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The noble Baroness said: With the leave of the Committee, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 11, 12, 13, 15, 16 and 17. These amendments continue on the theme of the previous grouping, probing the Government's new provisions on street bail.
Amendment No. 10 would delete the proposed new Section 30A(4), which states that no condition other than that of reporting to a police station may be imposed as a condition of street bail. As Members of the Committee will be aware, conditions are frequently imposed when bail is granted, such as the requirement not to go to a particular place or to speak to a particular person, such as a witness. However, new Section 30A(4) imposes no conditions as requirements of street bail other than the requirement to report to a police station at a specified time. Therefore, a question arises as to the types of case where street bail would be used if it could not be used in cases where the other requirements might be appropriate.
Is the prohibition on conditions imposed in order to avoid some perceived bureaucratic obstacle, or is that perhaps for another reason, such as human rights considerations? I should be grateful if the noble Baroness or the noble Lordwhoever is to respondcould address those points.
Amendment No. 11, to which the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has added his name, would require the notice of street bail to set out the consequences of failure to surrender to bail. In that situation, it will be important to ensure that the arrested person knows what is going on. The amendment would not require much in the way of bureaucracy; it could be achieved simply by adding a paragraph to what I assume will be a pre-printed street bail form saying, "If you fail to attend the police station at a specified time, then you may be arrested". What is the harm in that? It would allow everyone to know where they stand, and I hope that the Minister is able to accept that.
Amendment No. 15 concerns what happens when a person who has been required to attend a police station as part of street bail is then told that his attendance is no longer required. Is such a person deemed to have been released on any form of bail? Therefore, is he still technically on street bail, or, once he is told that he is no longer required to report to a police station, is he released without bail? I should welcome clarification on that point.
New Section 30D allows a constable to arrest without a warrant a person who fails to answer his street bail, although failure to answer to street bail is not in itself a criminal offenceat least, in so far as I read the Bill. Amendment No. 16 would insert a new "reasonable excuse" provision into this power so that a constable could only arrest a person who "fails without reasonable excuse" to attend the police station at the time specified. The questions are obvious: what happens if a family member falls seriously ill or if the arrested person himself is in hospital? As I read the Bill, the constable would still be able to arrest him. Is that what the Government intend should happen?
Finally, Amendment No. 17 is a small drafting amendment. Members of the Committee will have noticedthe noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has referred to it alreadythat at present new Section 30D(2) at the top of page 4 of the Bill states that a person arrested after having failed to attend a police station in accordance with the terms of his street bail must be taken to a police station, which may be,
Baroness Harris of Richmond: I rise briefly to speak to Amendment No. 11. It is absolutely essential that the person who is arrested in the street understands the process, and particularly the consequences, of failure to surrender to bail. That would have been explained to him fully if he had been taken to a police station, and he should have no lesser explanation in the street.
The briefing that we were given from the Law Society states that it is important that persons fully understand the significance of arrest and bail, particularly if English is not their first language. I want
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: I want to speak briefly to Amendment No. 12 in order to remind the Minister that he will, I hope, deal not only with the question of whether there should be a time limit between a person being arrested and his being given notice of the requirement to attend, as the amendment suggests, but also with the question of whether there should be a time limit between the time of his arrest and the time at which he must attend a police station.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Again, I am grateful for the way that noble Lords have spoken to these amendments. It has been very helpful because it has focused on the practical aspect of the issue, and I believe that that is the right approach in dealing with this piece of legislation and the innovations contained within it. I shall work through each in turn and try to answer all the points raised.
As explained, Amendment No. 10 would remove the proposed restriction on imposing conditions on street bail, other than a requirement to attend a specified police station at a specified time. I believe it is fair to say that arresting officers who consider street bail will often have limited information about both the arrested person and the circumstances of the offence. With that in mind, we take the view that it would be very difficult to impose realistic and helpful conditions, and the clause, as drafted, would not allow them to do so. Indeed, the clause is designed to offer officers greater flexibilitywe make no apology for thatin dealing with what will often be more mundane offences and offenders where bail conditions are unlikely to be required. In some senses, it is for that reason, which is more helpful to the person arrested, that we have had the clause drafted as it is.
Amendment No. 11 attracted support not only from the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the Official Opposition but also from the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, on the Liberal Democrat Benches. That amendment seeks to require that street bail notices refer to the consequences of failing to answer to bail. Again, I can understand why there is a desire to spell out in more detail the notification given.
