Clause 191 - Bail

Part of Extradition Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 16 January 2003.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 4:00, 16 January 2003

I was pleased recently to hear the Government announce plans—rather belatedly, in my view—to restrict some of the so-called rights to bail under the Bail Act 1976. Indeed, the Home Secretary spoke about that the other day in relation to other legislation. Will the Minister say something about the interlinking between this legislation and other projected legislation? On Opposition amendments, we have talked about a potential mismatch in thinking in relation to the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill, which is in another place. We have sought to expose the Government's lack of logic between that legislation and this measure.

In this instance, I suspect that we are talking about the Criminal Justice Bill. I am told that the Committee considering that Bill will sit for a number of weeks—almost as long as the Committee that considered the Proceeds of Crime Bill last year, on which I served with other members of this Committee. I gather that there are due to be 28 Committee sittings, some of which will be double sittings in the afternoon, with only a quarter of an hour break. If I may say so without going out of order, Mr. O'Hara, that is more of the nonsense that the new hours have brought upon us. I am genuinely concerned about that.

When my party was in government, I spent much time arguing that we needed to amend the Bail Act 1976 because it was one of the least workable pieces of legislation. When I practised at the Bar from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, I found that the Act led to more people being out who should have been in custody, if I may use that shorthand, than any other piece of legislation. It got things completely wrong. The Act was introduced when the previous Labour Government, the Wilson-Callaghan Government,

were still on their civil liberties kick, which the present Government seem largely to have abandoned.

One thing that went wrong with our criminal justice legislation was the establishment of the so-called right to bail. I believe that, if someone is accused of a criminal offence, particularly a serious one, they have no such right; it is a question of what the state decides is appropriate.

I am always interested when the 1976 Act appears for amendment in other legislation. I remember saying to colleagues when I first studied to be a lawyer—not long after the Act had been implemented—that one reason why I wanted to pursue my interest in politics was to try to do something about the appalling 1976 Act if I ever got into Parliament. That was genuinely one of my motivations for standing for election to this place, which is why I feel so strongly about any amendments that are proposed to that Act.

Did the Minister and his advisers think through the interlinking between these changes and the other things that they are planning to do to restrict the operation of the 1976 Act? I shall be delighted if the Government one day repeal the Act and replace it with something much tougher, in the same way that the Bill replaces previous legislation.