Clause 74 - Use of video links for proceedings about terrorism act detention

Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 7th March 2001.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 12:30 pm, 7th March 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 255, in page 61, line 32, after `such', insert `secure'.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 256, in page 61, line 43, after `persons', insert `throughout the hearing'.

No. 257, in page 61, line 44, at end insert `throughout the hearing'.

No. 258, in page 62, line 13, at end insert `; and—

(c) it is not reasonably practicable in all the circumstances for the hearing to be conducted in the presence of the applicant to whom the application relates or of any legal representative of that person.'.

No. 259, in page 62, line 14, at beginning insert—

`If a judicial authority gives a direction under sub-paragraph (4), it shall state its reaons for doing so when giving the direction; and'.

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

The clause allows video review of detention under the Terrorism Act 2000. Thanks to the Government's insistence on the point, a judicial process is now involved, rather than, as when we were in government, a Secretary of State's decision.

I understand that the Liberal Democrats' view is that we should simply leave out the clause. Our amendments make various points, some of which we have already discussed. The first relates to the introduction of the concept of secure links. Anxiety has been expressed that such video links should not be capable of being intercepted by people who are up to no good. I should be grateful for any further assurances that the Minister can give us on that.

Amendments Nos. 256 and 257 would ensure that the judicial authority would be able to see and hear those making representations throughout the hearing. It would try to ensure that we replicate, as far as possible, the conditions in a judicial hearing. If one is trying to have a judicial process, the matter should be dealt with in a judicial way.

Amendment No. 258 would introduce a ``not reasonably practicable'' test for such hearings, making them fall into line with clause 72. Why is there currently no such test? Is it because the Government are considering making video reviews of detention under the Terrorism Act 2000 routine in almost all cases rather than having a physical review of detention? Is it a major change of policy?

Amendment No. 259 would force the judicial authority to give its reasons for a video hearing. Presumably, there would be a reason for the hearing to be conducted by video, unless the practice is to become routine. Given that courts are forced to provide reasons even for granting bail, surely a serious matter such as this would require a reason.

The Liberals have been close to Liberty in their preparations for the Committee, so I will leave it to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey to make Liberty's points, but I believe that it has concerns about how the practice might work that should be aired at this stage.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

We support the amendments tabled by the Conservative party, which would improve the drafting. Some of them attempt to put in lay or ordinary terms some of the things that one would expect should one go down this road. All of them seek to ensure that there can be the greatest confidence in the process compatible with keeping the clause as a whole.

I declare an interest as the Member of Parliament for Liberty—its headquarters is based in my constituency, which is, after all, the centre of the world, as people have come to realise. I do not necessarily espouse all its views, but I am sympathetic to its work.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Absolutely. I have been a member of Liberty in the past. I do not think that I am currently a paid-up member, although I will probably be told off after this debate for not being so. I assess on its merits each suggestion that Liberty makes, just as other colleagues would do. I have rejected some and supported others. The clause is questionable and requires either amendment or deletion for both procedural and substantial reasons. It is frustrating to spend time in Committee going through major legislation such as the Terrorism Act 2000, which has just become law, only to be amending that legislation two minutes later—two seconds in ``godspan'' time.

There used to be a ban in local government on returning to a matter within six months of its being debated. We ought to introduce a rule whereby Governments need a two-thirds majority of Parliament, or both Houses, to amend a piece of legislation that they introduced in the preceding five years. There ought to be a self-denying ordinance. Legislation would be improved if the Government were precluded from returning to it. In the context of double jeopardy, we have been discussing how dangerous it is for people to think that if they fail to get a conviction first time, they may get one second time round. Governments should ensure that they get the law right the first time. If the same party is in office, it should not be able to come back to the matter. That is my objection on a ground of procedure.

I object, too, on a ground of substance. We took the view, as the Minister was kind enough to acknowledge, that any decisions that needed to be taken about an important change of procedure should be taken by a judge, not by a member or representative of the Executive. Therefore, it is more acceptable for a judicial authority than for any other authority to decide that representations may be made by televised link under this insertion into schedule 8 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Has any decision been made by the European Court of Human Rights that a fair trial is possible by video link? I am not aware of one. If it does not exist, I am surprised that the Government can be confident that the provisions will pass the test. There is a great difference between a decision being made by someone who is physically present—just as you are sitting here, Mr. Gale—and a decision being made by someone who is not present, but available only at the end of a telecommunications link. I realise that we live in a changing world and that people increasingly use that methodology . However, I am not sure that it is appropriate for a prisoner or defendant to communicate in such a way with the police or judicial authority simply because it is appropriate for two people in two different companies who are discussing a merger, or two members of a family living in different countries.

As the Minister conceded in the debate on terrorism, we seek to use the methods to which I have referred only for important matters, in a small of minority of cases, under particular powers given to the police and authorities when someone is arrested for what is regarded as a terrorist offence under the Terrorist Act 2000. Therefore, we should be careful that we allow the person the opportunity to attend judicial proceedings.

Will the Minister consider the amendments positively and think about accepting them? Will he answer the specific questions that I have asked about previous court judgments and respond to the strong views about the compatibility of the measures with the fair trial provisions? Finally, will he tell us in what circumstances Ministers envisage that the measures will be used? The trouble with such legislation is that it may be drawn up for use only in exceptional circumstances, but that, once the power is on the statute book, it can be used all the time. Judicial authority is required, but the police could easily go to the authority frequently, just as they go to magistrates for other permission regularly.

We need to know about the safeguards and the court decisions that may be precedents and why the Government cannot allow the normal procedures to be followed, especially in important cases.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate 12:45 pm, 7th March 2001

Why is the provision is necessary? I know that a similar provision was put in place for the armed services, under the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000. Did another set of circumstances arise for which it was thought to be needed?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

The origin of the measures is in the Terrorism Bill proceedings.

