Clause 2 - Penalty notices

Part of Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 6th February 2001.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 6:30 pm, 6th February 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 2, line 39, leave out `reason' and insert `reasonable grounds'.

The amendment would require that a constable should have reasonable grounds to believe, rather than reason to believe, that a person has committed a penalty offence. There are a number of possible states of mind that a constable might have in giving a fixed penalty notice, ranging from suspicion to certainty beyond reasonable doubt that an offence has been committed. Surely, it is right to pitch the terminology between those two extremes. Will the Minister justify his choice—namely, that an officer should have reason to believe rather than reasonable grounds to believe?

Liberty is worried about the fact that a penalty notice can be issued if an officer has reason to believe that a penalty offence has been committed. As it points out, that is less than the criminal standard. The effect of accepting a fixed penalty notice will be to accept that behaviour to a criminal standard has occurred, so Liberty believes that officers imposing the penalty notices should be required to be satisfied to the same standard. I do not accept that, but it is a reasonable point: simply to say that one has reason to believe something may not be quite enough. If a person who is issued with a notice goes to court to protest his or her innocence rather than pay the fine, the burden of proof will then be beyond reasonable doubt. One practical implication of that is that large numbers of people may challenge the notices, which, in Liberty's view, would place an administrative burden on the system.

The amendment would require the officer to have reasonable grounds for issuing a notice. It makes the distinction between having a reason and having a reason with grounds to it, and its effect would be to create an objective, rather than a subjective, test for police officers. Currently, a police officer has only to believe that someone is guilty rather than having to demonstrate why he came to that belief on the basis of objective evidence. The amendment would not necessarily make a huge difference in practice, but it would be beneficial in that an officer would have his mind focused on the possibility that his decision could be challenged in court at a later date, so he would make that decision in the way that we would all hope for.

Liberty states:

If a group of people were drinking and being rowdy, it would be necessary for the police to ensure that each member of the group individually had been contributing to the disturbance and/or had been drinking. As we believe that the police are likely to use the FPN fairly liberally, we will need to ensure that they are issued as accurately as possible and that the magistrates courts are not clogged with people appealing their notices.

It concludes that if people do need to appeal, the police should be able to offer objective evidence to the effect that they believe that the notice should have been given, as is required with the breathalyser test.