Clause 4 — Use of Telephones for Review of Police Detention

Criminal Justice Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 18 November 2003.

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Votes in this debate

Lords amendment: No. 2.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 5:00, 18 November 2003

I beg to move, That this House
disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendment No. 4 and the Government motion to disagree thereto, and Lords amendment No. 8 and the Government motion to disagree thereto.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

Deleting clause 4 places an unnecessary restriction on a practical and efficient way of overcoming some of the resource and logistical problems of arranging reviews while people are held in detention. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 allows a range of safeguards and protections for a person in custody, including access to legal and medical advice, health care, recognised meal and refreshment breaks and, when appropriate, access to a suitable adult.

A key factor in ensuring that the suspect's rights are protected lies in the further safeguard of the detention review process and the role of the review officer. Reviews of detention must be carried out frequently by an officer of at least the rank of inspector. The clause will maintain the application of those important safeguards but will broaden the capacity so that telephone reviews can be conducted when they are considered the most practical and efficient approach.

The provision will provide the review officer with straightforward alternatives of reviewing in person or by telephone. The choices continue to exist. When reviewing, the officer must consider each case individually and determine the most appropriate way in which to conduct the review, taking full account of the needs of the person in custody. The review officer will provide the opportunity for telephone representations by the detained person, the detainee's solicitor if available at the time and, if relevant, an appropriate adult, if available.

We have made it clear in guidance that specific consideration must be given in the case of vulnerable suspects, including juveniles. We have developed that guidance with the valued support of key stakeholders, including the coalition of children's charities, which comprises the Children's Society, Barnardo's, ChildLine, National Children's Bureau, National Children's Home, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the National Council of Voluntary Child Care Organisations and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. The clause follows the recommendation of the joint Home Office and Cabinet Office review of PACE that allowing the use of telephone reviews in a wider set of circumstances would better serve the needs of the police and ensure the rights of suspects. It will help the police overcome the resource and logistical problems of arranging reviews, especially at night, and will save a great deal of valuable inspectors' time, particularly in terms of travelling to conduct reviews in remote rural areas.

On Lords amendment No. 4, at present the law allows the police the discretion to retain fingerprints and non-intimate samples taken by them during the investigation of an offence from persons suspected of having committed a recordable offence. I am sure that my hon. Friends are aware that under PACE 1984, as amended, the police have the discretion to retain that information in respect of persons who have been charged with an offence, irrespective of whether that person is subsequently convicted of the offence. That important provision—I shall outline shortly just how important that power has proved to be—was introduced by an amendment to PACE in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 in May of that year. Those amendments were subjected to close parliamentary scrutiny and Parliament concluded that the changes were compatible with human rights legislation.

Lords amendment No. 4 would not only require the police to destroy the fingerprints and samples taken from persons arrested for a recordable offence and not subsequently charged, but would put the law back to the position it was in before the changes made in 2001.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey

Will the Minister deal with an argument that the Government have never yet adequately answered? Why are people who are arrested and then released, without any charge or conviction, automatically put in a different category from people who are never arrested by the authorities? Why should somebody have their DNA or fingerprints kept by the state when they are just as innocent and free from convictions as anybody else?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will expand on that point during my contribution. The danger is that not accepting the present situation would have an impact on what we want to achieve, which, as he rightly says, is the ability to retain fingerprints and DNA data from those who are arrested. It would also put the law back to the position it was in before the changes made in 2001. There was extensive discussion about whether it is right to retain information when someone has been charged but not convicted.

I remind hon. Members that the changes were made as a result of two cases, one involving a murder and the other a rape, in which information held on the national DNA database linked the offenders to those offences. The Court of Appeal held that that information could not be used because, as the law then stood, it should have been destroyed when the offenders had been acquitted of the earlier offences for which the samples had originally been taken. The Court of Appeal therefore held that the evidence linking the offenders to the rape and the murder was inadmissible. Although the decision of the Court of Appeal was later overturned on appeal, Parliament decided, as the House of Lords had urged, to make the law clear and allow the police the discretion to retain all fingerprints and samples lawfully taken in the course of an investigation. As I said earlier, that change to the law has proved extremely important.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I would like to expand on this point. If the hon. Gentleman is going to repeat the same question, I would like a chance to answer it first.

The change to the law has proved extremely important, and will be important in relation to the retention of data following arrest. The custodian of the national DNA database tells us that there are approximately 103,000 DNA profiles on the database that would previously have been removed under PACE. Of those, approximately 4,600 profiles of individuals have been linked with crime scene stains involving 4,760 offences. Those offences include 26 murders, 15 attempted murders, 27 rapes, 13 sexual offences, 14 aggravated burglaries and six offences related to the supply of controlled drugs. All those offences were committed after the person had been acquitted of an earlier charge. We do not want to change the law in that respect, which is what the Lords amendment, as it stands, would do.

