Clause 82 - Arrest without warrant

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 4th March 2003.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

We are told that a constable may arrest a person without warrant if he has reason to suspect that an offence has been committed or that the person who is suspected of having committed an offence is on board and under the influence of drink or drugs. The provisions come from part 4 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and part 5 of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.

The royal commission that preceded PACE said in its report that there was lack of clarity and an uneasy and confused mixture of common law and statutory powers of arrest—the statutory powers having grown up piecemeal and without any consistent rationale. Its objectives were therefore twofold: first, it would restrict arrest circumstances to those in which arrest is genuinely necessary, and secondly it would simplify, clarify and rationalise. One recommendation—not adopted—was that all imprisonable offences should become arrestable offences.

The report stated that the basic principle of arrest without warrant remained, whether or not an offence

carried a sentence of five years or more. The penalties under clause 79 are considerably less. The report then listed some offences that were not previously arrestable. Section 17 of PACE would apparently be enforced for the purposes of entry and search without warrant. It states that a constable may enter and search any premises for the purpose of executing a warrant of arrest or a warrant of commitment. Those powers are specific. My concern is how far reaching they are when no warrant is required. We have stated more than once that as far as possible arrest with warrant would be the preferred option for the relevant constable for part 4 purposes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge suggested, the river police might be involved, but it is more likely be the local police, the road police or possibly the British Transport police. Where a warrant is issued, rights pertain to the accused. How often is an arrest without warrant envisaged? Where a ship is at sea or in an inland waterway—a considerable distance away—the constable must be able to act speedily.

Subsection (2) states:

''But a person may not be arrested under this section while he is at a hospital as a patient.''

Does that cover the position where a person accused of an offence is so intoxicated through the effects of drink or drugs that he has become ill? He might have caused an accident yet not be arrested.

The Committee will be aware of a solicitor in the Vale of York—he was also an acting coroner and a pre-eminent individual in the local society—being prosecuted for substantial fraud. Sadly, after he was sentenced, he suffered two heart attacks and when he was taken to hospital, he was manacled to the bed. We all understand the requirement not to lose a convicted criminal, but we also understand the trauma to the individual and his family. We should compare that scenario with the circumstances under the clause whereby an individual who has not been convicted, but is accused of committing a serious offence and endangering lives, cannot be arrested while in hospital as a patient—even though his own silly deeds had brought him to hospital in the first place. Will the Minister clarify the position?

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

People who cannot be arrested are often dealt with through the various cautions that can be given out, but does my hon. Friend agree that being at hospital is too wide-ranging an exemption?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is precisely the point of clarification that I seek. My hon. Friend is obviously taking the same line of thinking as I am. We hope that people will not try to evade arrest by making themselves unavailable by virtue of being in hospital. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury is not here to assist me in this regard, as he is busy in another part of the House, but I believe that many ships have a hospital unit. If someone is to be arrested, the police constable will do the testing, so the person will have to be available for testing and arrest.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend touches on a point that I wanted to raise. I cannot understand why, if someone is incapable of being arrested in a hospital on

land, a person who has suffered an equally serious accident at sea and is in a ship's hospital as a result of his own actions, is not treated in the same way on board.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:15 am, 4th March 2003

That is precisely the point that I hope that the Under-Secretary will clarify.

One scenario is that the person is so drunk or drugged that he falls and hurts himself and is taken off the ship to be placed in hospital. In that case, the person conveniently escapes arrest. Is the Under-Secretary saying that clause 82 means that people may also conveniently escape being tested if an accident has been caused and they are accused of an offence leading to it?

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I assume that such people will not escape arrest, as the police will wait until a suitable time until they arrest them. However, that needs to be clarified.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

We need clarification because we may fall foul of clause 81, which, we were told, must be followed in a reasonable time. We have raised some serious issues, and we need clarification, especially given the fact that the provisions relate to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and that the royal commission flagged up problems in principle about arrest without warrant and the statutory powers of arrest in general. I would take a dim view of clause 82 if it meant that a person accused of an offence, perhaps in the same scenario as the Marchioness disaster, would escape testing and arrest. Such a person should do so for only a limited time.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Clause 82 gives a police officer the right to arrest a person whom he suspects is committing or has committed an offence under part 4. The clause is necessary as it gives the police officer the power to take a suspect to a police station, where authorised equipment will be capable of taking a definitive reading of the amount of alcohol in a suspect's body. The provision reflects the power of arrest set out in section 4(6) of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

A police officer will not have the right to arrest someone who is in hospital as a patient. There was some suggestion that someone could walk through the door of a hospital and avoid arrest, but that would not be the case. Such a patient should be protected from the requirement to provide a specimen if the doctor in charge of his case objected on the basis that it would be prejudicial to the proper care and treatment of the patient. If the doctor in charge does not object, specimens of blood or urine may be taken for analysis in the laboratory. Provisions in the Road Traffic Act 1988, as implemented in the Bill by clause 80, deal with the provision of a specimen by a person in hospital. Those will apply in such a case.

