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Lord Clinton-Davis: I am rather concerned that the amendment is not practical, because the system that we envisage is completely new. It is important that the Attorney-General, who I believe will respond to this amendment, should indicate within what time the
Lord Renton: I agree that there must be a time limit of some kind. It is notorious that legal proceedings and more especially civil actions in this country, as in most other countries, can stretch on for months and years if we are not careful. These long and important proceedings, which should be brought to a head without much delay, should be subject to some kind of time limit. It could be said that 14 days is rather pressing the matter but I do not believe that to be unreasonable. If the Attorney-General says that he accepts the principle but would like to reconsider the length of time, one would have to consider that.
The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith): I shall respond as best I can to the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, about the level of staffing at the Central Authority. I am grateful to those who provided this information. I do not complain that I did not have notice; I say that simply by way of explanation. If there is some detail that the noble Baroness requires that I cannot give now, she will no doubt let us know and we shall do our best to respond in writing.
The Central Authority is currently staffed with one lawyer at its head, an SEO deputy, a higher executive officer and 10 operational staff. It also has the ability to call on the legal advisers branch at the Home Office, which would be a source of additional legal advice should that be necessary. The noble Baroness asked about the challenges by way of judicial review. They have been minimalone last year and two the previous year.
The Bill will result in some decrease in the work of the Central Authority because, as the Committee will have noted, in certain casesthis is an important pointit is intended that there will be direct transmission of the material or request so that they do not have to pass through the Central Authority; that will speed things up. However, there will also be some increases. If it is helpful to provide further detail, I hope that the noble Baroness will not hesitate to ask and we shall do the best that we can.
The amendment proposes that a domestic freezing order must be sent to the Secretary of State in order to be transmitted abroad within 14 days of being made. All Members of the Committee who have spokenthe noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis, Lord Renton and Lord Goodhart, and the noble Baronesshave invited consideration of whether some kind of time limit
Members of the Committee may know that there are time limits within which domestic search warrants must be executed. We cannot impose the same time limit in relation to the sending of the orders because we shall not have control over the overseas authority that will execute the orders. However, the idea that there should be some degree of urgencya similar degree of urgency if not precisely the sameraises a very fair point. While I sympathise with the intention that lies behind the amendment, we should like to take the precise terms and the drafting away for further consideration. I hope that Members of the Committee find that a helpful response.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Has the noble and learned Lord consulted the Lord Advocate on this matter? Would it be his intention to accede on behalf of the Lord Advocate? How will he proceed? If this approach is necessary south of the Border, it is probably also necessary in Scotland.
Lord Dholakia: The noble Baroness asked about resources and the noble and learned Lord indicated the present staffing level of the unit. Bearing in mind the additional workload, has he given any consideration to the extent to which additional staffing may be required, and will be made available in dealing with such orders?
Lord Goldsmith: I gave an indication of the current staffing level and said that the Bill will result in a decrease in work in some areas, but also in some increases. The resources are currently considered to be adequate. All targets are currently being met and the position will doubtless be kept under review.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who took part in this short debate and who supported the principle of including an indication of urgency. I am particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Minister for agreeing to take the matter away for consideration as regards the drafting, and for the possibility, as my noble friend Lord Renton said, of introducing some kind of time limit.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, was absolutely right to say that the figure of 14 days had been plucked out of the air. It was merely a tool to enable a proper debate on these matters of urgency. If they are not properly dealt with, the system will not have the credibility that it deserves in the eyes of people in this country and overseas. It is with pleasure that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: I am not sure whether I am the only Member of the Committee who experiences considerable confusion in following the various clauses involving the differences between requests for evidence freezing orders, as against responding to or receiving them.
As I understand it, in this clause we are dealing with sending abroad a domestic freezing order made by a court in this country. Clause 10 suggests that the freezing order should be made by a judicial authorityin general terms, a court having satisfied itself that it is necessary for the protection of the required evidence which is in another country. However, before the freezing order can be sent to the other country, it must first go to the Secretary of State for forwarding, who will then decide whether he can forward it to a court exercising jurisdiction in the place where the evidence is situated.
If we compare that provision with Clauses 7 and 8, we find that, if the request is not for a freezing order but for assistance in obtaining the evidence, there is no need for the interference of the Secretary of State, and, as I understand it, the courtthe "judicial authority" referred to in Clause 7can send the request directly to the court where he believes the evidence is situated.
Are we not in a slightly strange situation? We are requiring applications for freezing ordersdesigned to freeze evidence to ensure that it is not destroyedto go through the Secretary of State; but in the case of a request to have the evidence sent to this country so that it can be used, it goes directly from one court to the other. Why, in Clause 11, it is necessary to involve the Secretary of State?
Lord Goldsmith: Clause 11, as the noble Lord correctly identifies, requires freezing orders made by the domestic courts in this country to be sent via the Secretary of State, or in Scotland via the Lord Advocate. That is in contrast to the provision for direct transmission for letters of request under Clause 7.
The reason for that, about which the noble Lord properly asks, is that the freezing orders are a new procedure. There are no current procedures for dealing with them. Therefore, those dealing with them will be unfamiliar with the issuing, sending and receiving of them. The decision has been made that in those circumstances they should be sent via the Secretary of State. That will have the advantage of enabling the orders to be monitored and to be checked to ensure that they comply with the requirements of
Lord Clinton-Davis: I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I understand that a new procedure is being invoked. However, gradually, perhaps after two or three years or more, the situation will be ameliorated. People will become more aware of their responsibilities. Is there any procedure which the noble and learned Lord has in mind to ensure that in a reasonable period of time the whole situation will be considered?
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