Clause 8 - Statements by constables

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 15th February 2001.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I want to make a few remarks about officers' witness statements. Since the Committee addressed the matter in an earlier debate, I have had discussions with the Police Superintendents Association and the Police Federation, and I remain concerned that the procedure might require officers to produce lengthy witness statements in addition to a fixed penalty notice.

The procedure must be simple and streamlined if it is to work. The statements should say little more than that someone was found drunk and incapable in the street or threatened Mrs. Brown—short statements, which an officer can write out easily. The procedure is not suitable for complicated cases.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary think further about the matter? Is he prepared to say that the guidance will make it clear that a fixed penalty notice will be issued only if an offence can be summed up in a couple of simple sentences?

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I do not think that we shall have the same kind of technical debate that we had on the previous clause. However, I hope that I can interest the hon. Member for Hall Green, who always carefully listens to debate and was brave enough to be persuaded by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire in the previous debate, although he might have had a lightning change of heart before the vote on clause 7. I hope that I can interest the hon. Member for Hall Green because, if I am right, there may be a complication in the conjunction of subsections (4) and (6). Those of us who have the advantage of being lawyers—

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I will ignore the division between Ministers about the value of being a lawyer.

Lawyers will remember that section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 was vital to all courses on the law of evidence. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary—like myself and my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire—spent many hours studying the work of Professor Sir Rupert Cross, the leading authority on the law of evidence. One of the issues that is beloved of all textbook writers on section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 may not have been fully thought through by the Government. It could be akin to the point raised in relation to the last clause.

Subsection (6) states:

``statement to be tendered in evidence to be served before hearing on other parties to the proceedings'' and,

``service of the statement is to be taken to have been effected by or on behalf of the prosecutor.''

However, subsection (4) states:

``The statement is to be treated as properly served . . . even though the manner of service is not authorised by subsection (8)'' of section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967. The Government are saying that the normal rules from section 9 of the 1967Act will be bypassed. The new law will provide an exception to that Act and a different procedure.

I can see why the Government want to do that. They are attempting to make handing over the short form of the notices a quick procedure. There is no doubt in our minds that that is laudable. However, Conservative Members—I have discussed the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire—are worried that the quick procedure might create a complex series of arguments to establish what is, and what is not, proper service of statements of evidence. The Government must convince us that they have consulted widely on exactly how the bypassing of section 9 of the 1967 Act will work. Are they confident that the first time that the short service of statements of evidence is tried and challenged for validity under the Human Rights Act, it will be upheld? I am not convinced that it will be.

I have a dreadful fear that there may be a test case in which a distinguished human rights lawyer, such as Michael Mansfield QC, may be instructed. For example, the director of Liberty could be involved in a big demonstration and be wrongly issued with a fixed penalty notice. I cast no aspersions on that gentleman, but he would have access to the top human rights lawyers in the country. Are the Government satisfied that if he decided that the short form of service of statements of evidence needed to be challenged in a test case, the legislation would be fireproof and Human Rights Act-proof? I am not convinced.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I will, but I am about to finish so the Parliamentary Secretary may wish to respond to the points in more detail, instead of intervening.

Conservative Members are concerned and want reassurance that the Government have thought the matter through. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give detail about the advice that he has been given on the way in which the measure will work. It is unconventional to set aside a major plank of the law of evidence.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

I am worried that the manner of giving statements and the deeming of the statements—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.