The Lords amendment would seriously inhibit the investigation, detection and prevention of crime. It might also delay the elimination of an individual from suspicion of having committed an offence, because DNA and fingerprints can equally be used to help the police to determine who did not commit the offence under investigation.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Is not my hon. Friend arguing that DNA samples from every individual ought to be taken? Otherwise, she is saying that people who have been arrested and had their fingerprints or DNA samples retained are more likely to be guilty of a crime than people who have not been arrested and had their samples taken. What evidence is there for that? Surely the Government ought to be legislating to compile a national database for everybody's DNA.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

No, we are not moving to a national database. Fortunately, in the UK it is still a minority of people who commit offences and therefore a minority who are arrested.

We understand the concerns about the retention of samples and fingerprints taken from individuals who have been arrested and not charged, or charged and not convicted, but we believe that retaining that information is proportionate to the benefits of society and the prevention and detection of crime. Law-abiding citizens have no reason to be concerned about their fingerprints and samples being retained on the database. The law is already quite clear that their use is restricted to the prevention and detection of crime, the investigation of an offence or the conduct of a prosecution. In fact, arresting somebody is open to guidelines and procedures on the grounds for arrest.

To those who say that we are creating a third class of person, neither innocent nor convicted but merely "under suspicion", I say that that is not the case. Where taking and retaining fingerprints or DNA samples is the norm, there is no stigma attached to the individual concerned and we would say no discrimination. These proposals are about having the means by which we can retain data not only to consider somebody if they have taken part in an offence, but to rule them out of offences that have been carried out.

In relation to amendment No. 8, as originally drafted, clause 12 provided for the Secretary of State to alter by order made by statutory instrument the minimum age at which persons in police detention may be tested for specified class A drugs—crack, heroin and cocaine. The clause also provided for the order to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Such delegation and scrutiny were considered appropriate by the Regulatory Reform Committee, as reported in its 21st report. Noble Lords in the other place expressed particular concern that the clause did not provide a requirement for public consultation. I hope to assure the House that there will be sufficient safeguards before any change is made to the minimum age and that clause 12(3)(c) should be reinstated.

Those provisions are to be introduced in limited areas on a pilot basis initially. We maintain that it is important that the Secretary of State should have the ability to change the minimum age, either up or down, should evidence emerge to suggest either that we would be justified in extending the clause to include persons under 14 or, for that matter, that testing those aged 14 and over should be increased.

Reinsertion of clause 12(3)(c) would enable us to take action, as appropriate, in the light of any such evidence from the pilot evaluation findings or from other relevant research evidence. We believe that that flexibility is available in the case of pre-sentence drug testing, to which noble Lords in another place did not object. I can assure my hon. Friends that, as we indicated in the memorandum submitted to the Regulatory Reform Committee, it is our intention that any decision to change the minimum age for drug testing will be made only after full consideration of all the available evidence and will take account of the views of relevant bodies. We also believe that it is sensible for the clause to be entirely consistent in this respect with that on pre-sentence drug testing.

In all the areas that I have outlined, the proposals are about more effective policing to deal with situations that the police have to face in their day-to-day responsibilities. In some areas, that involves cutting bureaucracy; in others, it involves ensuring that we have information available.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North

Will my hon. Friend congratulate those in the police, not least in the Nottinghamshire force, on making the proposal in Committee that there should be testing at 14? Indeed, that will now be in the Bill. Will she also consider having an age limit that goes down to 10, which, although it sounds draconian, would stop some 10-year-olds who are class A drug users—crack cocaine users—and get to them before they develop a habit that could last the rest of their lives?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. It is a reality that we have to face up to that there are young people who are using class A drugs. The evidence suggests that that is more prevalent among those aged 14 and above, which is why we want the testing, but having the opportunity to revise that figure up or down is important so that we can take action as soon as possible to get treatment to those young people and get them off the drugs. We disagree with the amendments.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking 5:15, 18 November 2003

I think the House will agree that when the Opposition parties have less than a minute to discuss such important issues the situation is shambolic, and a real reflection on the way of parliamentary life nowadays.

I have 20 seconds in which to discuss each group of amendments. We all agree that the issue of personal liberty is fundamental, and that an attempt should always be made to review detention, in person if possible. We understand that a balance must be struck between review of detention in person and the freeing of officers for operational duties, but I hope to goodness that reviews by telephone will be not the norm but a rarity, and that every effort will be made to ensure that the reviews are conducted by a very senior officer in person—or, second best, by means of a video link. I am glad that that is being introduced; it is working very well in the courts in which I operate. The need to protect younger and vulnerable defendants is very important.

It being two hours and forty-five minutes after the commencement of proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [this day].

Lords amendment No.2 disagreed to.

Motion made and Question put, That the House disagrees with the Lords in amendment No. 4.

The House divided: Ayes 331, Noes 56.

Division number 374 Criminal Justice Bill — Clause 4 — Use of Telephones for Review of Police Detention

Aye: 331 MPs

No: 56 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment disagreed to.

Lords amendment No. 8 disagreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 3, 5 to 7, 9 to 31, 41 to 99 and 308 to 318 agreed to.