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House of Commons
Session 2008 - 09
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General Committee Debates
Coroners and Justice Bill



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Frank Cook, Mr. Roger Gale
Bellingham, Mr. Henry (North-West Norfolk) (Con)
Boswell, Mr. Tim (Daventry) (Con)
Brown, Mr. Russell (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab)
Eagle, Maria (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice)
Garnier, Mr. Edward (Harborough) (Con)
Gray, Mr. James (North Wiltshire) (Con)
Hesford, Stephen (Wirral, West) (Lab)
Howarth, David (Cambridge) (LD)
Howarth, Mr. George (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab)
Iddon, Dr. Brian (Bolton, South-East) (Lab)
Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham) (Lab)
Michael, Alun (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine (Bridgend) (Lab)
Prentice, Bridget (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice)
Robertson, Angus (Moray) (SNP)
Willott, Jenny (Cardiff, Central) (LD)
Wright, Jeremy (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con)
Alan Sandall, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 5 March 2009

(Morning)

[Frank Cook in the Chair]

Coroners and Justice Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House
CJ 26 Caroline Beasley-Murray
CJ 27 Information Commissioner
CJ 27a Information Commissioner (additional)
9 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): I beg to move,
That the Order of the Committee of 3 February be amended as follows:
(1) in paragraph (1) of the Order of the Committee of 3 February, there shall be inserted at the end—
‘(h) at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm on Tuesday 10 March;’;
(2) in paragraph (4) of that Order, for ‘4.00 pm on Thursday 5 March’ there shall be substituted ‘10.00 pm on Tuesday 10 March’.
Following discussions through the usual channels with my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham and the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth, the House has agreed to extend the Committee stage of the Bill by a day on Tuesday 10 March. The motion makes the necessary consequential change to the programme order adopted by the Committee at its first sitting. Next Tuesday, we shall sit until 10 pm, and I am convinced that that additional time will be enough to complete the scrutiny of the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.

