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Clause 95 - Fixing of fines: Failure to furnish statement

Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 10th July 2003.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) 10:30 am, 10th July 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 151, in

clause 95, page 46, line 42, at end insert—

'( ) Amend section 20A of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 (c.53) (false statements as to financial circumstances) as follows.

( ) After subsection (1) insert—

''(1A) A person who is charged with an offence who fails to furnish a statement of his financial circumstances in response to an official request shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale.''

( ) In subsection (2)(b), after ''may impose'', insert ''and how it should be paid''.'.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Labour, Normanton

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government new clause 3—Recovery of fines etc. by deductions from income support: failure to provide information.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

Thank you, Mr. O'Brien, for progressing the Committee so well. I apologise for some of my interesting gestures during the past few minutes.

The amendment and new clause are designed to ensure that courts are provided with the necessary information to set fines at the right level and, if necessary, attach earnings or benefits provisions. Amendment No. 151 makes the failure to provide a statement of financial circumstances in response to an official request an offence punishable by a fine of up to £500.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I have not had the opportunity to look up the relevant section of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. Perhaps the Minister can help me by telling me whether the analogous provisions to new clause 3, which would qualify this new subsection, are already in the 1991 Act, that is to say, a person

''makes a statement which he knows to be false in a material particular, recklessly provides a statement which is false in a material particular, or knowingly fails to disclose any material fact.''

I am assuming that those are already covered, so are not in the amendment. Perhaps he can confirm that.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

My understanding is that under the 1991 Act as it stands, someone causes an offence if in providing financial information they mislead those involved. We are today seeking also to make it an offence to withhold financial information. That is, in essence, the change that we are making.

Amendment No. 151 widens the range of purposes for which a statement of financial circumstances may be required. Existing legislation permits a request about financial circumstances to be made for the purpose of determining the amount of any fine that the court may impose. The amendment adds:

''and how it should be paid.''

The effect is that a person who, on conviction, fails to provide the information necessary for the court to set

the appropriate fine and the information necessary to make an attachment of earnings order or application for benefit deduction will be guilty of an offence. These measures complement the provisions already in clause 95 which, in the absence of means information provided by the offender, allow the court to make an inference about the offender's ability to pay and to impose a fine accordingly. The measures also complement paragraph 48 of new schedule 1. That establishes the offence of failing to provide a statement of financial circumstances to a fines officer on request and of giving false information to a fines officer or failing to disclose relevant information.

New clause 3 amends section 24 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and makes it an offence to fail to provide the court with the information necessary to make a deduction from benefits order. It also creates the offence of giving false information or failing to disclose information. Those new offences mirror ones that are already on the statute book relating to attachment of earnings orders. That is the point made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome. The provisions will cater for offenders who fail to provide the necessary information on the first default or where it is known to the court that the offender receives benefits.

In addition, the Government intend to use regulation-making powers in paragraph 44 of new schedule 1 to modify the 1991 Act and the Attachment of Earnings Act 1971 in two respects: first, so that the fines officer may make attachment orders or apply to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for deductions from benefits; and, secondly, so that the relevant offences apply where that information is requested by a fines officer. I commend the amendment and the new clause to the Committee.

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

We have no problem with what the Government propose in the amendment and the new clause.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 95, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.