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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates

Draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Revised Code of Practice for the Identification of Persons by Police Officers) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Roger Gale
Brown, Lyn (West Ham) (Lab)
Butler, Ms Dawn (Brent, South) (Lab)
Curry, Mr. David (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)
Davies, Philip (Shipley) (Con)
Devine, Mr. Jim (Livingston) (Lab)
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester) (Lab)
Holloway, Mr. Adam (Gravesham) (Con)
Khabra, Mr. Piara S. (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
McCrea, Dr. William (South Antrim) (DUP)
Milburn, Mr. Alan (Darlington) (Lab)
Öpik, Lembit (Montgomeryshire) (LD)
Robertson, John (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab)
Robertson, Mr. Laurence (Tewkesbury) (Con)
Rosindell, Andrew (Romford) (Con)
Thornberry, Emily (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Woodward, Mr. Shaun (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport)
Tom Healey, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Monday 8 May 2006

[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Revised Code of Practice for the Identification of Persons by Police Officers) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Shaun Woodward): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Gale, and with your permission I should like to open the debate in my former capacity as Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Terrorism Act 2000 (Revised Code of Practice for the Identification of Persons by Police Officers) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.
The draft order was laid before the House on 15 March. The order is due to be made according to the affirmative resolution procedure by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland following debate in both Houses. It brings into force the revised code of practice made under section 99 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which is part of the counter-terrorism provision specific to Northern Ireland.
The revised code of practice makes video identification the primary method of identifying a suspect, although other methods of identification will remain available. The revised code replaces the previous code, under which traditional, live identity parades were the primary choice of identification method. Similar changes are being made to the code of practice governing the identification of non-terrorist suspects made under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
The video identification technology to be used in Northern Ireland is known as VIPER, which stands for video identification parade electronic recording. Video identification involves the capture of a suspect’s image on film, which is edited into a 15-second head-and-shoulder moving shot and compiled with eight or more images of similar-looking people into a video identification parade. The video ID parade is burned on to a DVD, which can be viewed by the victim or witness in the presence of the suspect’s solicitor. If that solicitor cannot attend, the viewing process will be videoed.
It may help hon. Members if I briefly explain the improvements that video identification methods will offer over traditional, live identity parades. Those advantages have already been realised by other police forces in the UK. Mr. Gale, you will agree that the cumbersome and unwieldy procedures necessary to arrange a live identity parade are unfit for modern policing methods. Video identification commands significantly more flexibility. However, in Northern Ireland there is just one identification suite, which is located in Belfast; volunteers, the suspect and the witness have to travel there in person to carry out live identity parades.
Terrorist suspects have to be transported from the serious crime suite in Antrim to Belfast to take part. The nature of their charges means that they have to be escorted personally by police officers; that takes up time that should be spent on other front-line policing duties and presents a risk to the public—little wonder that live identity parades suffer from a disproportionately high cancellation rate. Video identification techniques will allow the suspect’s image to be captured in half a dozen sites across Northern Ireland and the technology to ensure that the suspect’s image can be captured at any time once they are detained will be made available.
The video ID parade DVD will be viewed on a laptop so that identification can take place anywhere the laptop is taken. The technology supporting the video identification process is entirely mobile and anonymous and the identification can take place in a range of locations, such as in a hospital or a witness’s home, according to the witness’s need. Making identification more convenient and less stressful for victims makes that by far the most attractive means of identifying suspects.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): To save time and the need for me to make a speech, will the Minister respond to two simple questions on the order, which the Liberal Democrats support? First, will he assure us that arranging such video methods will involve no resource implications that could cause a net drain from police funds? Secondly, will he assure us that if a suspect is subsequently found innocent, there will be no risk that the captured photographic identification material will be abused?
Mr. Woodward: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support and I shall deal with his concerns during my remarks.
The witnesses and victims carrying out the identification of suspects will also benefit from the introduction of video identification procedures, as they will no longer have the daunting prospect of coming face to face with an alleged offender during a police identity parade. VIPER has been found to bring particular benefits to vulnerable witnesses and victims, who would otherwise have difficulty facing a live parade.
Video identification procedures have even been found to be significantly more reliable than traditional, live identity parades. The mistaken identification of suspects by eye-witnesses is a common source of miscarriages of justice. Analysis of known cases of wrongful imprisonment has repeatedly suggested that mistaken identification by eye-witnesses is a major factor. The improved conditions surrounding the video identification process will contribute to solving the problem.
Video identification also brings a range of further benefits to the criminal justice system. The exact video identification parade used to identify the suspect can be viewed by the court, which even has an opportunity to view the witness in the process of carrying out the identification—by use of video surveillance. That brings more transparency to the investigation and to the case as it progresses through court.