The five-year moratorium is a dangerous doctrine, but an appropriately conservative one for the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey to adopt. Given the pace of change in relation to technology and other things, a five-year block would be difficult to deal with.

As the hon. Gentleman will recall, much debate was devoted to the subject during consideration of the Terrorism Bill. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) told us at length and entertainingly how, when he was a Minister in the Home Office, he tried hard to get the Conservative Government to introduce video hearings. However, that attempt was blocked by the lawyers—his Government colleagues, in fact—who thought that the quill pen was pushing technology too far and that video could not be used. I said that the Government accepted his points because we thought that that was the correct direction. That was said in Committee and on Report, and the clause represents a progression of that approach.

We thought that it was important to consult on the matter, rather than just to implement it. That is why we did not introduce it earlier. The decision has come from a good process. To answer the point made by the hon. Member for Reigate, we did not decide that we should introduce video for a specific reason, but we believe that it is increasingly necessary to be able to use video in this way.

The amendments would bolster the rights of a suspect by ensuring that his or her interests are safeguarded during judicial extension hearings that are conducted by video and limiting the discretion of a judicial authority to use video links.

Amendment No. 255 would ensure that video links are secure. That is laudable, given the need to protect intelligence, but the security of the system can be adequately covered by the Secretary of State's quality assurance. That is the way to proceed, rather than by changing the Bill. I give the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire an absolute assurance that we take the matter seriously, and the quality assurance will ensure that.

Amendments Nos. 256 and 257 would ensure that the detainee's right to be seen and heard, and to see and hear, is adequate throughout the hearing. I share that laudable aim, but the changes in wording would not strengthen the clause, which is clear, because it carries no implications that that right is qualified in any way or applies to only one part of the hearing. We share the approach of amendments Nos. 255 to 257 but think that the current wording is better.

The situation with respect to amendments Nos. 258 and 259 is different. Amendment No. 258 would ensure that the use of video links is exceptional. That is not the policy aim of the clause, which is to make the use of video links a normal rather than an exceptional event, subject to the discretion of the judicial authority. Video links should be introduced for a number of reasons, some of which are cost saving—I know that that is the only thing that interests the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. However, in many parts of the country, they would also make it more convenient to bring people into the judicial system rapidly and effectively.

Amendment No. 258 presumes that the hearing will be held in person and only held by video in exceptional circumstances. Clause 74 is not unprecedented, as similar provisions exist in the bail and immigration fields. The amendment would undermine the central policy goal of the clause, which, although I am open to correction, I do not believe that the Conservatives oppose—that is why I cited the attempts of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border.

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

We are obviously keen for proper protections to be in place. Will the Minister explain why clause 74 provides for the routine use of video links while clause 72 makes such use exceptional?

Mr. Clarke: Because we are talking about different circumstances. Clause 72 applies to specific circumstances relating to detention, which require various protections. That is an exceptional process. However, the situation that we are currently discussing is quite different.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I will finish what I am going to say about amendment No. 259 and then I will give way.

Amendment No. 259 would change the presumption on the use of video links. It would require the judicial authority to give reasons for the use of such links as well as for a decision to take the hearing in person. That would mean that the judicial authority would have to give reasons in every case. The policy aim is for the presumption of the use of video links, for the reasons that I have stated.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I will give way to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and then to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire before I mention the European convention.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Will the Minister elaborate on the host of reasons why he thinks that video links should be the main policy aim? They are a less personal and less effective method of ensuring direct contact between the authority and detainee under the detention and arrest provisions in clause 72, but they should be more exceptional in respect of terrorism, which is more rare, more serious and more important. It should not be the norm that terrorism detention decisions should be taken by video link. That is a bad policy objective. Such decisions should be taken in a face-to-face arrangement, except in exceptional circumstances.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman is right in a sense. I do not want to undermine him, but we want a greater use of video in such proceedings. I understand his point about safeguards, which he has made consistently. We have established effective safeguards. We are worried, however, that amendments Nos. 258 and 259 would erect a further set of hurdles, which would make matters more difficult to deal with.

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

Clauses 72 and 74 are both about detention. Clause 72 covers terrorists and a slightly different procedure. Is there something about terrorism and the way in which terrorist suspects are detained that means that video links would be useful? Is there a practical reason why it would be good to take such action all the time, whereas it should be exceptional in ordinary cases? What is the difference?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

The fundamental point is that clause 72 detainees will be in the police station and such cases will be reviewed by the police officer. As for clause 74, in the case of a review by a judge under the Terrorism Act 2000, significant issues are raised by transferring the terrorist suspect to court, and that raises serious issues that make the use of videos beneficial. The overall use of video links will prevent detainees from spending longer overall in custody, due to their having to spend long periods of travelling to the judicial authority, who may be some distance away. That is a significant factor.

The right to appear before a judicial authority guaranteed by article 53 of the European convention of human rights can be delivered effectively through video links, which facilitate the right to make all representation when the detainee chooses to exercise it. The convention rights around which the judicial extension provisions are designed are set out in the Schiesser judgment, with which the hon. Gentleman, as a lawyer, will be familiar. The relevant right is to appear and for the judicial authority to be able to hear for himself or herself both sides of the argument. Appearance can be facilitated by video link. The key issue will be about the quality and security of the system, to which I referred earlier. I urge that the amendment be withdrawn.

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

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 1.

Division number 30 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 74 - Use of video links for proceedings about terrorism act detention

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 1 MP

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 74 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 75 ordered to stand part of the Bill.