Crime and Security Bill

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The Chairman: I have two more questions under this heading. May I suggest that we try to speed up just a little, as we have to finish close to 4 o’clock and we have the DNA database, domestic violence protection orders, and the return to wheel clamping as subjects on today’s agenda?
Mr. Hanson: If it is helpful, Sir Nicholas, I will be taking questions on DNA with Alan Campbell. I will deal with the domestic violence orders and Mr. Campbell will deal with wheel clamping. We can take those subjects in whichever order you wish to take them. If you would like a break from my voice, you could discuss wheel clamping with Mr. Campbell.
The Chairman: You are lulling me into a certain sense, I have to confess. I call Douglas Hogg.
Q268Mr. Hogg: It is a brief point. It relates to how the breaching of the injunction will rank in a person’s criminal record. Will they be deemed to be convictions? Will they be shown on the antecedents, so that when somebody subsequently stands trial, if they do, they will form part of the antecedents?
Mr. Hanson: I have indicated that an individual could get a gang injunction without having undertaken a criminal activity. In that case, the injunction would be recorded and would not be deemed to be a criminal conviction in that sense. The injunction is there to provide an alternative diversionary activity. The breach of an injunction would be a serious offence, is subject to serious penalties and would be recorded. But the diversionary activity is meant to be something that, even if an individual has not committed a crime, could be used.
Q269Mr. Hogg: I suppose then, as often happens in criminal cases, if the defence counsel asks, “Have you had any previous problems with the police?” the individual will have to answer, “Yes, I was the subject of an injunction”, albeit no criminal proceedings were brought.
Mr. Hanson: If it will help the Committee, I will happily check with my officials after this session. When we reach the line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill, we can discuss those matters and I will give clarification then, rather than say something that is not strictly accurate now.
Mr. Hogg: Fine by me.
The Chairman: That is a very helpful offer from the Minister and I am sure that Douglas Hogg accepts it.
Q270Andrew Rosindell: I have a very brief question—just a point for clarification. On Second Reading, the Home Secretary referred to dangerous dogs as potentially being part of this legislation. What proposals may be included in the legislation to deal with that area of concern? Alan Johnson specifically mentioned it when he spoke on Second Reading.
Mr. Hanson: There are ongoing discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to look in general terms at whether further legislation is required. The Home Secretary said that at Home Office questions, and we are looking at the issue of dogs in the round. In relation to the legislation before the Committee, the word “weapon” could be defined under legislation as being a dog. That is the clarification the Home Secretary made on Second Reading, but we are looking in the round at whether we need further measures on dogs, in which I know you take a great interest, although not necessarily for this Bill, given where we are in the parliamentary cycle.
Q271James Brokenshire: Obviously, the Minister will acknowledge the volume increase in the number of profiles on the DNA database. Why does he think that the proportion of DNA detections has gone down given the increase in numbers?
Mr. Hanson: Let me first look at the figures. Since April 2001, 152,700 convictions were helped by the DNA database, of which nearly 2,000 were for serious crimes, including murder, manslaughter and rape, and another 6,500 were for other sexual and violent offences. Crime is falling. Although it did not get much publicity, last week I recorded an 8 per cent. reduction in recorded crime over the previous year overall. The number of individuals on the database is increasing. I think that there are proportionate uses of it. I am content that the database still fulfils a valuable role in helping us to detect crime, even if sometimes crimes are detected without DNA.
Q272James Brokenshire: I press the Minister on this issue because although I hear what he says about the aggregate numbers, which we can debate in a different forum, the proportion of crimes solved by DNA detections has pretty much stayed the same or has slightly gone down, when the expectation might have been that the more profiles you put on the database, the greater the likelihood that through technology and matching, the number of DNA detections would go up. Is that in line with what the Home Office was expecting?
Mr. Hanson: The numbers fluctuate. My colleague, the Under-Secretary has just indicated that the numbers are likely to rise. It is a debateable point, but from my perspective, if the DNA database solved just one crime, I would be content with its operation. I think that it is a valuable tool. If I look at the types of activity and the cases I could quote—as I will during other Committee sittings—that we have brought to justice, I can see that it has a very valuable purpose. The decisions we have taken on the Bill are about making judgments about how we make it proportionate, transparent and give people an understanding of their rights, and what we understand by that. Following the consultation, we made changes to our original proposals.
Q273James Brokenshire: To make the point, I am not denying the importance of having a DNA database, but as the Minister will understand, it is a question of proportionality in the retention of records on it, which is the key aspect of this debate. The point, which I think the Minister has confirmed, is that the detection rate has gone down, albeit slightly, but it has not gone up or reflected in any way the increase in the number of profiles on the database.
A separate point is the evidence base that the Government have sought to use to justify the six-year period. As the Minister will know, the research—previously described as evidence—conducted on behalf of the Jill Dando Institute was not quite what the Government thought it was when they published it and sought to justify their 12-year proposals. Can the Minister give any background information on the status of the Government’s current document, “DNA retention policy: Re-arrest hazard rate analysis”? Who produced the document?
Mr. Hanson: It is a Home Office document and we commissioned it. I will put it in context. We produced a document in May last year that indicated that we were consulting on what we felt was proportionate activity at the time. We looked at the 12-year figure and we had a consultation. We have had the judgments in between and have determined that we want to be proportionate and fair while still using DNA, including that of innocent people, to help us ensure that we get convictions, fight crime, bring people to justice and give justice to victims.
Following the consultation, we have settled on a period of six years for DNA profiling retention. I think that is fair and proportionate. It is in line with what we believe the out of boundary judgments will be, and it is in line with our evidence base, which Mr. Campbell referred to, in relation to re-arrest rates. Looking at the Scottish model, I think that convictions can be made using the six-year period that will be valued by the people who seek them, such as relatives of victims. I think it is proportionate. Our debate in Committee will centre on the difference between three years and six years, violence and sexual activity in the three-year period, and other activities. There are legitimate debates in relation to that, but we have tried to get it as right as we can by pushing it as far as we can, based on evidence and judgment.
