|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I support the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral. I really do not know where this has come from. What is this great bureaucracy? On the custody record there is always recorded on the front page a list of property that has been taken from the accused; that is all. Normally it is a fairly small list because most people who are arrested do not have all that much on them. They do not have the kitchen sink with them, generally speaking, and it is not a great onerous burden.
After that has been filled in, pages and pages of observations on the accused will be contained in the custody record stating everything that has happened to him while he has been in the custody of the police: where he has been, which room he has been to, what food he has had, what refreshment, when he has been interviewed and so on and so forth. There will be pages of that. The record of the property is a tiny part of the first page. So when one realises the practicalities, one wonders what is behind it.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said a moment ago, if property is not recorded, a danger exists of a defendant saying, "I had my money taken from me". I recall a case in Hong Kong where a defendant said that his life savings of 20,000 dollars were taken from him. As a result, his statement was excluded because of the way in which the police, according to his allegation, had behaved. No record had been made of his property, so the possibility for spending hoursif not dayson a fruitless investigation of what he had on him when he was arrested is obvious.
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: If ever there was a totally non-party political clause in this Bill, it must be this one. My objection, like that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and my noble friend Lord Hunt, is purely pragmatic. If the provision is the suggestion of the police, they will cause themselves greater trouble than they will save. I realise that making a list of an individual's possessions in the station takes a certain amount of time, but why do they want to do away with it? The opportunity it gives for the defence of plant is enormous. The prosecution say, "He had in his possession some cannabis", and the defendant says, "Well, it was planted among my possessions after I handed them in to the police". The next question would be, "Well, officer, where is your evidence? Let us see what was handed in". Answer: "We have no evidence of what was handed in". Pragmatically, it seems an extraordinarily unwise thing to do.
Equally, at the other end, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said, the opportunity is enormous for defendants to say, "I handed in things which have since been stolen or been removed by the police". I would have thought that the amount of time likely to be taken up in investigating allegations of plant on the one hand or investigating allegations of taking property which did not belong to them on the other, would, in the mind of the police, far outweigh the period of time it takes to record a list of items that a person has on them.
Is not the answer to see whether we can devise a simpler, quicker way to record people's possessions when they are handed over to the police, rather than remove the security of recording, which I see as being of advantage to both sides?
Lord Elton: I see nothing but grief coming from this proposal for the reasons that have already been given. I wonder whether the noble Baroness can put herself in the unlikely position of being arrested after a visit to, let us say, Selfridges, being taken into the police station and relieved of three carrier bags and her handbag. It takes some time, but the difficulty is cleared up. She gets the bags back and there is a very smart new leather wallet missing from one carrier bag and her credit cards from her handbag. She says, "Where are my wallet and my credit cards?" They will say, "What wallet and what credit cards?" Even if that does not happen, it is what she will begin to think is going to happen. There is no point in inflicting this kind of uncertainty and insecurity on people who are not as yet proven to be guilty of anything.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I share precisely the same views as the other Members of the Committee who have spoken. I shall not take up time by explaining why I believe they are correct. I hope that my noble friend has a very good explanation.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I have never been awaited with such obvious anticipation. There is a sensible way of looking at the issue. I reassure Members of the Committee that we will not remove the ability to record. Clause 6 removes the absolute requirement to make a detailed record of the property brought into custody by a detained person and allows scope for alternative methods of securing those items where it is deemed appropriate.
I hear my noble friend ask, sotto voce, "By whom?". Discretion will be exercised by the police officer dealing with the matter. PACE currently requires the custody officer to ascertain and record everything in a detained person's possession when they arrive at the police station. As Members of the Committee indicated, it can use up a great deal of time, especially when the detained person is carrying many small items of property or many documents.
The amendment of PACE would retain the requirement for the custody officer to ascertain what the detained person has in his or her possession but would remove the necessity always to record everything in detail.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Perhaps I may stop my noble friend at this point. Does that mean that if the detained person says, "I want you, as a police officer, to record my possessions", the police officer can say, "I note what you have but I am not prepared to make a written note"?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: In those circumstances, the officer would not necessarily refuse. With the greatest respect to my noble friend, perhaps I may be allowed to finish. The officer could say, "I am going to put all your possessions into this bag, which will be sealed. You will be able to sign and verify that everything that was in your pocket is now in this bag". That simple action would perhaps prevent the officer from having to itemise 39 penny pieces, 25 tuppenny pieces, 100 single coins, et cetera. But all the possessions would be in a sealed bag, noted, dated and timed, which may lead to greater efficiency.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The provisions have been crafted so as to be permissive. Members of the Committee will know that PACE demands that each and every item be detailed and noted. The provision simply gives the officer an opportunity to vary the way in which those items are identified. It could be five pieces of clothing, for instance, which are identified and put into a bag without being separately described. The noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford, Lord Hunt and Lord Carlisle, all made valid points about the potential importance of those items to prosecutions when they come before the court. We know that there is often a dispute as to what was or was not in the possession of the accused and whether that item had any probative value in terms of guilt or innocence. That is absolutely understood by the police and by those who prosecute. Preserving the integrity of the evidence in a manner that will make it amenable to be dealt with appropriately in court is a matter that will exercise all those who prosecute and defend. History has shown us what happens when there is a slip between cup and lip.
The provision will simply allow the prosecution and the police to make a judgment as to which cases may need the detailed, item-by-item recording that we currently have, and which cases may possibly be recorded in a slightly different and more generous way. It is permissive. It just removes the absolute requirement to make detailed records; it does not remove the requirement to record.
Lord Elton: I have a copy of PACE in my hand. It seems from a quick glance that the word "record" has been removed from the only place it appears in that section. If I am wrong, I am happy to apologise and to withdraw, but there does not seem to be any requirement, once those few words have been removed, to do anything except "ascertain".
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page