Clause 61

Investigation anonymity orders
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I beg to move amendment 78, in clause 61, page 35, line 14, leave out ‘justice of the peace’ and insert ‘Crown Court judge’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 80, in clause 62, page 36, line 31, leave out ‘justice of the peace’ and insert ‘Crown Court judge’.
Amendment 81, in clause 62, page 37, line 9, leave out ‘justice’ and insert ‘judge’.
Amendment 130, in clause 62, page 37, line 11, leave out ‘justice of the peace’ and insert ‘Crown Court judge’.
Amendment 131, in clause 62, page 37, line 12, leave out ‘justice of the peace’ and insert ‘Crown Court judge’.
Amendment 132, in clause 62, page 37, line 14, leave out ‘justice’ and insert ‘judge’.
Amendment 133, in clause 62, page 37, line 16, leave out ‘justice of the peace’ and insert ‘Crown Court judge’.
Amendment 134, in clause 62, page 37, line 17, leave out from ‘to’ to end of line 18 and insert
‘such person as the Secretary of State may by order prescribe in respect of the relevant county court’.
Amendment 135, in clause 63, page 37, line 26, leave out ‘justice of the peace’ and insert ‘Crown Court judge’.
Amendment 136, in clause 63, page 38, line 10, leave out ‘justice’ and insert ‘judge’.
Amendment 137, in clause 64, page 38, line 19, leave out ‘justice of the peace’ and insert ‘Crown Court judge’.
Amendment 84, in clause 64, page 38, line 20, leave out ‘Crown’ and insert ‘High’.
Amendment 138, in clause 64, page 38, line 25, leave out ‘justice’ and insert ‘Crown Court judge’.
Amendment 139, in clause 64, page 38, line 27, leave out ‘justice of the peace’ and insert ‘Crown Court judge’.
Amendment 140, in clause 65, page 38, line 34, leave out ‘justice of the peace’ and insert ‘Crown Court judge’.
Amendment 141, in clause 65, page 38, line 35, leave out ‘justice’ and insert ‘judge’.
Amendment 142, in clause 65, page 38, line 36, leave out ‘justice’ and insert ‘judge’.
Amendment 85, in clause 65, page 39, line 5, leave out ‘Crown’ and insert ‘High’.
Amendment 143, in clause 65, page 39, line 5, leave out ‘justice’s decision’ and insert ‘decision of the Crown Court judge’.
Amendment 144, in clause 65, page 39, line 7, leave out ‘justice of the peace’ and insert ‘Crown Court judge’.
Amendment 145, in clause 68, page 40, line 15, leave out paragraph (a).
Amendment 146, in clause 68, page 40, line 20, at end insert—
‘(d) the reference to the High Court is to be read as a reference to the High Court of Northern Ireland;
(e) the reference to a judge of the High Court is to be read as a reference to a judge of the High Court of Northern Ireland.’.
Amendment 191, in clause 69, page 40, line 25, after second ‘a’, insert ‘Crown’.
Amendment 192, in clause 69, page 40, line 27, after first ‘the’, insert ‘Crown’.
Amendment 193, in clause 69, page 41, line 1, after ‘the’, insert ‘Crown’.
Amendment 195, in clause 70, page 41, line 11, at end insert—
‘(A1) For the avoidance of doubt, whilst applications for a witness anonymity order must be made to the Crown court such orders may govern current, adjourned or future proceedings in the magistrates’ courts.’.
Amendment 194, in clause 70, page 41, line 13, after ‘the’, insert ‘Crown’.
Amendment 201, in clause 80, page 45, line 35, after ‘Appeal’, insert
‘except where the Crown court is specified as the appropriate court,’.
Mr. Garnier: Amendment 78 stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends. I think that on this occasion my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire intends to leave his name on the amendment.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I reconfirm that I will, of course, support all the amendments that my hon. and learned Friend proposes from now onwards. I am delighted to say that, with one exception, I have supported the Conservative Whip throughout my 12 years in this place, and I intend to do so for the next 12 years, too. I am glad that when I divided the Committee last week, both my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk and the Whip joined me in my Division.
Mr. Garnier rose—
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): As we seem to be in the business of making confessions, the Committee will have noticed that my name is absent from the amendment. I give my hon. and learned Friend notice that I have, as the Scots would say, some “doots” about the matter, because I am a doughty supporter of the interests and the importance of magistrates, including the lay magistracy, but I have some confidence that I shall be persuaded by his eloquence.
Mr. Garnier: It is always good to have friends.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Maria Eagle): Especially sitting behind you.
Mr. Garnier: Exactly. I look forward to enjoying the support of my consistent but for one occasion hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, who has what he called “doots”. We shall see what we can do about that.
This is quite a simple set of amendments. What I seek to do flows from the evidence that came out of the evidence sessions. I think that it was Mr. Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, who informed us that of the cases that had gone to the courts under the witness anonymity legislation passed in the summer, only three cases had gone before a magistrate, and that was a district judge rather than a lay magistrates bench. I appreciate that we are talking about investigation anonymity orders, but it strikes me that if the practice is that most applications for witness anonymity orders have gone to Crown court judges, the orders under clause 61 are also likely, on the great preponderance of occasions, to go before a Crown court judge. That will not necessarily be the case, but it is a fair guess.
It may be suggested that because these orders are made in the course of the investigatory stage, it is not possible to know whether the investigations will lead to a charge at all and, if they do lead to a charge, whether that charge will be dealt with most suitably before a magistrates court or a Crown court, but in any event, given the delicate nature of the jurisdiction—
Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr. Cook. Members of the public cannot attend our sitting. It seems that the door to the room has been left locked for some reason.
The Chairman: The problem seems to be self-correcting.
Alun Michael: It has been left to members of the Committee to unlock the door.
The Chairman: Well, we must grateful for the fact that some members of the Committee consider themselves to be doorkeepers.
Mr. Garnier: It is always a pleasure to see the right hon. Gentleman helping us.
Given the delicate nature of the jurisdiction that we are creating, it is probably more sensible for the applications to be made to the Crown court rather than a magistrate. I, of course, accept that it is difficult to appreciate with certainty at the time of an investigation and when the police or the authorities are considering whether to make an application for an investigation anonymity order whether that investigation will lead to a charge and, if there were a charge, whether it will lead to proceedings in a Crown court or a magistrates court. In any event, I want to know whether the Government are convinced and think it wholly appropriate in all circumstances that such applications should be made to a magistrates court as opposed to a Crown court.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Like the hon. Member for Daventry, I have doubts about the proposal, but I wish first to declare an interest in so far as my wife is a magistrate. I have high regard for the work of magistrates in similar areas, such as the granting of search warrants. They undertake sensitive work and do so very well.
The downside of the orders is the number of people who get to know about the identity of the person whose identity the orders are intended to protect. How many more people will know the identity compared with the current position, when the police assure the potential witness that they will not let their name out? A formal process seems to carry with it the risk that more people will know identities rather than only the police officers conducting the investigation. The amendment tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough raises the problem whether more people would get to know if the order were made by the Crown court than by the magistrates court. I fear that, given the formality surrounding Crown courts, that more extraneous people would be in the know, if the proposal were adopted.
Maria Eagle: The amendments all concentrate on restricting the making of an investigation anonymity order through a Crown court judge rather than a justice of the peace or a district judge at a magistrates court in Northern Ireland. As has been anticipated by the hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Member for Cambridge, the provision is designed as a tool for the police when investigating gang-related, gun-and-knife homicides, so the point at which an order would be made would be earlier than in respect of witness anonymity orders, which are designed to deal with trial situations. The reason given by the hon. and learned Gentlemen for tabling the amendments—the related stats—is not as compelling as we might think, simply because of the earlier stage. Indeed, he anticipated that that would be one my arguments.
We believe that the amendments are unnecessary because, in many ways, JPs are generally more experienced in dealing with matters relating to police investigations; and the hon. Member for Cambridge has said that arrest and search warrants are often issued by JPs, as well as warrants for further detention in police custody. Indeed, early orders in respect of investigations are already part of the magistrates’ experience.
We believe that it is undesirable to limit those powers to Crown court judges. The idea is to provide a speedy local service to assist the police in providing reassurance to witnesses who might otherwise not come forward with evidence at the very beginning of an investigation, which is often the most crucial time for ensuring that homicide cases can be solved. We believe that no issues of liberty arise at that early stage. It is about offering the reassurance that identities will be kept secret; there is no prospect of criminal proceedings being instituted as a result. We therefore believe that it would be wrong to exclude JPs and magistrates, because we have every confidence that they are perfectly capable, and perhaps more experienced, when dealing with such issues.
 
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Prepared 6 March 2009