Video identification will bring a range of significant operational benefits to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The complications of assembling volunteers in Belfast to carry out ID parades in person, with the suspect and the witness, tend to lead to high cancellation rates. Following the introduction of VIPER, the proportion of abandoned parades in West Yorkshire fell from 51 per cent. to under 10 per cent. That goes some way to answering the question put by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik).
Video identification also represents a considerable cost saving. The cost of running it is about one third that of carrying out live ID parades. I would simply add one caveat for the hon. Gentleman: its use might increase, which might mean there are more effective video parades than there were live ID parades, for perfectly good reasons. There will be overall manpower savings, but they might not be entirely proportionate in respect of the introduction in the next few years.
As there are more video ID parade sites, officers will spend less time travelling, and there will be fewer travel and subsistence costs for police, victims and witnesses. According to the Home Office, a traditional live parade costs between £800 and £1,200, over a period of 2 months, to set up and run. In contrast, it can take just two hours to set up a video parade, which costs between £150 and £300. That represents significant savings, which again answers the hon. Gentleman’s questions.
We believe that officers employed in the Belfast ID suite will be redeployed to front-line policing duties, and civilian workers may replace officers to staff the video identification process, thus freeing up more officers for other police work. During the first year that the Devon and Cornwall constabulary introduced video identification, it was estimated that nearly 3,000 days of police time previously spent on organising live parades was saved. In that constabulary, that was the equivalent of putting 13 officers back on other duties.
The benefits of video identification parades have been recognised by the former Independent Commissioner for Detained Terrorist Suspects. In his concluding report, covering January to September 2005, Bill Norris commented that the video system was user-friendly and could be operated in a more relaxed environment. He also found that the wider use of video identification procedures in Northern Ireland was to be welcomed and commended.
I hope that hon. Members will agree that there is every reason to implement these video identification techniques sooner rather than later. The revised code of practice will make them the default in Northern Ireland, and I therefore commend it to the Committee.
4.39 pm
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I welcome you to the Committee, Mr. Gale. I thank the Minister for his full explanation of the order and the need for it. He has answered the questions that I was about to ask, so I see no point in prolonging our proceedings. I have no objections to the order.
4.40 pm
Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. I welcome the order and offer my party’s full support. While I must confess that I have not read every line of the code, I am convinced that the measure is a common-sense step that will help all involved in the process and the wider criminal justice system. Although the measure deals only with those offences under the Terrorism Act 2000, I look forward to it being extended to the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.
From several perspectives, the order is a substantial advance on what has gone before and demonstrates how technology can have a positive impact on dealing with such matters. Clearly, it is important that the new system does not open up the potential for abuse of the suspect’s rights or, as is often more common, allegations of abuse. However, I am satisfied that the necessary arrangements are in place so that it does not prove to be a problem either by the presence of the suspect’s solicitor or the videoing of the identity card process.
Indeed, given the transparency of the process, I believe that it will help to eliminate any present worries about how line-ups are arranged. The speed at which the process can be set up is also undoubtedly likely to contribute to more accurate results, and the longer time is left between the incident and the identification, the greater the potential exists for someone’s memory to fade or to be confused. The ability of the suspect and his solicitor to be in a position to help choose from a database of images will also help to ensure that the selection is as fair as possible, with the dangers that exist under the present system eliminated.
The new system is also more transparent than anything that has gone before with the whole process being available for the court to view. It will therefore end the drama of the traditional line-up. However, that drama does not contribute to the more accurate ability to identify the correct offender. Undoubtedly, stress impacts negatively on the ability of a person to recall and the process will help to avoid or at least limit the stress.
It must be the case that such a system will ease the pressure on people carrying out the identification and allow them better to identify or indeed not identify the suspect as the person involved. While cost cannot be an overriding consideration in such matters, clearly there is considerable potential to reduce cost that can more profitably be spent elsewhere. It is also to be welcomed that the need to travel to Belfast to carry out the line-ups as happens at present will be eliminated, thus enabling witnesses to be accommodated at a more convenient venue. It may be said that we have waited longer than necessary for such an improvement, none the less I hope that we all agree that it is better late than never.
Mr. Woodward: I wish to put on the record my thanks for the support of the hon. Members for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), for Montgomeryshire and for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea). The hon. Member for South Antrim rightly recognised the transparency that has been incorporated into the order, the efficiency savings that undoubtedly will be made and the improvements to the criminal justice system not only for victims—of course, we put victims first—but in ensuring a fairer process for the defendant.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Revised Code of Practice for the Identification of Persons by Police Officers) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.
Committee rose at sixteen minutes to Five o’clock.

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