A hospital means an institution that provides medical or surgical treatment for in-patients or out-patients. Some ships are equipped with hospital facilities, but we do not propose to extend the provision because a ship's doctor might not be sufficiently independent or detached from the

subject. Few ships have a hospital staffed by a qualified doctor—that may happen only on a large cruise ship. A ship may have a sick bay, in which some medical equipment is available, but a doctor would not generally administer treatment on most ships. It is very unlikely that a doctor will be in charge of such a patient on board a ship, and we therefore did not think it appropriate to include it in the provision.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I understand what the Under-Secretary is saying about the provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1988, with which we would all agree, and that there may be occasions when someone's life is at risk. He used the word prejudicial, and I understand the points about the expertise or proximity of other crew members. However, is there not a chance that someone would insist on a sample being taken that would be prejudicial to the person's health, because there is no provision to safeguard them when they are at sea?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The clause provides the same position as exists on the roads. If a person were to have a sample taken, it would be taken at a police station and in the normal way in which it would be taken for a road traffic offence.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am trying to say that if someone were sufficiently injured not to be able to be moved to a police station but was on board a ship, a sample could still be taken or tests conducted that could be deemed to be prejudicial to that person's health.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Again, the same position applies in this respect as applies on the roads and in relation to a road traffic accident victim. If a person were unconscious, for example, a police officer at the roadside could not ask him to take a breath test, and a blood sample could not be taken at the side of the road. I think that exactly the same conditions would apply to someone who had an injury aboard a ship as apply to someone lying injured at the side of a road as a result of a road traffic accident.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

We are almost there. The Under-Secretary said that a blood sample could not be taken at the side of a road. However, as far as I can see, under the clause, a blood sample could be taken from anyone who was suspected of committing an offence under the relevant provision, regardless of their state of health, while they were on a ship. I seek clarification. At the moment, it seems that someone could insist on taking a blood sample while the person was unconscious.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The same would apply as elsewhere. First, the person would have to be arrested by the uniformed constable whom we discussed earlier. Then the same conditions would apply as apply under the road traffic legislation. A decision would have to be made. If a person was clearly in a serious condition because of an accident, exactly the same conditions would apply. The police would not have the means to do the blood test away from the station. They do not have the ability to do the blood test aboard the ship. They would have to be at the station. As I have said,

the same circumstances that apply to someone injured on the road would apply to someone on a ship.

Let me deal with the powers of arrest without warrant in the context of the breath test on the roads under section 6(5) of the Road Traffic Act. We simply wish to replicate what happens on the roads. The hon. Member for Vale of York asked about arrest with or without a warrant. I think that it is the case that arrest without a warrant would be the normal means of arrest for the offence that we are discussing, just as it is on the road for a drink-driving offence.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful for those clarifications, but it strikes me, in relation to some of the concerns that the Opposition have shared with the Committee, that there are clear differences in the application of this clause and clause 80 to a ship—whether at sea in UK waters or on inland waterways—from what pertains in respect of road traffic.

I understand that the Government have adopted some of the provisions from navigation functions as opposed to road functions. Clearly, the Under-Secretary and the rest of the Government will recognise that there will be many more practical difficulties in getting a constable on board a ship. We are not told anywhere what is a reasonable time. Nor have we been told what a reasonable time is for detention. Obviously, the person who is incapacitated and in hospital has the right to be treated and things must not interfere with his treatment, but he may escape prosecution even though his intoxication or the influence of drugs may have led to the accident. I hear what the Under-Secretary says, and his explanation of the provisions, but in those circumstances it would take longer to take a suspect to the police station where there would be equipment to take a specimen. A person could be in hospital for a considerable time, and I would like to place it on the record that, whatever the good reasons given by the Government, it would be regrettable if a person were to escape prosecution in those circumstances.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 82 ordered to stand part of the Bill.