether he has failed, without reasonable excuse, to comply with any of the conditions attached to the conditional caution.'.
(3C) Subject to subsection (3A), where a trained constable releases a person on bail under subsection (1) the trained constable may impose, as conditions of the bail, such requirements as appear to the trained constable to be necessary
(4A) In this section a trained constable means a constable who has appropriate training and expertise to enable him to make a reasonable and informed assessment of the need for and proportionality of the conditions of bail.'.
Mr. Byrne: The purpose of new clause 6 is to render crystal clear the provisions in the Police and Criminal
Evidence Act 1984PACEpertaining to detention and bail. When a custody officer refers a case to the relevant Crown Prosecution Service lawyer, the options available to prosecutors under section 37 of the Act require the person to be either released on bail pending charge, released without charge and on bail but not for that purpose, released without charge and without bail, or charged.
A sensible reading of PACE would allow detention for a relatively short and reasonable time for a quick decision from the CPS, but PACE does not contain an explicit provision for a person to be detained while a charging decision is made. In order to avoid any confusion on the issue, new clause 6 and consequential amendment No. 81 make specific provision to allow a custody officer to detain in order to await the decision of the prosecutor.
Guidance will make it clear that such a power should be exercised only when a decision is expected from the prosecutor within a maximum of no more than three hours; that the custody officer must ensure that this period is not used simply as a means to keep a person in police detention; and that the custody officer must first consider the suitability and appropriateness of the person to be granted bail from police custody. The decision remains a matter for the custody officer.
Amendment No. 43 makes a minor technical change to clause 35. As the clause is drafted, only offenders sentenced to custody following conviction for offences under the Bail Act 1976 in the magistrates court could be awarded extra days for disciplinary offences. This provision will maintain the status quo for this group of offenders.
I shall now turn to the amendments in this group that were tabled by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), whom I am delighted to see in her place. I shall start with amendments Nos. 32 to 37. One of the key measures in the Bill is the extension of conditional cautions. They have been trialled in a number of areas, and they have been very successful in dealing with low-level offenders who admit their offence. However, under the existing scheme, conditions may be applied only in cases either where there is a clear injured party who has suffered measurable loss or where the offending behaviour is attributable to a personal problem, such as alcohol dependency. We want to extend this scheme.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): The Minister just said that cautions had been very successful in dealing with persistent offenders. What is the reconviction rate of people who have been cautioned?
Mr. Byrne: The hon. Gentleman slightly misheard what I said. I said that conditional cautions had been trialled in a number of areas, and that the results from those pilot areas had shown the trials to be successful. We want to extend the scheme to include a broader range of offenders, including those who admit drunk and disorderly offences, which damage the community, and those who have already received a fixed penalty notice for similar offences and whose offending therefore requires a tougher sanction. Furthermore, we want to
include instances where direct reparation is not possible, perhaps because the damage has already been repaired. By including punishment as an explicit additional aim of the scheme, clause 12 will enable indirect reparation to be required as a condition. It therefore opens the way to community justice, which certain Liberal Democrat Members have in the past professed to welcome.
Clause 12 is a sensible and considered addition to the conditional cautions scheme. It was widely debated in Committee, and it provides the opportunity to deal fairly with offenders who are willing to admit their guilt and are ready to make amends for their behaviour. However, amendment No. 32 would do away with the clause, so we would welcome its withdrawal.
Amendments Nos. 33 and 35 seek to remove the option of imposing a financial penalty as a condition of a caution. In the view of practitioners, financial penalties are a useful option, because they ensure that reparation is made to the community, especially in cases where the community itself is the victim. Amendment No. 34 sits quite oddly with amendments Nos. 33 and 35, as it provides that in every case where a conditional caution is given a financial penalty must be included as one of the conditions. Although we believe that there are good reasons to extend the scheme to include financial penalties, we do not think that such a penalty should be compulsory in every case.
Amendments Nos. 36 and 37 seek to remove the Secretary of States order-making powers to amend the maximum levels of attendance and financial penalties under the conditional cautioning scheme. Without these powers, it would be necessary to introduce primary legislation if, in the light of the experience of operating the extended conditional caution scheme or with the passage of time, it proved necessary to amend the maximum levels specified in the Bill.
The purpose of the order-making powers is to ensure that the conditional cautioning scheme will in practice be sufficiently flexible and that it can be updated quickly. For example, attendance at a specified place may require slightly over 20 hours. On financial limits, we propose to provide a fractional link to summary conviction penalties. The power to change the alternative minimum is needed to help us to keep the legislation up to date with any changes in summary conviction levels passed by the House.
I understand the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green about the appropriate protection of offenders, but I hope that I can give her some comfort. The code of conditional cautioning will provide that the conditions must represent an appropriate and proportionate response to the offence. Furthermore, one of the strongest safeguards will be that a conditional caution can always be refused by an offender. For these reasons, I urge her to withdraw her amendments to clause 12.
The hon. Lady has also tabled a number of amendments to clause 13. Amendment No. 38 seeks to impose a time limit of 12 hours on the period during which an offender can be held in police detention following a suspected breach of a conditional caution. Clause 13 does not specify a maximum length for the detention period. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Hazel Blears) made clear in
Committee, the powers of arrest and detention provided for in clause 13 are intended to provide a speedier alternative to a summons for suspected breach of one or more conditions attached to a conditional caution. This power is important because, in some cases, police officers might need to make inquiriesfor example, to verify information given by those arrested about possible excuses for the suspected breach. We do not want offenders spending a disproportionate length of time in custody, and we believe that 12 hours would be excessive in the overwhelming majority of cases.
In Committee, the arguments against imposing an arbitrary time limit on detention were rehearsed at some length, and I hope that I can give the hon. Lady some reassurance that there is a powerful safeguard in new section 24A(7) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, as inserted by this clause, which provides that the suspect must either be charged with the original offence, or released without charge with or without bail as soon as practicable. Police officers would be acting unlawfully if they acted in an unreasonably slow fashion in the discharge of this requirement. I do not doubt for a moment that the courts would be competent to enforce the requirement if called upon to do so by an aggrieved detainee.
In practice, the Crown Prosecution Service and police say that the length of detention would be limited, and would, for example, merely involve a phone call to check evidence. Clearly, when the CPS is not available, custody officers routinely bail people. PACE provides a safeguard, under which an offender cannot be detained without charge for more than 24 hours, subject to specified extensions. In addition, a review of offenders held in detention is carried out by an inspector after six hours and then at regular nine-hour intervals until the 24-hour deadline has been reached. As I have said, it is highly unlikely that inquiries will require the offender to be held for anything like that length of time.
The hon. Lady also tabled amendments Nos. 39 to 41. The intention behind them is to introduce safeguards to protect the offender from misuse of powers. Amendment No. 39 would place a bar on re-arrest for the same suspected breach of a conditional caution. However, that could be problematic if, for example, on an earlier occasion, the offender gave a false explanation that was accepted in good faith by a custody officer who then released the offender. The purpose of the new power of arrestto ensure quick and effective enforcementwould be severely undermined if a further arrest in the light of fresh evidence required an application to the court for a warrant. For that reason, I oppose the amendment.
Amendment No. 40 seeks to ensure that any decision to charge, release on bail or release with no further action should be taken by the CPS prosecutor rather than the police. I should make it absolutely clear that once an offender has been arrested by a police officer, a prosecutor would determine whether the offender had failed to comply with the conditions attached to the caution. It would be the decision of the prosecutor to charge the offender for the original offence. That is beyond question, and is made clear in the existing provisions in the Criminal Justice Act and in the conditional caution code of practice. The amendment is therefore not required to secure that aim.
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