Clause 2 - Penalty notices

Part of Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 7:15 pm on 6th February 2001.

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Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 7:15 pm, 6th February 2001

The amendments would make compensation payable to victims of criminal damage through penalty notices. I will not dwell on the technical issues.

The most effective way to ensure that victims of criminal damage have the ability to gain compensation is by the assurances that I have given, which I hope satisfy the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire. I would have given those assurances whether or not the amendment—which is perfectly well-meaning—had been moved. The guidance that we publish for the consideration of the Committee will state that where a person can be identified as a victim, no penalty notice should be issued. If somebody can be clearly identified as the victim of the act, a fixed penalty notice will not be used. Following on from that, penalty notices should be reserved for cases in which the victims are unknown or are corporate bodies unlikely to seek compensation in minor cases. I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that that is at least as a good a way of achieving his purpose as the amendment.

Corporate victims or public authorities that wish to discuss the implications of the scheme in relation to damage to their property—for example, if the local authority wants to deal with a problem with rubbish bins—will find that the crime and disorder partnerships will provide an excellent forum for local discussions. That is the most effective way of dealing with the situation.

Particular aspects of the amendments would ask a great deal of the police officer dealing with such a case for the reasons set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe). If they were given the duty of setting the compensation, it is possible that the police officers could be laid open to the risk of false allegations of corruption. Additional bureaucracy would result from the need to record victims' names and compensation amounts. If there were disputes, there would be a good deal of disagreement and difficult.

The setting of compensation is properly a matter for the courts. The guidance—I give the assurance again—will ensure that fixed penalty notices are not used in cases when there is an identifiable victim, but only in cases when victims are unknown or when they are corporate bodies unlikely to seek compensation in minor cases.

I hope that my assurances are satisfactory and that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.