Clause 332 - Judges

Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 29 January 2002.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 10:45, 29 January 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 548, in page 193, line 17 leave out 'Circuit Judge' and insert

'judge of the Crown Court.'.

I am so taken aback by the Minister's acceptance of amendment No. 547 that I have mislaid my notes.

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

May I help my hon. Friend by reminding him that this amendment deals with the distinction between a circuit judge and a judge of the Crown court?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for his assistance.

Clause 332 says that applications in relation to a confiscation investigation must be made to a circuit judge. From our earlier debate, I understood that it was intended that the Crown court should deal with such matters. I accept that, as we said at an early stage of the proceedings, it is necessary for the judiciary who deal with the applications to be trained, because they may be unfamiliar with that area of the law.

However, by using the term ''Circuit Judge'', the Minister has missed an opportunity. First, there are likely to be recorders sitting in the Crown court who, by the nature of their practice, may have considerable expertise in that area. The consequence of the wording is that they would be deprived of the opportunity of sitting to hear and determine applications.

Secondly, on occasion High Court judges sit in the Crown court. We may not be certain how the judiciary will operate in criminal matters post-Auld, but they seem likely to continue along present lines. Red judges, who have gained considerable expertise in relevant fields before reaching the bench, will sometimes sit in the Crown court. Although their rulings and interpretations do not constitute case law, we know

from Crown court experience that transcripts are often produced and freely circulated among practitioners. Such transcripts are of great assistance subsequently, especially if the judgment of the person making the ruling carries weight, and he is known to be knowledgeable in his field.

The amendment seeks to avoid depriving society of the possible input in the Crown court of individuals with something to offer. Might the Government accept the amendment, or reconsider the idea at a later stage? I seek to be helpful.

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

Does my hon. Friend agree that his point about including recorders is especially pertinent in connection with people known to members of the Committee? Labour Members have expressed concern about the use of solicitor recorders. One of the most distinguished of those is my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who is involved in the debate now taking place in Westminster Hall, where he is leading the charge in the attack on the Government's failing policy on asylum seekers.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Undoubtedly there will be recorders in the Crown court who have a great deal of experience and expertise in that area. It would be foolish to deprive ourselves of that. Listing officers in the Crown court are adept at assessing whether a person is competent or willing to hear an application in matters that are outside their normal discipline, and they will act accordingly. I cannot see that there is a huge problem, and there may well be considerable benefits.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, but his stated intention would not be achieved by the amendment. Therefore I cannot accept it. It would require that all applications for the use of the powers in England and Wales in respect of confiscation and money laundering investigations, including applications to vary and discharge, made in open court.

I can state explicitly that applications may be made to a circuit judge in the Crown court in England and Wales, so that applications can be heard ex parte. There are otherwise no facilities for the Crown court to hear ex parte proceedings. That makes it easier to submit out-of-hours applications. The provision follows the precedent of provisions in the present confiscation legislation and in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Having said that, I am not sure that that is the hon. Gentleman's motive. I have asked whether we are restricting appropriate people who might be drawn in by a different form of words, and I am assured that the bread-and-butter work of the Crown court is carried out by circuit judges. That explains the reference to the circuit judge, both in previous legislation and in the Bill.

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to existing expertise, it may be worth considering whether it is appropriate to use it. If changing the wording will enable expertise to be used, I assure him that I will examine that point further. However, that would not be the effect of his amendment.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister is being enormously helpful to my hon. Friend and me in accepting the spirit of our intention. When making his analysis, will he accept that there is nothing unusual about recorders hearing ex parte matters in their chambers? It is commonplace for recorders—whether members of the Bar or solicitors—to have all sorts of discussions in chambers when a case requires. It would be a helpful use of what is known as ''judge power'', if the Minister allowed recorders to be included. Although he does not accept the precise way in which we wished to achieve that, perhaps, as he helpfully suggested, he will accept the spirit of the amendment.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is what I was saying I was happy to consider—but I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that there are reasons for the particular wording of the provision. We need to understand the consequences of any changes that we make. As I have said, if the present wording would rule out the participation in those decisions of some people with expertise, and if we can include them—and nothing more than that—by using other words, we would consider doing so.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for that response, but I am somewhat mystified by his objection to the amendment. It would not in any way preclude the rules of court enabling the applications to be made ex parte. The hon. Gentleman may wish to raise the matter with his advisers, and I defer to him, and to them, with regard to it.

The important thing is the intention to bring those other people in, because that would be beneficial. I would be content if that could be achieved by employing a form of words different from those in my amendment. However, I do not understand why my form of words should have the unintended consequence that has been suggested, and I ask the Minister and his advisers to reconsider whether that would be the case.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 332 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 333 and 334 ordered to stand part of the Bill.