Clause 289 - Prior approval

Part of Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 8 January 2002.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 6:00, 8 January 2002

I shall not favour the Committee with my views on what the hon. Gentleman thinks about my party, fun though that might be. Amendment No. 452 would be unduly and unworkably restrictive in requiring the involvement of a higher judicial authority in every instance. However, I am not persuaded that it would be either necessary or desirable to involve senior officers of the police or Customs and Excise, as the Government appear to wish to do in relation to subsection (2). I am aware that that practice has been prevalent south of the border as a result of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. There are others here better qualified than I am to comment on whether that has worked well. However, it has not hitherto been a feature of the Scottish criminal justice system and I can see no particular merit in introducing it in this way.

Amendment No. 408, which restricts the definition of appropriate approval to that granted by a judicial officer, has considerable force. In passing, I wondered why the definition of a judicial officer in England, Wales and Northern Ireland included a justice of the peace, whereas in Scotland it was restricted to a sheriff. The practice in the Scottish criminal justice system at present is to seek warrants from a justice of the peace whenever possible, rather than to go through the sheriff.

The practice until two or three years ago was that warrant applications, which, broadly, is what we are discussing, would normally be dealt with by a sheriff, and only in exceptional circumstances by a justice of the peace. However, because of the volume of work involved, things have now gone the other way. Warrant applications are now routinely made to justices of the peace, and only for the most serious cases are they made to the sheriff. I would be interested to know what the Government's thinking on that is.

If one does not accept Amendment No. 452, certain parts of amendment No. 409 become unnecessary. The inclusion in subsection (9) of the provisions regarding the appointed person is a necessary and welcome safeguard.