Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 3rd December 2018.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 4:45 pm, 3rd December 2018

My Lords, Amendment 10 returns us to an area on which we have previously had helpful and extensive debates: namely, the question of how much evidence is required to establish a reasonable excuse defence under Clause 4, on whom the burden of proof falls and how this is set out in the legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, rightly said, these issues have previously caused some uncertainty as they require Clause 4 to be read in conjunction with Section 118 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which sets out how the burden of proof applies to a number of defences to criminal offences within the 2000 Act including, but not limited to, the new designated area offence. It may therefore be helpful if I remind your Lordships of how these provisions operate.

The approach taken in relation to proving a reasonable excuse defence under Clause 4, which inserts the designated area offence into the Terrorism Act 2000, is the exact same formulation that is used elsewhere in various defences to offences contained in the 2000 Act, including the defence to the Section 58 offence which is amended by Clause 3. Clause 4 refers to a defendant proving that they have “a reasonable excuse”. We must then turn to Section 118, which makes further provision on what is required to “prove” a defence in this context. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has previously raised a concern that the wording of the two provisions might be out of step, and that Clause 4 might place a greater burden on defendants to make out a reasonable excuse than is envisaged by Section 118. I have addressed this in previous debates and have written to him following our most recent debate in Committee. I hope that I have been able to reassure him that this is definitely not the case.

Section 118 provides that if a defendant,

“adduces evidence which is sufficient to raise an issue with respect to the matter”— that is to say, the matter has to be proved under the wording of the defence—

“the court or jury shall assume that the defence is satisfied unless the prosecution proves beyond reasonable doubt that it is not”.

This, together with relevant case law, has the effect that if a defendant puts forward sufficient evidence to reasonably support a suggestion that he or she has a reasonable excuse, the burden of proof shifts to the prosecution to disprove that defence, which it must do to the normal criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt”. If the prosecution fails to do so, the jury must assume that the defence is made out.

Amendment 10 would insert this wording from Section 118 into Clause 4. The noble Lord has suggested that this would make the operation of Clause 4 clearer and would put beyond doubt what is required of a defendant to establish a reasonable excuse defence. I have every sympathy with the noble Lord’s desire for clarity. This is not the most straightforward of the Bill’s provisions, requiring as it does two different provisions in the 2000 Act to be read in conjunction, but I can assure him that there was a good reason for drafting it in this way. It is very simply that, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said, Section 118 makes the same provision in relation to eight other provisions in the 2000 Act which include similar defences. Each of those defences points back to the same single place—Section 118—rather than including eight repetitions of the same wording in eight different places. This is a standard drafting practice where a common principle governs the operation of multiple provisions. It is considered to be the best way of providing clarity and consistency, and of not unnecessarily adding to the length and complexity of legislation.

In practice, the noble Lord’s amendment would have little or no impact on the operation of the reasonable excuse defence as it would simply duplicate the wording of Section 118, which already has effect. However, I must respectfully say that I am unable to support the amendment. As I have set out, the formulation used in the Bill as drafted, and in the 2000 Act, reflects normal drafting practice, and I do not see that there is sufficient reason to depart from this in relation to Clause 4. The courts have successfully operated Section 118 for 18 years in respect of the eight existing offences in the 2000 Act to which it also applies without anyone complaining that its effect is unclear or uncertain. There is clear case law and a settled and well-understood position.

As drafted, Clause 4 will slot into this settled position, and its operation should be equally smooth, whereas to take a different approach here could unsettle that position and potentially raise questions about whether Parliament intended for the courts to apply the reasonable excuse defence in a different way under Clause 4. I am sure that that is not the noble Lord’s intention, but I fear that it could be an unintended consequence of his amendment. I add that, in Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, confirmed that the Bill, including the amendment to Section 118 made by paragraph 38 of Schedule 4, achieved the right result—if I am not misreporting him.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his suggestion, and I appreciate the spirit in which it is intended. However, on the basis of my assurance that it is not needed to achieve its intended effect and of the concerns that I have raised that it could reduce rather than increase the clarity and certainty of this aspect of Clause 4, I hope that he will be content to withdraw it.