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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) Order 2008



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: David Taylor
Beckett, Margaret (Derby, South) (Lab)
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Brake, Tom (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Dunne, Mr. Philip (Ludlow) (Con)
Flello, Mr. Robert (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye) (Lab)
Fraser, Mr. Christopher (South-West Norfolk) (Con)
Gwynne, Andrew (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian (Leeds, North-East) (Lab)
Huhne, Chris (Eastleigh) (LD)
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard (North Essex) (Con)
Kemp, Mr. Fraser (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab)
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham) (Lab)
McNulty, Mr. Tony (Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Ruffley, Mr. David (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con)
Glenn McKee, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

First Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 21 January 2008

[David Taylor in the Chair]

Draft Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) Order 2008

4.30 pm
The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) Order 2008.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Taylor. The order will introduce amended PACE codes of practice A to E, with effect from 1 February 2008, should it find favour with the Committee. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 requires that before the codes are laid before Parliament, the Government must consult the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities, the Bar Council, the Law Society and the Institute of Legal Executives. That process was completed in September and October last year and the summary of responses was published on the Home Office web page. Additionally, we took advice in advance from the Home Affairs Committee on the method of consultation and the process to be followed before this House.
In addition to the codes themselves, I have laid the register of changes before Parliament to assist hon. Members in identifying the proposed changes. The register shows not only what the changes are, but who proposed each change and why. I hope that members of the Committee have found that information helpful. As they will see, many of the changes are routine—for example, the codes will be updated to reflect amendments in legislation or to correct typographical errors. However, it might assist the Committee if I highlight briefly the substantive changes to the codes.
Changes to the codes are a matter of routine and all interested parties exhort us to bring them in at the earliest opportunity once we have gone through the consultation. This measure is not to be confused with the wider review of the entire PACE process that is ongoing and will continue this year. The highlights—if I can use that phrase—of the substantive changes made by the order are in four main areas: cautioning in Welsh, drug testing, the implementation of the Carter review recommendations and audio recording of interviews. I will dwell briefly on each of those changes.
In code C, in relation to detention treatment and questioning, in response to requests from various groups dealing with the criminal justice system in Wales, we have included a Welsh language version of the cautions in the Parliament-approved versions of the codes. That is in response to concerns expressed by, among others, the Lord Chancellor’s Standing Committee for the Welsh Language, the Welsh Language Board and police forces in Wales that as the current codes provide the wording of cautions only in English, legal representatives in court cases were seeking to challenge where interviews were conducted in Welsh and the caution issued in Welsh, but not English. The language of the changes has been approved by the Welsh Language Board and replicates the published version of the full codes in Welsh issued by the Home Office.
On drug testing, the changes to code C reflect changes in legislation on the testing of persons in police detention for specified class A drugs and include other consequential amendments. Those changes include placing a requirement to attend a follow-up assessment on adults who are subject to an initial assessment of drug misuse, and changes to the drug testing trigger offences arising from the Fraud Act 2006. The follow-up assessment provides a further statutory opportunity that enables drug workers to engage with those who test positive on arrest or charge.
The changes in code C also take forward many of the recommendations from Lord Carter’s independent review of legal aid procurement through the expansion of CDS—criminal defence service—Direct, which is a telephone advice service providing advice to detainees at police stations who are arrested for relatively straightforward offences such as drink-driving, disorderly behaviour or minor assault.
Since October 2005, the Legal Services Commission has been running a CDS Direct pilot providing advice in cases that are suitable for telephone advice and that would otherwise have been referred to a duty solicitor. An evaluation of the pilot shows that CDS Direct answered 97 per cent. of requests for legal advice within half an hour and generated a net saving to the legal aid budget of £4 million per year. Following the successful evaluation, the Legal Services Commission carried out public consultation last year on expanding CDS Direct to the same types of cases, but where a detainee requests his own solicitor. That will see the net saving to the legal aid bill rise by a further £2 million to £6 million per year and ensure that more detainees receive advice at the earliest opportunity. Importantly, the changes to the “Notes for Guidance 6B1 and 6B2” in PACE code C do not extend the range of offences that are considered suitable for telephone advice, but simply extend the service to include cases where the suspect asks for advice from a specific solicitor.
