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Session 2008 - 09
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Public Bill Committee Debates
Policing and Crime Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Hugh Bayley, Sir Nicholas Winterton
Austin, Mr. Ian (Dudley, North) (Lab)
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta (City of Durham) (Lab)
Brokenshire, James (Hornchurch) (Con)
Burns, Mr. Simon (West Chelmsford) (Con)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Cawsey, Mr. Ian (Brigg and Goole) (Lab)
Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing)
Dorries, Nadine (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con)
Fitzpatrick, Jim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD)
Holmes, Paul (Chesterfield) (LD)
Keeble, Ms Sally (Northampton, North) (Lab)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie (Bromsgrove) (Con)
Ruffley, Mr. David (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Wilson, Phil (Sedgefield) (Lab)
Chris Shaw, Andrew Kennon, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 26 February 2009


[Hugh Bayley in the Chair]

Policing and Crime Bill

Clause 89

Amendment proposed (this day): 290, in clause 89, page 103, line 2, at end insert—
‘(ba) sections [Injunctions to prevent gang-related violence] to [Interpretation] and Schedule [Injunctions: powers to remand],’.—(Mr. Coaker.)
1 pm
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following: Government new clause 11—Injunctions to prevent gang-related violence—
‘(1) A court may grant an injunction under this section if two conditions are met.
(2) The first condition is that the court is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the respondent has engaged in, or has encouraged or assisted, gang-related violence.
(3) The second condition is that the court thinks it is necessary to grant the injunction for either or both of the following purposes—
(a) to prevent the respondent from engaging in, or encouraging or assisting, gang-related violence;
(b) to protect the respondent from gang-related violence.
(4) An injunction under this section may (for either or both of those purposes)—
(a) prohibit the respondent from doing anything described in the injunction;
(b) require the respondent to do anything described in the injunction.
(5) In this section “gang-related violence” means violence or a threat of violence which occurs in the course of the activities of a gang or is otherwise related to such activities.’.
Amendment (a) to new clause 11, at end insert—
‘(6) In this section “gang” shall mean a group of people who see themselves or are seen by others as a discernable group and exhibit any one or more of the following factors—
(a) engaging in criminal activity;
(b) identifying with a particular geographical area;
(c) having some form of identifying organisational feature;
(d) being in conflict with other similar gangs.’.
Government new clause 12—Contents of injunctions.
Government new clause 13—Contents of injunctions: supplemental.
Government new clause 14—Applications for injunctions under section [Injunctions to prevent gang-related violence].
Government new clause 15—Consultation by applicants for injunctions
‘(1) Before applying for an injunction under section [Applications for injunctions under section [Injunctions to prevent gang-related violence]], the applicant must comply with the consultation requirement.
Amendment (a) to new clause 15, after subsection (2)(b) insert—
‘(c) any primary care trust, mental health trust or other NHS authority that the applicant chief officer considers would be appropriate to consult; and
(d) any youth offending team, local probation service or office of the National Offender Management Service that the applicant chief officer considers would be appropriate to consult.’.
Amendment (b) to new clause 15, after subsection (3)(b) insert—
‘(c) any primary care trust, mental health trust or other NHS authority that the constable considers would be appropriate to consult; and
(d) any youth offending team, local probation service or office of the National Offender Management Service that the constable considers would be appropriate to consult.’.
Amendment (c) to new clause 15, after subsection (4)(b) insert—
‘(c) any primary care trust, mental health trust or other NHS authority that the applicant local authority considers would be appropriate to consult; and
(d) any youth offending team, local probation service or office of the National Offender Management Service that the applicant local authority considers would be appropriate to consult.’.
Government new clause 16—Applications without notice.
Government new clause 17—Interim injunctions: adjournment of on notice hearing.
Government new clause 18—Interim injunctions: adjournment of without notice hearing.
Government new clause 19—Variation or discharge of injunctions.
Government new clause 20—Arrest without warrant.
Government new clause 21—Issue of warrant of arrest.
Government new clause 22—Remand for medical examination and report.
Government new clause 23—Further provision about remands.
Government new clause 24—Guidance.
Government new clause 25—Supplemental.
Government new clause 26—Interpretation.
New schedule 2—Injunctions: Powers to Remand.
Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): To recap, the Minister had clarified the intention of the new clauses. One clarification, which dealt with a number of the issues that organisations such as Justice and Liberty have raised about youth courts and so on, was that the new clauses will not, by and large, or at all, apply to under-18s. However, the Minister also put great emphasis on the fact that one of the reasons for introducing the new clauses on gangs was the involvement of 14, 15 and 16-year-olds in stabbings. That is a dichotomy that will require further exploration when he sums up.
It is also an issue that, if the new clauses do not apply, by and large, to under-18s because they would not be able to afford the fine imposed for a breach of the injunction, some 16 to 18-year-olds do of course work and earn money, and so could pay the fine. Will the clauses therefore apply to a few under-18s who do work and are able to afford the fine, or will they not apply to any under-18s? Either way, there is much confusion, so surely the Bill should address an age limit, if there is to be one. I hope that the Minister will discuss that in his closing comments.
