Clause 332 - Judges

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

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:45, 29 January 2002

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.