The development of that system follows extensive discussions between the Legal Services Commission and the legal profession and the police. To manage the process effectively, the expansion of CDS Direct to “own solicitor” cases will take place in two phases: first, in Greater Manchester, west Yorkshire and west midlands from 1 February; secondly, across the rest of England and Wales from 21 April. That will allow any problems to be identified and resolved quickly without compromising the quality of service for legal aid clients. It is vital that the quality of legal advice is not compromised, which is why the minimum standard that CDS Direct providers have to achieve continues to be higher than that needed by firms of solicitors.
I assure the Committee that the CDS service will continue to apply only in appropriate cases. For example, a solicitor will still be called to attend the police station when the police are going to carry out an interview or identification parade, or in cases where the suspect is eligible for assistance from an appropriate adult, is unable to communicate over the phone, or alleges serious maltreatment by the police.
The expansion of CDS Direct is vital to support the wider legal aid reform programme, the aim of which is to ensure that the legal aid services are procured in a way that provides value for money for the taxpayer, while maintaining a steady income for lawyers and a quality service for defendants. The Government reforms to legal aid, such as the introduction of fixed fees, which the expansion of CDS Direct will support, will give legal aid lawyers a tangible stake in the official operation of the justice system at the police station and at court and will enable the Government to purchase services more efficiently.
Finally, with regard to the audio recording of interviews, the changes to code E form part of our ongoing work with the police to reduce bureaucracy and increase efficiency and will enable Lancashire constabulary to pilot the recording of interviews directly onto a secure digital network.
At present, forces must record interviews on tapes or other removable media that then need to be sealed and stored securely. That has a considerable impact on police resources because of the management and storage of large amounts of data. The pilot will enable us to work with the police, the National Policing Improvement Agency and other interested parties—not stakeholders—from across the criminal justice system to assess the impact of using secure digital network technology on the efficiency and effectiveness of the police and the delivery of justice.
I trust that the Committee will support those proposed amendments to the PACE codes, which aim to improve the delivery of efficient and effective justice during the investigative process in clear and practical ways that have been consulted on appropriately. I commend the order to the Committee.
4.38 pm
Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Taylor. It is also always interesting to debate with the Minister of State, who shares my desire to reduce the amount of bureaucracy placed on our police. We might differ on the speed at which that process could be undertaken, but our direction of travel is the same.
I thank the Minister for reminding us that there is a PACE review. The consultation document that he issued in March 2007 and the regulations are part of that bigger picture, and we need to keep an eye on PACE to see how we can streamline it. It was an important piece of Conservative party legislation, passed when we were in government in the 1980s, and the new review that is due in March is also important. I remind the Minister to keep me, as the Opposition spokesman on the issue, informed of developments beyond these regulations that relate to PACE.
The order contains a lot of technical changes, such as those on Welsh language cautioning, which I will not dwell on. However, there are issues relation to code C and code E on which I would like to probe the Minister. My understanding of the regulations is that the main thrust of the proposed amendments to code C and of CDS Direct is to save time in the criminal justice system in the pre-charge phases, and reduce the amount of time it takes the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to come to charge, as the explanatory notes make clear.
Since October 2005, the Legal Services Commission has piloted a scheme, CDS Direct, which provides commission-funded telephone advice to people detained in the police station for minor, non-imprisonable offences, such as not appearing in court, bail jumping, breaching bail conditions and drink-driving. At present, if an offender requests advice from a specific firm—normally their own solicitor—such cases are not referred to CDS Direct and the police contact the individual firm directly. The own solicitor is publicly funded only for telephone advice given by that own solicitor.
The amendments to code C would make CDS Direct responsible for handling all cases where telephone advice only is publicly funded. The Minister described the estimated cost savings of that proposed change, which was helpful. However, we have not had any other estimates. I am sure the Minister would have approved and agreed to such estimates before bringing this set of regulations to the House. In relation to the following changes and the effects that they will have, what are the estimated time savings?
