Policing and Crime Bill

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Q 108Paul Holmes: To renew an order after the first 48 hours, you need to go only to a magistrate rather than to a Crown court, is that adequate judicial oversight?
Mick Creedon: I think so, yes. Guided as they are in court, magistrates should be able to give that.
Q 109Paul Holmes: On the question of extradition, what do extradition requests to you or requests that you make elsewhere typically cover? There was a big joke on Second Reading that requests could involve pig rustling in Poland. Is that serious? At what level do you arrest someone or request extradition? Are people extradited for going back to another European country having not paid £50-worth of parking fines in London and or vice versa?
Allan Gibson: It varies. In a second, Murray will chip in. Different countries use extradition requests in different ways. We grade them as high, medium and low risk according to the seriousness of the offence for which we are arresting them. Murder, rape, kidnap, firearms offences and so on are at the top end and theft and fraud are at the bottom end. The high-risk figures that I have before me range from 94 per cent. from Albania to 15 per cent. from Poland, 13 per cent. from Hungary and 9 per cent. from the Czech Republic. That gives you an indication. The higher the risk, the more serious the offence is.
Murray Duffin: It is the proportionality issue. All of the old—for want of a better word—European countries consider proportionality. If an officer wants an EAW issued by the CPS and the magistrates, proportionality has to be addressed. In the high-profile cases that you are talking about, such as piglet rustling, the UK’s view is that we will not go through everything involved in an EAW, such as issuing it, making the arrest, keeping the person in custody for two or three weeks while the extradition is ordered and dealing with the returning issues and all the costs that that implies. The Poles’ view is steadfast in that if they have a case and a suspect, they will prosecute it to the nth degree. In some regards, you must admire their tenacity. When we make an arrest, they will always collect and go to the effort of taking the person back.
The Polish flights that Mr. Gibson has alluded to are carried out at their request. Their aircraft come over to Biggin Hill every three or four weeks and take back a number of their nationals. There have been a number of bilateral meetings between the UK and Poland to address the disproportionality. The Poles say that they are following the rules and that is the way it is. Different countries interpret proportionality in different ways.
Q 110Paul Holmes: Because we did not sign up completely to the Schengen agreement and still have our own border controls, we do not get access to the full exchange of information.
Allan Gibson: We will do from 2010. Draft clauses that I have seen say that it will be in November 2010 by the earliest. That is when we will have the bolt-on to the police national computer. By then, it will probably be the police national database. It will feed directly so that when you search the police national database, you will also be searching the Schengen information system. The two will be merged.
Paul Evans: Other relevant databases are the Interpol lost and stolen passport database, which is a primary indicator of the misuse of identity, and the Europol information system, to which we are in the business of connecting police sources in the same way as Allan has described for the Schengen system by 2010. These are complex systems, but they must be delivered because they will simplify the process. In doing so, they will simplify the administrative overheads that have been described today. The paper-based system is not what we need in the 21st century.
Q 111Paul Holmes: In all cases with the European arrest warrant, a prima facie case must be presented. Famously, with the American agreement, they do not have to present one to us, but we must present one to them. Do you have any observations on that?
Allan Gibson: I can understand why that is a cause of discontent. However, that is the agreement and we work within it. It is not for us to negotiate those agreements.
Q 112Paul Holmes: Is that completely untypical among extradition agreements with other countries?
Allan Gibson: Yes, they are usually reciprocal.
Paul Evans: There is a distinction between the role of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which operates the EAW system on behalf of UK plc, and the UK central authority and the Home Office, which operate cases with countries outside the eurozone.
Q 113Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): How many extradition cases have there been involving British citizens and the USA?
Allan Gibson: I can give you the number for the last six-month period. There were 15 between 13 May and 23 January.
Q 114Miss Kirkbride: For what kinds of offences?
Allan Gibson: All the American cases will be for high-level offences. Most of the part 2 countries, which are those outside Europe that we have an extradition arrangement with, will not make a request unless it is a high-profile case. It must be deemed to be serious within their jurisdiction. We may not see the crimes as serious, but they are serious offences for the requesting country.
Q 115Miss Kirkbride: Does that include gambling offences?
Allan Gibson: I do not know.
Murray Duffin: No.
The Chairman: No gambling offences.
Q 116The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): Good afternoon. Thank you for your time. May I summarise what has been said? There appears to be a consensus that this Bill is building on the success of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The real problem has been with retaining property pre-charge. Has that been a core difficulty with the operation of the Act with property dissipating before we can restrain it, Mr. Creedon and Mr. Evans?
Mick Creedon: Yes; in our consultation with all the forces of England and Wales, this was one of the significant problems that was raised. As you are well aware, the gap between the value of confiscation orders and the actual value enforced is worryingly large. This is an attempt to close that gap by recognising that we can take more early on, this will realise at the point of confiscation more in line with the valuation of the order—clearly a vehicle will lose value, as properties are now. This was a strong feeling. Other elements are important—there is some regularising and some ambiguities that are being cleared up—but the point you make about that gap is a significant one.
Paul Evans: Our cases are different; they are qualified by the nature of our investigations. Our investigations tend to have a long, intense covert phase followed by an overt phase, by which point we would have generally profiled the financial affairs and assets of the subject of the investigation; we are therefore in a slightly different position. We can see where ACPO is coming from: it is too easy for criminals to realise that they are facing capture and to dissipate, give away, pay away, or gift an asset in their possession without really gifting it—they know they can get it back later. We tend to go after a better class of criminal.
Mr. Coaker: One of the points that is often put to me when I have raised this is that this is completely unnecessary; restraint orders do the job.
Mick Creedon: No, again.
Mr. Coaker: That is a point that is often put to me. It is said that we have no need for this and it is an unnecessary step; that we are unnecessarily infringing the rights of individuals because restraint orders will do all that needs to be done.