We also discussed the fact that the new clauses do not offer a definition of a gang. In his opening comments, the Minister went to great lengths to say that the provisions will not apply to a group of hoodies on a street corner or to football fans wearing scarves. Can we be content with such a simple explanation? We all know of examples of legislation being passed for one purpose, but allowing mission creep to take place, because the police will use whatever powers they have in certain situations. Terrorism legislation was used to arrest a heckler at a Labour party conference, for example, as well as to stop legitimate peaceful protesters at arms fairs in London.
Furthermore, on 15 November 2008, section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 was used against 80 Stoke City fans, so the Minister’s claim that the new clauses do not apply to football supporters is relevant here. The fans stopped at a pub on their way to a match. They were being perfectly peaceful and the publican made no complaint about their behaviour. The police, however, used the 2006 Act to round them up and detain them for a while, before sending them 40 miles back to Stoke on a coach. They missed the match, had no toilet facilities and were told to pee into cups, which spilled all over the floor of the coach. The treatment of those fans was unacceptable; they had not committed a violent offence and the publican had not complained about them, and it would appear that the legislation was grossly misused.
There are other examples that could be highlighted illustrating the same point regarding legislation being misused for one purpose when it was clearly intended for another. As there is no definition of a gang in the new clauses, does that not leave open the possibility that the legislation might be misused for purposes for which the Minister says that it is not intended? It could be used against football fans, for example, or gangs of hoodies on street corners and so on, even though I accept the Minister’s explanation that the intent of the new clauses is, essentially, to target hard-core gangs involved in major violence and serious organised activity. There has been much reference to the dangers of such gangs, but it should be put on record—as it has been already—that the issue does not apply to most of the country. However, it is a major problem in the areas to which it does apply.
In my 22 years of teaching, I never came across a gang culture impinging on school life. I have some experience of schools in Sheffield—not much, even though I went to school there—and did some teaching practice near Barnsley, but most of my teaching was in Derbyshire. Yet I recently visited a school in an area of London with a strong gang culture. That culture sometimes impinges on school life there, although by and large the school is a haven of safety within the community. There was just one incident there recently. Last summer, a gang member inflicted serious harm on another pupil who was a member of a rival gang with a metal bar—the kind that has dumb-bell weights at the ends—and was jailed. Nobody disputes that in some of our inner cities there are serious gang issues such as those that the Minister has described, but that is not the experience of the vast majority of the population in the UK.
The Minster has not explained clearly enough why the Government feel that the existing laws are inadequate, but I hope that he will. Those were precisely the grounds on which the Court of Appeal rejected the Birmingham case. It said that the available evidence was too flimsy to lead to the injunction that had been issued. The ruling stated that the legislation on antisocial behaviour orders was perfectly adequate to deal with the matter. Clearly, the Government do not agree with that, because they are introducing these strong clauses on a new offence that could be used in such situations. However, the Court of Appeal said that there was plenty of legislation that could have been used and that the evidence was too flimsy. Are the Government introducing the new clauses because they want a lower burden of proof? For an ASBO, the criminal burden of proof—that it is beyond reasonable doubt that a person has acted antisocially—is needed. In the Shafi and Ellis case, the Court of Appeal made it clear that, given the seriousness of the matter, the same standard of evidence—the criminal burden of proof involving the matter being beyond reasonable doubt—should be applied. The new clauses would create a new civil order with a lower applicable standard of proof: proof on the balance of probabilities. Is the real reason behind the clauses to allow a lower burden of proof and make it easier to get an injunction, or, under existing law, an ASBO? The Court of Appeal thought that the ASBO was perfectly adequate in that situation.
The proposals affect the liberty of the person. They affect the right of association and expression and freedom of movement, and they introduce a concept of criminality without trial and with a lower burden of proof. That is contrary to the tenor of English law over the eight centuries since Magna Carta. If the Government take that serious step they will have a lot more explaining to do to convince both the House and the other place.
As well as introducing a lower standard of proof for the new offence, the proposals also move what is basically an ASBO principle on from prohibiting someone from doing something to requiring that they do things as well. In that sense it is almost a control order, and we all know the controversy that surrounds those. The Government have said repeatedly that control orders were temporary measures, but they have renewed them two or three times. Those measures are very controversial and we will look at them again soon in the main Chamber. It seems as though we are almost turning an ASBO into a control order with the new clauses, and that raises serious concerns that we will need to discuss at much greater length in both Chambers.
I would like the Minister, in summing up, to answer three questions. Why are the current measures not adequate, even though the Court of Appeal specifically stated that they were, which is why it rejected the situation in Birmingham? The Minister discussed the problems with having a definition of a gang and said that he would look again at the proposals for one, but without a definition how do we stop major mission creep or the abuse of powers that we see with other legislation relating to violent disorder and the prevention of terrorism? Why should we introduce a low burden of proof when an injunction would have such a major impact on a person’s basic civil liberties?
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Prepared 27 February 2009