First, in the case of an own solicitor who already knows the client in question, it is surely the case that he will be able to dispatch advice to that suspect at the station more efficiently than a duty solicitor through the direct service that will be introduced by these changes. Secondly—a point made by the Law Society—a suspect is more likely to accept unpalatable advice from their own solicitor, which they will be denied if the proposed changes go through. A suspect will be more co-operative if they have the right to go to their own solicitor rather than be forced to accept the CDS Direct advice. For those two reasons, will not an own solicitor be able to dispatch advice quicker that meets the needs of the suspect, than someone on the end of a telephone line?
The third question relating to depriving suspects of the right to have their own solicitor is this: does it not make sense in terms of time saving for the case to be handled from the initial arrest to final disposal in the court by the same solicitor? Forcing the suspect up front to keep the original solicitor until charge, which in this case would be someone on the telephone line, prompts us to ask in how many cases there will be a change of solicitor. We can envision a suspect being forced, initially at the station, to take advice down the telephone line as a result of these provisions. If, however, the case is to go to trial, he or she might than have to change to a solicitor who is not giving telephone advice, and might eventually have to go to their own solicitor. Then there is the changeover dislocation of moving from one solicitor to another. There could be a time cost, not a time saving as a result of the amendments.
The fourth point relates to the position of ethnic minority clients. The proposals in front of us will affect ethnic minority clients, particularly those who do not necessarily have a very good grasp of English. The exception to allow clients or suspects who require an interpreter to request the attendance of a solicitor in cases that would normally only qualify for telephone advice has been removed in the proposed amendments in code C, as I read it. I wonder what advice the Minister has received on that point.
My fifth question relates to private advice—another point raised by the Law Society, which might well apply in a minority of cases affected by the order, and which I think needs ventilating. At present, when a client requests their own solicitor rather than the duty solicitor, the police simply have to contact the named solicitor. Whether the client is paying privately is not a concern for the police. The deal on the terms of the private advice is to be struck between the suspect and his or her own solicitor. However, under the proposed new system, if the order is passed, in the CDS Direct cases, the police will have to ascertain whether the client wishes to pay privately out of his or her own resources before they know whether they should phone the client’s own solicitor.
The effect of the proposed changes is, in short, to remove the client’s opportunity not to take advantage of publicly funded solicitors’ advice and instead negotiate a fee with their solicitor when they wish to pay privately, or even to speak to the solicitor to ascertain what the private fee is likely to be and, indeed, what part of the case may be covered by that private-fee advice. The client is potentially deprived of their right to speak to the solicitor if they only might be paying privately; that is, if the suspect indicates to the police officer that he might want to pay privately.
In some cases a solicitor may wish to provide pro bono advice to a suspect in the police station, or a third party might be paying for the advice for the suspect. But the client will not know at the outset whether to ask to speak to their own solicitor, the pro bono solicitor, or the third party’s choice of solicitor. It seems—this is certainly the view of the Law Society—that the client will simply be asked whether they wish to pay privately or not. If the client states that they cannot afford to pay, they will not even be given the opportunity to speak to their lawyer. The basis on which solicitors provide advice and whether the client chooses to pay is a matter for negotiation between lawyer and client. The proposed changes in the order thus may remove the free choice of lawyer from the detainee.
Everything I have said so far relates to the minor cases that I listed at the beginning: breach of bail conditions, drink-driving, and non-imprisonable offences. However, another category of cases is not subject to the CDS Direct regime. That is, more serious offences than the ones that I have listed. My question relates to the expansion of the defence solicitor call centre. The LSC proposes to route all requests for publicly funded advice through the DSCC, whether the client requests their own solicitor or the duty solicitor.
The Law Society is concerned that the wording of the proposed amendments to code C of PACE is not factually accurate. I am sure that that will concern you, Mr. Taylor, as Chairman of the Committee. Its advice is that what we have in front of us is somewhat misleading. It suggests that in paragraph 6B2 the following wording needs to be looked at again:
“A detainee who asks for legal advice to be paid for by himself should be given an opportunity to consult a specific solicitor or another solicitor from that solicitor’s firm”.