Q274James Brokenshire: Obviously, there was some concern about the previous evidence, which is why I seek clarification. The re-arrest hazard rate analysis document is an internally produced Home Office document and it has not been peer reviewed.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): Yes it has.
Q275James Brokenshire: Okay. Perhaps we could get some clarification about who prepared the document and who reviewed it. That sort of information would be very helpful to understand the basis of the document and how it might be viewed. Mr. Campbell might like to comment on that.
Mr. Campbell: It might be better if we write to you with the detail. The document was produced internally, but it has been independently peer reviewed by two leading academics in the field. Clearly, there are some issues, but nothing that detracts from the broad lessons of the original research.
James Brokenshire: That would be helpful in understanding how the document was prepared, the decisions that were taken, who prepared it and who conducted the peer review. As the Minister will appreciate, there were previously some sensitivities.
Mr. Campbell: I undertake to get as much information to the Committee as possible, but it has been very much work in progress.
Q276James Brokenshire: That is very helpful. On the evidence base and analysis, what consideration has the Minister, or his officials, given to the analysis conducted by Professor Jim Fraser of Strathclyde university’s centre for forensic science?
Mr. Hanson: We have certainly looked at that material. Mr. Campbell and I are jointly dealing with the issues on a day-to-day basis. We have looked at it and have taken some analysis of it. I still stick to the fact that, ultimately, it boils down to our judgment based on our research and our understanding. That is where the Bill is coming from. It is a judgment argument, and there will be some debate about that, but we are using our peer group-reviewed evidence to make those judgments.
Mr. Campbell: Although the Fraser review was useful in terms of looking at the Scottish model, nothing much appeared to come from it that would give a clear steer on retention periods. The evidence that we produced, about which I have given you a commitment, is based on more recent evidence, which was not available when the Scots decided to go in their own direction. It is interesting to note that when we mentioned the Scottish model, one response was to rush to defend its evidential base, but the reality is that it was not anything like the evidential base we have obtained since.
Mr. Hanson: To back up what Mr. Campbell said, the evidence on the convictions that have occurred, based on the potential of our model of between three years and six years, as I reported to the Committee in an earlier intervention, is that we have had about 23 convictions that would not have happened had the Scottish model been in operation. Again, a judgment has to be made, and my judgment is on the side of victims and ensuring convictions, not on the side of avoiding them.
Q277James Brokenshire: Will the Minister confirm that the hazard rate analysis is heavily caveated? Perhaps that is why he talks about judgment rather than hard evidence. Evidence is difficult to find, even in relation to the report that was produced for the Home Office.
Mr. Hanson: The hazard rate analysis indicates strongly that there is a tendency to reoffend during the period from the potential offence or taking of DNA through to the end—in this case, an eight-year period. After six years, the ability to offend or reoffend is less likely. That is a judgment.
The six years is, we think, proportionate. It is less than the 12 years we proposed in our initial consultation. We can get that through, in our discussions with the Council of Ministers. It means, yes, that there may be people who will have had their DNA taken in year 1 who would never have reoffended throughout the whole six years, and there will be people who reoffend at different levels throughout that time. It is proportionate, and it is based on that evidence. Ultimately, it is based on our judgment.
James Brokenshire: I am sure the Minister will confirm that even the report indicated that there was a range—that it could be less than six years. Is the Minister saying that it is a question of judgment?
Mr. Campbell: Yes, it could be less than six years. Even if most people go on to offend within the next two to three years, it still leaves a significant number who could go on to offend later on. We drew a line at six years, because a line has to be drawn somewhere. It is not the case that you can draw from the early arrest evidence an idea of the kind of crime that people might go on to commit. There is no clear link. One therefore has to make a judgment at some point.
Referring to the available evidence upon which the research was conducted, there was some discussion about why we used arrest to arrest. The reality is that we are talking about a limited time scale. Whoever does the research, we are talking about a limited amount of evidence because the database has been around for a limited time. Using arrest to arrest gives a bigger number of people, as opposed to bringing in convictions. You will be aware that if you are involved in the legal process it can take quite a long time for it to come to fruition. We believe that it would have skewed the evidence, which arrest to arrest does not. Whichever way we look at it, there are limitations on any piece of evidence.
James Brokenshire: I am sure the Minister will accept that simply because someone has been arrested a second time, it does not mean that they will have been convicted as a consequence of that arrest. That is one of the imperfect elements of the analysis.
Mr. Campbell: Yes, and I am sure that it is imperfect to people looking in from the outside, as I said in my first point of clarification. Unfortunately, if one finds oneself as part of that group—if you have been arrested and you do not go on to offend—you are still part of that group, and the available research says you will be more likely to go on to offend than the rest of the population. We believe that is significant, which makes it worth innocents being on the DNA database.
Q278James Brokenshire: Mr. Hanson said that in the Committee sittings, he would bring forward various examples of cases that he suggested would not have been solved if the Scottish model had been adopted. Could he produce details? Obviously it is a question of assessing some of the facts and circumstances and the role that DNA might have played. Sometimes it is not necessarily as clear-cut as might be presented.
Mr. Hanson: I would be very happy to give those examples to the Committee, but it might be better if I wrote to hon. Members detailing, as part of an annexe, four or five good examples when DNA has been essential in securing a conviction, and when under our proposed model would be the right thing to do. That would be useful for discussion. Then hon. Members can refer to those examples in Committee and, if they wish, interrogate us on them.
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Prepared 29 January 2010