There is no need to include that point in legislation, and I can give a firm commitment that the standard form that we are devising will set out the consequences clearly. In particular, it will set out the effect of the police power to arrest someone who fails to surrender to street bail. The guidance that we shall issue to the police will stress that, in addition to providing the notice, the arresting officer should explain fully to the persons concerned the consequences of breaking bail.
I also picked up the point concerning the importance of language. Again, that is something on which we need to be clear in addressing this issue. As the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, said, understanding is critical here. Although it is a useful innovation and has flexibility, which is desirable, there is not much point in having that if someone fails to understand exactly what is happening to him. We recognise and sympathise with that point.
Amendment No. 12 deals with the issue of time limits. It seeks to specify the time and location for answering to street bail, and the proposal is that it should be within two weeks of such bail being granted. That would apply where the information could not be given at the time of arrest and where the police sought to use the flexibility within the clause to give the details at a later date.
It would clearly be good practice for the police to clarify as soon as possible the position for persons released on street bail. However, it will often be important to ensure that all the necessary facilities and personnel are available to deal with such a person when he answers his bail. With that in mind, fixing the precise location and date at the earlier time may, in itself, be a very time- consuming process. I believe it is accepted, as it was in earlier debates, that the flexibility provided by this new approach to working is important. We are seeking to retain that. So imposing a strict time limit would reduce that flexibility and might force the police to hurry into arrangements that were unsatisfactory and unworkable from the arrested person's point of view and could be counterproductive to their aim. Taking a little more time might be to the benefit of everyone involved.
Having said that, it is important to put on the record our expectation that, in practice, the vast majority of people will be dealt with within four weeks of arrest. That is our expectation and it is right that we clarify the issue at this stage. However, for the reasons I have explained, we believe it important to retain that flexibility in the interests of both the police and the arrested person, who must be properly respected and responded to.
Amendment No. 13 would limit the police to issuing no more than one written notice of amendment to the arrangements for answering to street bail. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, made a reasonable point, asking why there should be a repeated succession of changes. I understand the point she is making and our expectation is that that would not be the case. However, people go on holiday; their arrangements continually change; the unexpected arises, as we expect in our lives. Therefore, there may be a need to change arrangements. A rigid limit to just one set of changes could cause unnecessary problems and undermine the effectiveness of street bail in individual cases. Again, for the record, it is our intention that any changes will be kept to a minimum, but there may be odd occasions when it would be better for a further notice, and then an additional one, to be sent.
Amendment No. 15 seeks to make explicit that a person who has notified that he no longer needs to answer to street bail previously granted should be regarded as having been released without bail from the point when he received the notice. It is self-explanatory that he will not be required to attend the police station and that the matter will not be pursued. For that reason, I cannot see that the amendment takes us further. We believe that what appears in the clause is explicit in the drafting.
Amendment No. 16 would restrict the police's power to arrest a person who fails to answer the street bail to circumstances where he had no reasonable excuse for failing to do so. We believe that this is an unnecessary restriction on the police in relation to what is clearly a discretionary power. If they were satisfied in a particular case that circumstances did not justify them arresting someone who had missed his bail appointment, they would be perfectly able to decide not to do so. The police have plenty of experience in dealing with people who fail to answer for bail for a whole range of reasons. We take the view there is no real reason to expect that they will fail to use this power flexibly where people have good excuse and reason to offer when confronted with what has taken place.
Finally, Amendment No. 17 is intended to simplify the wording relating to the police's station to which a person arrested for failing to answer to police bail can be taken. I congratulate the noble Baroness on the concision of her wording. There is no question that it seeks to achieve what we do with fewer words. I suppose I should be grateful and that I ought to accept the wording. But we feel that the existing wording spells out the position more fullyso it is a fulsome explanation in the wordage count. For that reason, we cannot accept the amendment to the clause.
However, a number of points have been valuably made in the discussion and Members of the Committee have raised issues of which we need to take account between now and Report. While I am not giving a cast-iron commitment to consider them all, they will focus our minds on practicalities. They have been valuably raised in the debate and therefore I am most grateful not only to the noble Baroness for tabling her amendments but to all Members who have contributed. We need to be certain that we have the provisions right and I give a commitment that we will further interrogate the wording.
Lord Alexander of Weedon: I hear the Minister's commitment and I welcome the provision that the police should be able to grant bail otherwise than at a police station. I want to raise an issue and hope that I have the peg on which to raise it; that is, the difficulties of the time provision, the four weeks and the flexibility. That indicates that there will be difficulties for defendants and I want to raise a point for which the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, was a protagonist in her previous incarnation; that is, ensuring that people have proper representation. It would be helpful if the noble Lord could tell us his views on whether those who are released on bail in this way will be entitled to
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