In non-CDS Direct cases—the more serious cases that are funded by legal aid—the right to request a solicitor of choice remains under the Government’s proposals. The only policy change is that such requests must be routed through the DSCC. However, the proposed wording removes any obligation on the police to ask a suspect if they want their own solicitor. If they do ask, or the suspect spontaneously says that he wants a specific solicitor—his own solicitor—they will be told that the solicitor will only be contacted directly if he is willing to pay.
We can see the issue that might arise in a suspect’s mind, as that requirement will inevitably give the impression that they can only use their own solicitor on a paying basis, and otherwise must use the duty solicitor, effectively restricting all legally aided advice to that provided by the duty solicitor. In other words, it does not allow the suspect’s own solicitor to be contacted, who then might be able to access funding from the Legal Services Commission. By my reading and according to the Law Society, it looks as though the measure pushes the suspect to choose a duty solicitor, because the impression given is that only a duty solicitor will be free, when we all know that in those circumstances a suspect’s own solicitor might equally be chosen, who could be paid for out of public funds, although that would not necessarily be the case. The problem with the wording is that it gives a contrary impression. I wonder whether the Minister will answer that point, which was raised by the Law Society and seems a rather important one.
To conclude my peregrinations about code C, may we have an indication not just of the estimated financial savings, which the Minister helpfully outlined in his remarks, but any estimates of time savings? That is what Members on both sides of the House are most keen to hear about. We want to support changes that save the police and the Crown Prosecution Service time.
Moving on to changes to PACE code E, the changes relating to recordings of interviews are important and topical. The Minister’s proposed changes would amend the code to allow the piloting of secure digital networks to audio-record suspect interviews. We welcome and applaud any initiative that seeks to take advantage of modern technology in a way that will free officer time and allow them more time on patrol. There is also a technological need to move on from the current system of tape recording hardware—the audiotape in the cassette player in the interview room. That type of audiotape technology will become obsolete; it will undoubtedly become less easy to purchase and repairing audiotape cassette recorders will become more difficult, so I understand the reason behind the change. However, I would like to press the Minister on a couple of points.
I know that when we visit stations and look at the procedures and the granular detail of what takes time for an officer on an average shift, the Minister and I both see that it is paperwork—incident-related paperwork and non-incident-related paperwork. A master copy of an interview tape is removed from the tape recorder at the end of the interview with the suspect. That is done in the presence of the detained person and their solicitor, as it should be, given that that is what PACE introduced in the 1980s. The tape is then placed in a sealed bag. That is a particularly effective way to demonstrate that there is an inviolable master copy of the recording of what the suspect said, and none of us disagree with the importance of that.
That system introduced under PACE has virtually eradicated disputes in court about what was said in interview. I am sure that the Minister would agree that we need to be careful that any new system does not give a smart defence lawyer the ability to contest in court the integrity of any digitally recorded audio interview. What I and outside bodies are not clear about is whether the digital audio recording could be tampered with in any way. It would therefore be useful if the Minister described the safeguards. Just to recap, it is quite obvious that when a cassette tape is put in a plastic bag, as is the case now, it is sealed up, bagged up and labelled. What will happen with digital recordings?
Outside bodies, particularly the Law Society, have said that it is imperative that any digitally recorded interview be on a DVD or CD copy that is physically sealed, in the room and in the presence of the suspect. Will the Minister confirm whether that is the case? In addition, will suspects have the right to receive a copy of their recorded interview, as they currently do? I am sure that must be the case, but perhaps the Minister could confirm it.
My second question is very topical: what steps will the Minister take to ensure that the digital recording is stored and distributed safely? Regrettably, there have been too many high-profile cases in the past few weeks when confidential and sensitive data have been lost. What could be more sensitive than the digital recordings of interviews of suspects in police stations? By definition, those recordings will often include extremely sensitive and personal information. How will those recordings be properly secured and transported with the utmost care? The Minister is careful and assiduous, but there was nothing from his opening remarks that gives me comfort that the data will be stored in an extremely secure fashion.
