Criminal Justice Bill
Lord Bassam of Brighton (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
We have had a valuable discussion on this matter. The amendments relate to the new capacity that we want to introduce to enable the police to bail arrested persons from the point of arrest, which has become known as street bail. We recognise that we are breaking significant new ground here and I appreciate the fact that considerable support has been expressed for it. In particular the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, recognised the value of the flexibility that this will introduce into the system. However, the new flexibility must be balanced against the need to ensure that, first, it works well and, secondly, it is not abused. We accept that striking that balance is creating some difficulty for us all.
The question of time limits concerning the period of time between arrest, street bail and appearing at a police station is dealt with in the next grouping, which contains Amendment No. 12. It would probably be better if I deal with that issue when we reach the grouping. Amendment No. 8 is directed towards imposing limits on the delay allowed in taking an arrested person to a police station or street bailing them when their presence elsewhere is required to carry out urgent investigations. The capacity for such a delay in relation to removal to a police station is long established, and the clause extends similar provisions to street bail. I think that I can say with some confidence that any delay in such circumstances will not generally be very long, although in certain situations it may be for longer than two hours.
Such a delay might be absolutely essential; indeed, it could be completely counter-productive for it to be anything other than that. I cite, for example, the circumstance where an arrested person is needed to attend a complicated search of premises. However, the police must be able to justify the delay and they will be required specifically to record the reasons for that delay. Imposing what might be described as a somewhat arbitrary time limit does not seem justified in those circumstances. In effect it would restrict a measure of flexibility that has been in place and available to the police for many years. Further, it should be placed on the record that the procedure has apparently operated without any great difficulties and has not noticeably infringed the rights of arrested persons.
So, although it is possible that the delay between the time of arrest and street bail being granted could be significant, searches of premises can take some time. While it is obvious that such investigations must be undertaken quickly, I am sure that we can all think of cases or examples in which they may need to take longer and in which having the apprehended person present at the time would be of immense value to the quality and conduct of the investigation.
Amendment No. 9 refers to the written record of any delays occurring when the arrested person first arrives at the police station or is released on street bail. It would require the arrested person to be given a copy of that record forthwith. In practice, the reasons for any delay will normally be apparent to the person arrested and often will be explained to them by the officer concerned. A record of those reasons will always be available in the detained person's custody record, the police officer's pocket book or the documentation that the arrested person receives when they are street bailed. With that in mind, the absolute requirement that the amendment would impose to provide an immediate copy of the written record in every case seems an unnecessary burden.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, discussed the requirement for the arrested person to attend the police station. That is a very right and proper matter to raise. The noble Lord suggested that the police station ought to be reasonably proximate to the arrested person's home. That is not unreasonable on the face of it, but let us consider the different circumstances under which someone might be arrested. For example, if a suspect is arrested in Newcastle, but lives in Truro, why make the police travel to Truro? What would be the justification for doing that? I do not think that we could reasonably—either operationally or in terms of the effective use of police time—impose a strict stipulation that the police station that an arrested person should attend must be reasonably proximate to their home. That could create great difficulties for the police themselves. However, it may be that sensible arrangements could be made for the arrested person to attend a police station.
The noble Lord also raised the issue of free legal advice. The current situation will pertain. Suspects will be given free legal advice, as they are under the arrangements as they currently operate. We see no difficulty in that. Indeed, I believe that there is wide agreement that the present arrangements work very well. If the noble Lord has a further point which he thinks we should consider, then of course we shall listen to what he has to say.
I hope that, with those comments, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.