Again, I shall not detain the Committee long, but I would like some further reassurance from the Minister.
Clause 8(2)(a) provides that the directions hearing must be held
“within the period of 7 days beginning with the relevant day”.
Will the Minister explain the approach that the Secretary of State will take? Is it that likely to happen after three, five or seven days? I would welcome a general outline of whether the Secretary of State would regard it as something that needed to happen as quickly as possible. I appreciate that cases will differ, depending on their complexity and the circumstances, but I would welcome an explanation of the general approach.
It would reassure the Committee and the wider public to know that if the suspect—the person subject to the TPIM notice—wanted the period to go beyond seven days for whatever reason, such as to instruct representatives, the conditions for which the Secretary of State sought permission would remain firmly in place. We would not want the suspect to be able to deploy delaying tactics to have the conditions loosened or removed.
It might be helpful if I explain the basis of clause 8, which is in essence to ensure that in each case when measures are imposed, there is a prompt and clear timeline for the steps that need to be taken towards the subsequent full High Court review.
As lawyers who are members of the Committee will realise, a directions hearing may relate to the disclosure of information, for example, and the process by which lawyers on either side—the Government’s or the relevant individual’s—might want to exchange witness statements. Such a procedural approach sets out, in essence, the steps that need to be undertaken, and when they will be undertaken—the timeline envisaged towards the full hearing, which we shall deal with on a subsequent clause.
The clause is not about considering the restrictions or the nature of the evidence. It is more to ensure the speedy process of the approach towards the full hearing. I hope that that helps the right hon. Gentleman and clarifies the purpose of the clause. I also assure him that the restrictions under the TPIM notice would remain in place, because it would be only at the full hearing that consideration would be given to the Secretary of State’s approach and the necessity or reasonableness of the conditions. It is at that later stage that the court would consider those points and the information available.
It is important that the hearing takes place speedily—within the seven-day period that is prescribed in subsection (2)—so that there is a direction of travel to ensure that the subsequent oversight is well prescribed and telegraphed. Subsection (6) says:
“Directions under subsection (5) must provide for the review hearing to be held as soon as reasonably practicable.”
That relates to a point in the preceding clause—I am sorry that I did not address it—about the process and the steps that must be taken to ensure that the full hearing is held as soon as is reasonably practical so that there is subsequent oversight. We want the process to move forward to the full hearing with clarity for both sides about the steps that need to be made, and that is part and parcel of the concept of the directions hearing.
This issue might apply more in theory than in practice, but it would be interesting to hear the Minister’s views about it. He is making it very plain that the Secretary of State’s intention is to move as quickly as possible at all these stages, which I find reassuring. However, what if the Secretary of State is ready to go with a review hearing
“as soon as reasonably practicable”,
as set out in subsection (6), but the subject of the TPIM notice continues to delay, refuses to set a date and is happy for the matter to drift on? One can only speculate why that would be the case, but if the suspect continues to obfuscate, delay and cause difficulty, does the Secretary of State have any power to force the review to happen at the point at which she is ready to go when there is no good reason why the suspect continues to delay?
This is where we get into the detail of the process of considering the relevant steps. I talked about the exchange of witness statements and disclosure bundles, which is the sort of normal process that is undertaken. It is the court that might consider delaying the hearing, so the matter is not totally in the individual’s hands. Clearly, however, with regard to the balance of where obligations lie and the restrictions that are put in place under a TPIM notice, it would be in the individual’s interest, in normal circumstances, to want to progress to the full hearing so that the restrictions that might be imposed could be considered. The court will need to look at matters very carefully—in the initial directions hearing, and in any further proceedings, such as procedural hearings, that might take place before the full hearing—to ensure that evidence is supplied appropriately so that there is not an imbalance between the two parties and there is a proper full hearing. The exchange of information must take place to ensure that the court and the parties can prepare for that hearing as effectively as possible.
As in any other court proceeding, if the court felt that there was obfuscation by either party or a determined delay to frustrate the process, the court itself would be able to set the timeline to require that steps are undertaken at particular points, and if they are not taken, the court will proceed to the hearing. Ultimately, ensuring that there is no such abuse is part and parcel of the normal litigation process, and that responsibility lies with the court.
I hope that I have reassured the right hon. Gentleman about the steps that will be undertaken and the process that lies behind this measure. I trust that the Committee will agree to the clause.