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Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 7:04 pm on 1st March 2011.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Labour, Blackburn 7:04 pm, 1st March 2011

I do not want to get drawn too far down this road, but the hon. Gentleman will know that until the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the recommendations of the royal commission that preceded it, there was no statutory regulation of the length of time for which, or the circumstances in which, the police could hold a suspect. It is extraordinary, if we think about it. There were judges’ rules, which were non-statutory, and the only effective check on an arbitrary use of power—apart from practice—was habeas corpus. If somebody was locked up for too long, his solicitor or friends would threaten a writ of habeas corpus. That was how it worked, and I would refer those who think that those were halcyon days for criminal justice to the 2010 Judicial Studies Board lecture in which the current Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, reflected on his time as a junior at the Bar and on how that non-statutory system of regulation led—as I saw when I was a young barrister in the 1970s—to fitting up, to words being put into criminals’ mouths and sometimes to very substantial and totally unacceptable physical pressure and violence against suspects. Of course, one consequence was that confession statements were often successfully challenged. Habeas corpus is one part of the law, but where there is more recent statute, the courts will go to that first.

Let me turn now to other matters in the Bill about which I have some serious reservations. As the Member of Parliament for Blackburn, I have had many representations about closed circuit television. I do not know whether my experience is any different from that of anyone else in the Chamber, but all the representations I have received about closed circuit television have been requests from constituents to introduce more of it. In the whole of my 32 years in this House, I have never had a single representation seeking the removal of CCTV monitors. Not one. The demand is there because it makes people feel safe, and I bet that this experience is shared across the Chamber. I cannot remember an occasion as Home Secretary when I received any representations suggesting that the existing system, which we should bear in mind is subject to control under data protection and other measures, was unsatisfactory.