Report (3rd Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 11:00 pm on 12th March 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 11:00 pm, 12th March 2012

I can be fairly brief here, as the Minister made an important concession in Committee by saying that there would be no means test on advice for individuals in custody. I was grateful for his concession, as was the Committee. However, I am still concerned-and I referred to this in passing in Committee-by the expression to be found in Clause 12(2):

"The Director must make a determination under this section having regard, in particular, to the interests of justice".

I do not know what that phrase, which we debated a few minutes ago in a different context, means in the context of Clause 12. The really important part of the clause is the first sentence, which states:

"Initial advice and initial assistance are to be available under this Part to an individual who is arrested and held in custody at a police station or other premises".

After that most of this clause is, to coin a phrase, otiose. It does not really matter; what matters is that there is the right to initial advice and initial assistance. What do the words "the interests of justice" add to the debate? In my view, they add absolutely nothing but they put me rather on edge. Do they mean that there may be some cases where the director thinks it is not in the interests of justice for there to be advice and assistance for someone in custody?

The Minister wrote us all a reassuring letter a few weeks ago. I am afraid that I do not have my copy in front of me as I address the House tonight, but I think it basically said, "Don't worry about it. It doesn't mean actually mean anything in this context". I put down my amendment so that the Minister can explain why the phrase "the interests of justice" has to appear in this clause at all. Perhaps it is necessary for all the rest of the clause to be there, with regard to what the regulations may include and what initial advice and initial assistance mean. However, that phrase rather concerns me, lest some future director were to decide that "the interests of justice" meant that it was not necessary for advice and assistance to be given.

Without any doubt it is the view of the House-and, I suspect, that of many outside-that the change that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act effected, so that there was advice and assistance for those in custody, has been nothing but a good thing. It has meant that guilty men and women cannot get off their responsibilities because they can blame something on some alleged false admission. It also means that those who are innocent and have been arrested have the protection of some initial advice and assistance, so perhaps the Minister will explain to us why that phrase needs to stay in this clause at all. I beg to move.