I will shortly draw my remarks and questions to a close, but first, in relation to code E, will the Minister say how much funding has been set aside at Lancashire constabulary to trial the new set of procedures? In addition, what are the estimated cost savings and what are the estimated time savings for the average officer who moves from audiotape bagging up to a new system of storing digital recordings on DVD, CD or whatever it may be? Will detailed evaluations be made available to the House? I am sure they will be, but what is the time scale for the pilot, for evaluating the pilot, and for publishing the results for the House?
All of us have an urgent and pressing interest in reducing the amount of bureaucracy that impedes our police force from getting on with the job of preventing, deterring and detecting crime—politicians of good will would all say amen to that. On the face of it, the regulations seem to make sensible amendments to the PACE codes to try to speed things up. I hope my questions have shown that it is not absolutely clear what the time savings will be, particularly in relation to the changes that will result in the removal of the rights of a suspect to go to a familiar own solicitor, who might know the client and who might have a language skill that someone on the end of a phone at CDS Direct might not. There could be extra time costs rather than savings as a result of the specific changes in code C.
In relation to code E, the Minister will want to reassure the House about the storage of any new digital recording regime. On that positive note, we are all in this together in respect of saving police time.
5 pm
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Taylor. I will not go over the ground that was covered by the Official Opposition spokesman, who did a very good job of concisely putting to the Minister the concerns expressed in the Law Society briefing, which all members of the Committee will have received. They are very valid points, which I shall not repeat, and I shall listen carefully to what the Minister says in response.
The Minister said that the changes to CDS Direct were agreed with the legal profession although I did not write down exactly what he said. Can he please clarify precisely the Law Society’s views on those changes, as the briefing it provided suggests that it does not agree with the changes—far from it.
The Minister also stated that CDS Direct will be rolled out in two phases. Will it be possible to halt the roll-out after the first phase if the outputs, which the Minister will be measuring, do not meet the targets he set? The value-for-money issue is very significant and it has already been raised by the Conservative spokesman. What assessment of the potential increase in cost will there be if, instead of speaking to their own solicitor, people are passed on to someone who has no knowledge of their case? There seems to be a significant potential for an increase in costs and time delays. Presumably, the Minister has assessed it and can reassure us that what, on the face of it, looks like a cost increase, will not in fact be a cost increase.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds did not pick up from the Law Society’s briefing its anxieties about Bostalls, a police station agency that obtained a CDS Direct contract. The Law Society expressed concern that as far as it could tell that that company was not regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority or anyone else. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that that information is not correct and that Bostalls is regulated, as one would expect it to be.
I will not add any further comments. The hon. Gentleman and I have put a number of points to the Minister and I hope that his response will clarify the Government’s intentions, so that we can decide whether or not to vote against the order.
5.3 pm
Mr. McNulty: While they are fresh in people’s memories I will respond to the points made by the Liberal Democrat spokesman. He is entirely correct to say that we will roll out the proposal on CDS Direct in two phases: Greater Manchester, west Yorkshire and west midlands in February if this order is secured, and the rest of the country in April. The reason for that is that if some or all the fears suggested by the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds come to fruition, they will be taken into account in the further roll-out if there is time, but if they prove to be insurmountable there is an option not to continue the roll-out nationally until those matters are dealt with.
I take all the points made by both hon. Gentlemen very seriously. I do not intend to inveigle the Committee into voting for something that will cost us more money and take up more of people’s time, both police and solicitors. The proposal has been running relatively successfully in pilot form since October and many of the issues have not been as marked as the hon. Gentlemen suggest. However, we will see—that is precisely the reason for the phased nature of the roll-out. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington will know that the area profiles of Greater Manchester, west Yorkshire and west Midlands would capture some or all of the dimensions that would be present in the national domain. It is appropriate to have such a chunk of the country dealt with in that fashion.
I was going to tell the hon. Gentleman off for raising individual companies: just because a briefing paper did so, that does not make it the purview of the Committee, although if it were not, you would have told me so, Mr. Taylor. However, I should say in passing that on my understanding, the Solicitors Regulation Authority has agreed that Bostalls can operate CDS Direct, so it does conform with the regulatory framework. If the situation is any different I shall get back to the hon. Gentleman. I think that it was a fair point.
