Amendment 2

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 26th January 2021.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar:

Moved by Lord Wolfson of Tredegar

2: Schedule 3, page 53, line 41, leave out “Articles 20A and 24A” and insert “Article 20A”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment and the amendments at page 53, line 44, page 95, line 4 and page 95, line 37 are consequential on the removal of Clause 34.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 3, 17, 18, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 73, 74 and 75. I will also signal my intention to propose the removal of Clauses 33, 34 and 35.

Clause 33 was intended to provide explicit provision so that Scottish Ministers might impose a polygraph condition as a licence condition for specified released terrorist offenders. Clause 34 was intended to provide explicit provision so that the Northern Ireland Department of Justice might impose a polygraph condition as a licence condition for specified released terrorist offenders. Scotland does not currently have express provision for polygraph testing, but Scottish Ministers have broad powers to set licence conditions under Section 12(1) of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993. Northern Ireland does not currently have express provision for polygraph testing, but the Department of Justice has broad powers to set licence conditions under Article 24 of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 and Rule 3(2)(e) of the Criminal Justice (Sentencing) (Licence Conditions) (Northern Ireland) Rules 2009.

Through discussions on the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly on the provisions of the Bill, it became apparent that while this clause would enable a fully comparable UK-wide approach to polygraph testing on licence, pursuit of this provision in Scotland and Northern Ireland was not strictly necessary and could result in Scottish and Northern Irish Ministers withholding their consent for the Bill. The Government remain of the view that polygraph examinations are a useful additional tool in supporting the effective management of terrorist offenders, and we hope that the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly will see the demonstrable benefits of its introduction in England and Wales.

This Government will continue to legislate on reserved matters but, as an expression of our respect for the existing powers of the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly in relation to the setting of licence conditions, and as a demonstration of this Government’s reasonable approach to those discussions, we have now agreed to remove the provision on the clear understanding that, should this Scottish Parliament or Northern Ireland Assembly or a future one change its view on polygraph testing, it will be able to implement the measure without additional legislation being required.

Clause 35 was intended primarily to provide supplementary provisions to Clauses 33 and 34 that would restrict the circumstances in which the devolved Administrations could impose mandatory polygraph examinations as a licence condition for certain terrorist offenders. As a result of the removal of Clauses 33 and 34 from the Bill, Clause 35 is no longer needed. The clause was intended to ensure that regulations could be made to ensure that polygraph conditions were confined only to those offenders’ licences where it was necessary and proportionate to do so, to ensure standards for the examinations and that appropriate records and reports kept in relation to testing were consistent across the UK. Polygraph examinations are already carried out on sexual offenders in England and Wales. The conduct of those polygraph examinations is governed by rules made under Section 29(6) of the Offender Management Act 2007. Amendments 2, 3, 17, 18, 21 to 26 and 75 are consequential on the removal of Clauses 33 to 35.

Amendment 73 is necessary to ensure that the measures that permit introduction of polygraph testing in a licence condition for terrorist offenders in England and Wales are commenced two months after the Bill receives Royal Assent. Previously, when explicit provision was sought and set out for Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as for England and Wales, we had agreed that the provision should be commenced via regulation to allow sufficient time to develop the relevant infrastructure in those jurisdictions. As explicit provision is no longer made for those jurisdictions through this Bill, and polygraph testing is already used by the probation service for sex offenders in England and Wales, the same delay is not now required. As such, the usual commencement of two months after Royal Assent is appropriate. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat Shadow Attorney General

My Lords, I have many reservations about the value of polygraph tests. They rely on measuring several physiological processes—pulse rate, blood pressure, perspiration and so on, the changes that may take place in the course of questioning. However, the emotional and physiological responses recorded may arise from such factors as simple anxiety about being tested or fear of being judged deceptive, or a host of things—perhaps the state of one’s digestion after food. There is an inherent ambiguity in the physiological responses. The reluctance to use polygraph evidence is precisely because the response may mimic the response expected of a person seeking to deceive.

What is meant by “failing” the polygraph test? Failing the test means exhibiting a certain physiological response to a question. What is truth? The examiner cannot know whether that response means that the answer is a lie. However, there is no punishment for failing the test—whatever that means—or for exhibiting that response. That does not breach the terms of the offender’s licence. The individual will not be returned to prison. Alterations may, however, take place in the conditions of his licence, and those could be onerous.

