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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The increasing use of interventions outside the police station means that it is appropriate to extend the range of circumstances in which a photograph can be taken and retained. Fixed penalty notices and requirements to wait with community support officers are examples of cases where the police will need to record their intervention through means of identification such as photographic images, so as to avoid later disputes about the identity of the person who was given the notice or was required to wait. I know that the noble Lord understands that, given the comments that he made.
The photos should be retained in the same way as those currently taken inside the custody suite to prevent persons who may be wanted for other matters to avoid detection by giving the police a false name and address. The police should also be able to check the photographs against other still and moving images to determine whether the suspect is linked to any unsolved crimes.
"( ) After subsection (6A) (inserted by subsection (5) of this section) insert
"(6B) This section does not apply to
(a) a person aged under 17, or
(b) a member of any group which is identified in a code of practice issued under this Act as a vulnerable group.""
5 Apr 2005 : Column 644
The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 119 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 120 and 122. The purpose of the amendment is to probe the Government on their intentions. I would like to have the Minister's advice on some serious issues that are of some concern to various groups outside the House that deal with children.
As the Minister may be aware, the amendments were suggested by the Standing Committee for Youth Justice. It has a clear point of concern. Under the present PACE codes, additional safeguards should be in place when young or vulnerable people are required to undergo any intrusive act at the request of a constable. Usually, the requirement is that an appropriate adult is with any young or vulnerable person taken to a police station for those activities to be undertaken. The concern has been expressed that those protections would go out of the window under the new provisions, unless there is an express provision in this part of the Bill to bring back the requirements in the PACE codes, thereby ensuring that the Government meet their obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I thank the noble Lord for indicating that the amendments are probing amendments. Amendments Nos. 119 and 120 would prevent the police from taking photographs and fingerprints from juveniles and other vulnerable persons on the street and under the existing provisions of PACE. I was perplexed, but I understand why he has framed the amendments in that way.
Although appropriate safeguards are important when dealing with juveniles and vulnerable people in custody, it is also important that the police have the power to record or establish an individual's identity or gather evidence that can be used to investigate and detect crime. Sadly, juveniles are responsible for a large amount of crime, and precluding the police from taking their photograph or fingerprints would be a retrograde step. That is particularly so when one considers that the taking of photographs and fingerprints on the street could reduce the incidence of juveniles and vulnerable people being arrested and taken to the police station for the purpose of ascertaining their identity.
I turn to Amendment No. 122. The "appropriate adult" safeguard is a valuable safeguard in protecting the interests and welfare of juveniles and other vulnerable groups in custody. Their role is set out in the relevant PACE codes of practice, and the codes should be the vehicle for measures relating to their role and functions. The proposal that they must be present when footwear impressions are taken has already been logged by the Home Office for inclusion in the next revision of the PACE codes, due later this year.
The noble Baroness said: These two amendments are designed to assist with the identification of the British victims of the tsunami that struck south-east Asia on Boxing Day. Currently, somewhat tragically, there are 169 confirmed or feared British victims of the tsunami. Officers from the Metropolitan Police are leading the painstaking task of ensuring that bodies are correctly identified before they are released to their families for burial. The sooner that process can be completed, the sooner the family and friends of the deceased can properly mourn the loss of their loved ones and bring closure to this tragic event.
These amendments make a simple change to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to enable DNA samples and fingerprints to be checked against the national DNA and fingerprint databases for the purpose of the identification of a deceased person. As such, the change will apply to future natural disasters. It is not confined to the identification of the tsunami victims. The amendment to PACE will come into force on Royal Assent so that the checks can be undertaken speedily. I know that the Committee would wish relief to be given to those families in distress as quickly as possible and will join me in welcoming the amendments. I beg to move.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The noble Baroness is right. I feel sure that other Benches will join me in supporting the amendments. The House is normally reticent about such matters as extending the occasions when DNA samples may be taken. This situation does not fall into those areas that antagonise Members of this House. We can only hope that the application of the new systems will enable families' feelings to at least be assuaged and that they may know whether a deceased person is of their family.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: These Benches oppose Clauses 116 and 117 stand part of the Bill for the following reasons. Notwithstanding the explanatory letter from the Minister to a number of Peers who also spoke at Second Reading, her explanation that she intends to continue with the pilot schemes in no way helps to make the suggestion more palatable to a great number of people.
In a letter to the Home Secretary, dated 1 April 2005, the chairman of the Police Federation and the president of the Police Superintendents' Association vehemently oppose that move. This is such an important part of the Bill that I will quote directly from the letter, which states:
"We write to express our grave concerns over plans to civilianise the post of custody sergeant; views shared by Liberty, the Law Society, Justice, the head of police training (Centrex) and eminent QCs alike.
"As we are sure you are aware, these proposals have sparked much emotive debate, not least because we would not wish to see it inadvertently lead to a rise in the numbers of deaths in police custody or reduce the number of crimes which are detected and result in a successful conviction.
"Even at the eleventh hour, Clauses 116 and 117two of the most ill thought through provisions in any single piece of police legislationcould be removed without otherwise affecting the primary aims and objectives of the SOCAP Bill.
"The perversity of the decision to civilianise this, of all policing roles, is astounding. The post of custody sergeant is one of the least suited to civilianisation, requiring extensive policing skills, knowledge and experience.
"We readily acknowledge problems exist in the recruitment and retention of custody sergeants, and the knock-on this has had upon the rank as a whole. Civilianisation, however, is a wholly facile solution. The real solution lies in addressing the underlying causes of those problems, namely acute staff shortages, cell overcrowding and meeting Centrex training and retraining requirements.
"We fully recognise that one Force has agreed to take part in a pilot. But this 'support' represents only a tiny minority of chief officers, and it is spurious in the extreme to suggest otherwise (as in the Commons Standing Committee Stage). The fact remains that the vast majority of chief constables, including notable 'modernisers' such as Sir Ian Blair, are wholly against the plan.
"It is unclear as to how Government statements in response to Lord Mackenzie's suggestions would ameliorate this suggestion. While the idea of station sergeants is an interesting development, it in no way addresses the real issuethe civilianisation of the post of custody sergeant. Only the pilot, not the Bill, would be amended.
The Government have not given any sensible reason at all why they feel they must go down that route. The views expressed above are also shared by the chief executive of Centrex, Justice, the Law Society and others. It is a core, front-line, operational policing functiondealing with detainees after arrest but before charge. The custody officer determines whether an arrested person should be detained or should go free.
5 Apr 2005 : Column 647
Those decisions can often be taken at speed and under enormous pressure. Is the arrest lawful and necessary? Is there sufficient evidence to justify detention? The custody officer is wholly responsible for the safety and well-being of those in custody, which is an enormously responsible job. The substantive rank of sergeant has the authority and responsibility to deny a senior officer access to a suspect at an inappropriate time or in inappropriate circumstances.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights recommended that the role of custody sergeant be recognised by providing greater recognition and support, not more civilianisation. I can see nowhere any regulatory impact assessment for the cost of training civilian custody officers, which is an extraordinary omission in view of the Minister's assurances on training during the Bill's Committee stage in the other place.
Finally, a pilot would rely heavily on the support, guidance and decision-making of a police custody sergeant, which would completely invalidate the evaluation. What happens if the pilots are deemed unsuccessful? The Government do not seem to have grasped that it is the whole panoply of policing know-how gained performing other police duties at street level which are critical to the effective management of custody suites.
By all means incorporate the excellent ideas of having a station sergeant, but do not muddle them up with the unique role undertaken by a custody sergeant. And certainly do not believe that giving us the sop of a pilot will satisfy anyone at all in the policing world, because it will not.
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