I am trying to catch both sets of issues raised by the Opposition spokesmen. I note that the pilot suggests that CDS Direct is substantially quicker than private practice—97 per cent. of calls were dealt with within 30 minutes. We and ACPO believe that there will be considerable savings. Have we counted that out by the minute? No, but it is a fair point, and one that we must take into account. I agree with the starting premise in everything that we do in terms of the PACE codes. Without giving away secrets, much of the thrust of the overall review of PACE is that, as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds implied, it is working rather well. Even though the Act came in in 1984 and has subsequently been changed, as a broad framework it works effectively from both a prosecutorial and a defence side.
Mr. Ruffley: A Conservative Government did that.
Mr. McNulty: Well, bless them, they got one thing right. That was very nice of them—I think that they were smashing the miners at the same time, so they could not do it all right at the time. However, they should not spoil what was started. Matters relating to PACE should broadly be cross-partisan or non-partisan and, notwithstanding the comments made today, are invariably non-party, if I can use that phrase, in the sense of both prosecution authorities and the defence. Some of the strongest defences of the PACE’s broad framework, rather than the specifics that we are dealing with here, have come from people with a very marked record and experience of the defence side of the equation. This is about how to regulate the police, not how to do it for the police, and we think that the proposed changes will be quicker.
CDS Direct will offer three-way telephone translation services—something that the private sector does not offer at all—and that is an advance. However, as I said, if there are particular difficulties, not simply to do with language but more in terms of the vulnerability of individuals so that they cannot communicate by phone, that will also be taken into account. Again that is a fair point.
With regard to the general point about the code changes and the wording in terms of the DSCC, I am assured that suggestions about the drafting of codes were considered by the Ministry of Justice—that aspect is its baby, rather than that of the Home Office—and it is satisfied that the proposed wording and the training materials for the police are accurate and clarify the access to free legal advice including the solicitor route. I do not think that we necessarily agree that the wording is misleading, but these are entirely fair points and I take them on board.
As the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds suggested, in the first instance CBS Direct applies to a very limited range of cases. Any changes in terms of cost are relatively minimal but, as the examples I gave suggest, the savings could be significant. Despite what I said, it is not about the wording of the code changes. We are comfortable that people are very clearly made aware of the fact that there is access to free legal advice, including from their own solicitor, but firms that want to offer advice must tell their clients about their disposition towards pro bono work. I take the h g’s point, but that cannot be the responsibility of the police, especially in the more serious cases. Even when we move to the CDS, it must be for the individual involved in a particularly serious case to adduce whether his firm will represent him pro bono.
On the point about agreeing with the legal profession, as the briefings that both hon. Gentlemen read out so eloquently show, there are still areas of dispute. If I gave the impression that this was all done, dusted and agreed by everyone I did not mean to. I meant simply that the consultation phase, both in terms of whom to consult and the duration of that consultation, was done, and done in proper order. The consultation process is not about seeking consensus and agreement on all these matters. As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington knows, there is a good deal of broad agreement. Some of the areas where there is not agreement will be picked up via the phased roll-out. We will constantly want to feed those elements back in. I can give him that assurance.
Tom Brake: Just in case the Minister was not going to come back to the issue of the CDS Direct phase-in, can he confirm whether there are already precise identified outputs or targets that he will expect the first phase of the roll-out to hit before he authorises the April phase?
Mr. McNulty: I think I can, but they are broadly to do with the Ministry of Justice, rather than the Home Office, so it is not up to me. On whether there is a Government view on what to anticipate from the roll-out and the lessons learnt from Greater Manchester, west Yorkshire and west midlands, both in terms of fine, granular detail on the processes and broad outcomes, I think the answer is yes. If it is not, I will write to the Opposition spokesmen. As I have suggested, these are matters that go across both Departments. Certainly, if the fundamental lessons learnt from the initial roll-out between those three areas point to great difficulties with the further national roll-out in April, there is no compelling reason to go down that route simply because we are locked into the process.
On the point that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds made about the digital pilot in east Lancashire, as the papers imply, the initial costs just for that eastern division will be £12,000 plus a small amount for training. The estimates from Lancashire are that just in that one division they could save around £134,000. The pilot is for six months in the first instance. Again, I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. Like me, he will have gone round police stations and come across “the cupboard with the tapes in”. We must, as the code does, move away from the notion in the original code, which referred to a form of recorded media that can be translated and given over to the individual, which implies tape-to-tape or cassettes.