The irony is that, in the course of questioning, the person being questioned may provide information truthfully that will have an adverse effect on him. He has not failed the test because his body does not react to his telling the truth, but he has provided information that may lead to his punishment. He has of course lost his right to silence, a right first developed in the late 17th century as a check to arbitrary rule. It has been regarded over centuries as fundamental to the fairness of the criminal law in this country and in the common-law countries all over the world.

Faced with the terrorist atrocities that we have seen in this country, the loss of the right to silence may seem a worthwhile price. Obviously that is not the immediate view in Scotland, nor in Northern Ireland. Let us face the dilemma: the proposals for England and Wales do not involve imprisonment for a lie but possible imprisonment for telling the truth or, since it is mandatory to answer the questions, even for remaining silent. Faced with legal and moral issues such as this, the drafters of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which is proceeding this week here also, as the Minister will know, decided that it was appropriate to proceed with a three-year pilot before finally rolling out the use of polygraphs generally in that field. Why is a different approach taken in this concurrent Bill?

It is interesting to note that the case studies in the MoJ memorandum on these proposals indicate that the information provided led to warrants being issued and physical evidence obtained in the offenders’ respective homes to contradict what they had said. However, there is no indication how often that has occurred or how many times such activity has proved nothing, and nothing has come of it. Will the Minister deal with that in his reply?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Attorney General

Like the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, I too have considerable doubts about the reliability of polygraph material. This series of government amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, indicate some degree of shambles on the part of the Government. They are withdrawing the polygraph provisions for Scotland and Northern Ireland. Had they consulted the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive prior to the initial publication of the Bill, they would have seen what the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive had to say about them.

In the light of what was said by those two Governments, why did the UK Government introduce these provisions? It is plain from what the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, is saying that the Scottish and Northern Irish Administrations do not want them. There is a reference to the various provisions that might allow them to introduce them as licence conditions. However, neither of the Administrations have indicated that they want these powers, so why on earth were they introduced in the first place and when was it that the UK Government decided to respect those views? If they did not consult those two Administrations before, why not?

Separate to that, on the use of polygraphs, what advice have the Government sought from police forces in England and Wales? To what extent would those police forces be confident about using polygraph testing?

Moving on, the effect of Amendment 73 would be that Clause 32, which sets out the conditions for polygraph testing for terrorist offenders in England and Wales, would come into force two months after Royal Assent rather than by regulations. Why have the Government reduced the degree of scrutiny available to the introduction of polygraphs by removing the need for regulations? Separately, what provisions are available in the Bill to stop the use of polygraphs if they prove to be ineffective?

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for setting out their various points. I turn first to those made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. On the effectiveness of polygraphs, as I said in my introductory remarks, they are used elsewhere in English law in relation to sex offenders. There is therefore a body of evidence as to their utility. On what “failing” means and the consequences of failure, it is important to remember, as I think the noble Lord appreciates, that offenders who are subject to testing cannot be recalled to custody for failing a polygraph test. They can be recalled for making disclosures during the test that reveal that they have breached other licence conditions, or that their risk has escalated to a level at which they can no longer be managed safely in the community.

On the right to silence and other Human Rights Act rights, I am sure that the noble Lord will recall that during the course of the sex offender pilot of the polygraph system, an offender challenged the imposition of testing on Article 8 grounds, but that was rejected by the courts. No further challenges have been made since then and we are therefore confident that this is compliant with the Human Rights Act and the rights contained therein.

On the remark that there is to be no pilot scheme, I will make two points. First, this is not the initial use of polygraphs in English law because they are already used in connection with sexual offences. Secondly, it is unlikely that there will be sufficient numbers of relevant offenders to carry out a pilot that would produce meaningful results.

I turn to the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. It is rather odd to be accused of presiding over a shambles when we have actually listened to the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly in our discussions with them. On whether police forces are able and ready to use polygraphs, they are of course already being used in circumstances related to sexual offenders. Therefore, this testing is not entirely new to them. The regulations that will govern polygraph testing have been set out and we do not think that it will be an ineffective tool.

I hope that I have responded to the various points raised. If noble Lords feel that I should provide further information on any of them, they know that we will of course continue to have discussions about these matters.

Amendment 2 agreed.