Clause 59 - Restrictions on use of statements

Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 13th January 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 10:15 am, 13th January 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 213, in clause 59, page 32, line 37, leave out 'criminal'.

The amendment, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, who as the Committee knows has to be at a memorial service today, deals with a small but important point. I seek clarification of why ''criminal'' is included but the gamut of civil cases is not. If she can make that clear, I will happily withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The amendment would prevent a statement made under a disclosure notice being used against the person who made it in civil proceedings. Such statements will be made only in relation to documents or information relating to serious criminal offences and so will not routinely include information of relevance to civil proceedings.

The clause ensures that self-incriminatory statements made under the powers in chapter 1 cannot be used in criminal proceedings. That replicates the current safeguards on Serious Fraud Office powers, which have been thoroughly tested by the courts. The provisions are also consistent with the use of disclosure notices in asset recovery, where there is no bar on self-incriminatory statements being used in civil proceedings.

It is open to a court to decide not to admit a specific statement if there is no statutory prohibition on its admissibility, but we do not believe that it is necessary or desirable to provide an absolute prohibition on the use of such statements in civil proceedings. An example involving the SFO would be where it passes information to the Financial Services Authority to look at in civil proceedings on financial irregularities. I hope that that explains the situation and ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am most grateful to the Minister for her explanation. As far as I understand matters, I   think that she has answered the point, but no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, with his legal training, will wish to examine her words. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

I have a short query, which I hope I am raising appropriately in connection with clause 59, which deals with excluding the fruit of any disclosure notice from criminal proceedings only, not from civil proceedings.

What the Minister said is absolutely right, but I have a concern. How does someone challenge a notice that they do not believe they should have been served with? I have not seen anything in the Bill to set up a procedure, so my point is wider than the one that the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield made about challenging issues of privilege. If I do not believe that I possess documents that can be relevant to an investigation into Bloggs—perhaps because I have never met Bloggs or do not know who he is—how do I get such powers lifted? Do I have to go to court via a civil route, which would probably be a long route and could certainly obstruct criminal proceedings or an investigation?

I hope that the Minister can help, although she might be unable to do so straight away—I appreciate that my question might be a bolt from the blue. It is important that people know what they have to do to get out from under such draconian powers if, by any mischance, they are inappropriately applied.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. We shall apply the same procedures, as I understand it, as the SFO. I ask her to bear with me while I obtain further details for her.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

My only concern was that if one does not accept the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield and moved by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield—if the individual has to challenge a notice through civil proceedings—one wants all the material seized to be admissible in civil proceedings.

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

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for raising that interesting point. An alternative question is whether information derived from the improper use of a disclosure notice would be admissible in either criminal or civil proceedings, despite the fact that it had been improperly obtained?

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

That is another interesting point, which the Minister will have to consider too. It is not one that had occurred to me, but if I took some action after having received a disclosure notice and the court, or whoever, decided that it had been wrongly issued, the material in the hands of the police under the notice—assuming that they had seized it all—would not have been obtained under a disclosure notice and would therefore not be excluded from admissibility. They might be able to use it against me. That is a thorny problem.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

Is not the position as follows? If a member of SOCA goes to a person and says, ''I want these documents,'' and they say, ''No,'' clause 60   comes into play, whereby the agency applies to a justice of the peace to obtain a warrant to obtain the documents. The ultimate arbiter of such matters, if there is a dispute, will therefore be the justice of the peace.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

Not necessarily, because a person faced with a notice might want to consider their position and argue the matter at that point. It is fairly invidious if the only way that they can deal with it is by being dragged to court under threat of having the bailiffs hammering on the door or the police breaking it down. I hope that there is a way of pre-empting an improper notice at an earlier stage than that. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, which is a good one, but I hope that that is not the only solution.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

In the present circumstances, presumably, the person would receive a caution from the police officer wanting to seize documents under other powers granted by other legislation, saying that if they do not produce the documents, those further powers could be used by going to court. Presumably there will be a similar caution in the present case: if the person does not comply with a disclosure notice, they may be required to do so by a justice of the peace.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

It is interesting. What about a situation where SOCA already has documents seized under a disclosure notice and believes that I—not necessarily the person from whom they have been seized, can explain them—so SOCA serves a disclosure notice on me, not demanding papers, so the enforcement provisions, including breaking down my door to obtain them, do not apply, but demanding that I give an explanation of the documents. If that disclosure notice is wrongly served, I do not have a remedy for it under the Bill. I am sure that there is a remedy to be given somewhere. The hon. Gentleman can see that the matter is quite complicated.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

As I have said, I do not necessarily think that our position on the amendment is affected. We are resisting it, but I shall ensure that we give some more expansive responses to some of the issues and examples that my hon. and learned Friend raises.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.