New Clause 4 — Status of Director and Lord Chancellor

Part of Devolved Administrations (Armed Forces Covenant Reports) – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 2nd November 2011.

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Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Justice) 4:45 pm, 2nd November 2011

I speak in support of amendment 116, which would delete clause 12 from the Bill. It is with regret that I will keep my comments extremely brief. Some of the matters discussed today should really have been discussed on Monday. This regret is most keenly felt because the parents of Jane Clough are in the Gallery and had hoped to see us debate changes to bail.

Clause 12, which would allow the Government, based on either a means test or a an interest of justice test, to choose not to provide an arrested person with an independent legal adviser. The powers that the Government seek to gain were not subject to consultation and have generated significant controversy. It is not just Labour that opposes this clause. Members of all parties oppose it. Mr Llwyd spoke eloquently against it in Committee and again today. Others who have spoken against it include my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), and the hon. Members for Ipswich (Ben Gummer), for

Dewsbury (Simon Reevell), for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart), and the right hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). Some Tory Back Benchers have told us that they, too, oppose it. The Liberal Democrats have signed the amendment, for which we are grateful.

On this issue, however, the Minister appears to be against the clause. He said to the legal action group conference:

“I am pleased to say we have no intention to take legal help away from the police station.”

It appears, however, that the Secretary of State for Justice is embarrassed by that. He tried to blame it on Labour, saying that it was one of our proposals. A few weeks later, after the bemused Labour Front-Bench team checked with the House of Commons Library, the Secretary of State’s spokesman issued the following statement:

“The remark was made in error by the Justice Secretary during the Second Reading debate. The provisions in clause 12(3)(a) and (b) are new and, so far as I know, there have not been similar provisions in any previous Bills that did not pass into legislation.”

What a shambles—but there is more!

In the Public Bill Committee, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Mr Djanogly subsequently said:

“My opinion is that as things stand, the practicalities are the greatest stumbling block, and costs could be significant.”––[Official Report, Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Public Bill Committee, 8 September 2011; c. 437.]

This might well be the first time a Minister has argued against his own legislation while seeking to enact it.

There was a time when people did not have access to a lawyer on arrest. Injustice after injustice propelled Parliament into action. It was, in fact, the previous Conservative Government—one who included Mr Clarke—who enacted the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which for the first time provided a suspect in police custody with a statutory right to legal advice. A textbook on police law explains:

“By section 58 of PACE, a person arrested and held in police custody is entitled, if he so requests, to consult a solicitor privately at any time.”

I am deeply concerned. In Committee, the Minister—whose conflicts of opinion match his alleged conflicts of interest—changed his mind again. Having said earlier

“I am pleased to say we have no intention to take away legal help from the police station”,

he said in Committee:

“I am not asking the Committee’s permission to implement means-testing. I am asking for permission to introduce flexibility into the Bill, so that at a later stage it could be considered, subject to full consultation.”––[Official Report, Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Public Bill Committee, 8 September 2011; c. 436.]

We know what the Government’s consultations are like. There were 5,000 responses to their consultation on legal aid, and they ignored them all.

At present, police station advice is provided free to anyone who is arrested. What takes place in the police station often determines how the case will proceed, and whether or not the police decide to lay charges.