Given the limited nature of the pilot it will be interesting to see what direction it goes in. We think it will be effective. I certainly expect that. There will no doubt be broader issues of concern around security and access to information once it goes to a wider force base, let alone nationwide. Given that the initial relationship is a definitive one in the sense that only the police and the other side need access to that data through, we suggest, password-controlled access to wherever that is stored on the digital data space, I do not foresee the sort of problems that the hon. Gentleman describes. Given that even in a national system there will never be more than a limited need to access particular summaries of interviews between prosecution and defence, there should be no issues of access and security, if done properly.
Digital technology is well advanced, as is secure access to that technology. The password-controlled access in that area is probably stronger than in some areas, but none the less the pilot lasts six months and we shall see. It is quite rightly restricted to the eastern division, not even the whole of Lancashire, but it is an issue that has been around for some time in a number of forces, if only because of the bulk of the huge library of data and stored interviews that must be maintained.
I think that we will see from the pilot that there is no need for a master tape—those may be famous last words. It states here—these are not my words but I shall read them anyway—that the “system is secure and tamperproof”. As I said before, the digital dimension is secure and the number of people for whom we need to make access possible is limited, but we will see. The system will provide an automated audit trail of the authorised persons who have accessed the file and the technology will meet industry standards on security. The defence and the suspect, and no body else, will have secure remote access. Access will be limited to authorised persons and password-protected.
The secure digital network has been welcomed by defence solicitor firms in the north-west, which will be taking part in the pilot. They are confident not only that the system is secure, but that a full audit trail is available. They consider that a copy at the time of interview does not serve a useful purpose with a secure digital network in place, but we shall see. That is precisely why we have not gone for a full national roll-out, lest we make mistakes and have to repent at leisure. It is appropriate to do this in the way outlined in the reported changes. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds and I will look at it with a good deal of interest.
As I said at the start, I have here my latest update for the hon. Gentleman on the wider PACE review. I was going to give it to him today but we do not have a copy available. I am happy to meet him and the hon. Member for Eastleigh to talk in detail about the wider PACE review. The order deals with matters that follow from ongoing processes and, as hon. Members will see, there are some minor changes to the legal process that have unfolded in recent months on the back of the appropriate consultation. I repeat with vigour my commending of the order to the Committee.
5.19 pm
Mr. Ruffley: May I put on record two points that the Minister has attempted to answer, but which I am not totally satisfied about? The first relates to the cost savings that he indicated in his initial remarks, which I have no reason to doubt. However, I am rather puzzled about how his officials can come up with a financial saving without having an estimate of the time saving. The only way that one can derive any kind of cost saving is by the amount of time saved by lawyers, whoever they might be. I am a bit puzzled.
To stress my point, there are four ways in which the proposed amendments to the PACE codes could increase the time spent by the criminal justice system because of the changes to a person’s right to use their own solicitor rather than a duty solicitor. First, people might accept unpalatable advice more quickly from their own solicitor than from a duty solicitor. Secondly, the suspect’s own solicitor might know more about the suspect and therefore be able to process the advice given more quickly. Thirdly, if the case goes to trial, the initial advice from a duty solicitor down the phone would have to be handed to another solicitor who must be seen face to face. That would cause a disruptive cost in terms of time. The fourth example of how these well meaning proposals could end in more time being used—although we hope they do not—is where English is not the suspect’s first language. The Minister indicated that the arrangements might meet that case because there might be linguistic and interpreter help on the phone. However, I am not sure that the first three points have been answered.
The Minister’s comeback to those problems is that this is why we are having a pilot. I understand that, but I refuse to accept that one can derive a financial cost saving without having estimated a time cost saving. The reason that I bash on about this is one with which the Minister will sympathise: we are both trying to reduce the amount of time that the criminal justice system uses up in processing cases.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the draft Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) Order 2008.
Committee rose at twenty-three minutes past Five o’clock.
 
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