Mick Creedon: Tristram works with this more than I do day-to-day, but from a policy perspective and the national feedback, that is not the case. There is a huge volume of confiscation orders and confiscation activity compared with the very low number of restraint orders. They do not match up because it is not straightforward to get a restraint order. Within a restraint order is the provision for that person to have necessary lifestyle expenses, which can be quite high, depending on the lifestyle they manage to profile. The orders do not alter the fact that they can damage, remove, hide or give away their property. I do not think that restraint orders are the answer. The Bill gives us a parallel power that will ensure that we do not have to rely on them.
Tristram Hicks: It is worth saying that this legislation is still quite new in its operation and we are still discovering how much property there is that may be linked to the proceeds of crime. It is difficult to estimate the amount of property that we are not seizing because, by definition, we are not seizing it. An illustration may be gained from the fact that the Met police obtained 13 restraint orders before the Act in 2002 and this year will be looking at something like 350 restraint orders. This is an illustration of the scale of assets that we believe are at risk of dissipation—which is how we obtain the restraint orders. There have been many instances where, even with a restraint order, criminals have attempted to sell property and move what may be considered to be fixed items, such as kitchens, in order to escape the penalty of a restraint order. The evidence shows that, even with restraint orders, there is a dissipation of assets. As I have said before, the enforcement of confiscation orders depends on tangible assets being seized and retained if we believe that they will be dissipated.
Q 117Mr. Coaker: It is extremely important for me to ask you to comment on this. As we have seen from some of the comments about the proposals in the Bill, people are necessarily worried about the human rights and civil liberties implications of what we are doing to the individuals concerned—but we can see the benefits to the broader community, if we concentrate on that. It would be helpful if you said, between you, something about the importance that you attach to the judicial safeguards that are in the Bill and about the use of these powers—whether you consider them appropriate, for example. It would also be helpful if you stated on the record whether you believe that the codes of practice that will go alongside the provisions need to ensure that this power should be used only where it is necessary and proportionate to do so.
Mick Creedon: The starting point for policing, of course, is that human rights underpin what we do. There may be commentators who would say otherwise, but the reality is that human rights are implicit and feature in our operational audit and operational planning. Human rights are fundamentally important. We would not want this power if the oversight was not in place.
You are well aware that the new change in policing involves, among other things, a simple test of the public trust and confidence in policing in terms of dealing with local problems with local partners, and so on. Nothing will undermine that more easily than if we are seen to abuse our powers in a public way. However, from a chief constable with an ACPO lead, there is no fear of that whatsoever.
The measures that are put in place vary, but one part of the process includes the judicial oversight, the necessary senior officer’s authorisation and the independent overview. But the more important part is in respect of the codes of practice and the guidance that will go in parallel with that, along with the quite proper inspection. Rest assured that HMIC will inspect and make sure that forces are doing what needs to be done. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is there and people will complain to it, should they think that things have not worked out as they would have wished. There is a combination of measures and there has been a commitment from ACPO to ensure that we use those properly.
I started earlier by saying that this measure will not be used in a cavalier way by a police constable on the street who may think, “Well, I can just take that and keep hold of it.” This will be rolled out gradually through specialist units and financial investigators working within the confines that the Act, as it will be, will offer.
Paul Evans: Just a general point from me, Minister, if I may, and then something about the process of managing this control.
We welcome the scrutiny that the Bill provides. We want to get this right each time and every time. Not to get it right will, as Mick rightly says, undermine public confidence. That applies to proceeds of crime powers, civil recovery powers, intrusive surveillance powers or property interference powers.
On a process point, the system that has been set out here to scrutinise decision making within the agencies and the police service is almost identical to that in place for other surveillance. So organisations are geared up to processes that rigorously check, in an independent sense, the decisions being made by officers on the ground, including those made by the senior officer. The system is supplemented by annual inspection regimes and the ability for members of the public to make a full and frank complaint about our behaviour either to the court or to the IPCC.
Q 118Mr. Coaker: Commander Gibson, I understand that you are saying that, generally, you welcome the provisions in the Bill, but that you are raising some of the practical problems arising from the increasing numbers of people subject to European arrest warrants.
Allan Gibson: We welcome the Bill. It contains practical solutions that are all very sensible. The issue that I refer to is a consequence of the decision to implement Schengen II, not the provisions in the Bill. I do not have any problems with the Bill at all.
Q 119Mr. Coaker: What is your view of the provision to extend to a judge the power to grant an additional 48 hours to a requesting country, should that be necessary for the relevant EAW papers to be provided?
Paul Evans: First, can I say that the occasions on which we would expect to use the additional 48 hours are extremely rare? Indeed, the pre-arrest aspect of the operation of the EAW system has been used a handful of times—probably less than 10—although I do not have a precise figure here. With the benefit of hindsight we would, perhaps, have placed 96 hours in the original Extradition Act 2003. It is to cover this eventuality: the receipt of a request on a Saturday when there is a bank holiday in the court on a Monday. It is in those circumstances, and those circumstances alone, that we will apply to the court—I should emphasise that this will be a decision for the judge not for the officers in the case—for that extension.
There are cases of real, significant, indicative risk to the public. To give the broad outline of one recent case: a person was wanted for murder in a European jurisdiction. His sister lived in Bristol and intelligence there indicated that he was going there to harm. The arrest warrant arrived on a Friday and it was a bank holiday Monday. We got in position to make the arrest, but just within the 48 hours. We were up to the wire. I would not like to be in a position where we had to replicate that or, worse, release someone who then goes on to harm someone else. Minister, to reassure you and colleagues, this would be used in circumstances where there would be significant risk to the public and therefore a proportionate use of the power.
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Prepared 28 January 2009