Clause 79 - Defences to liability under section 78

Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 13th January 2005.

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

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

I want to make what might seem a rather spurious point, which I did not think was worthy of amendment, although I would like the Minister's advice on it. What happens if person P dies? Do the requirements against disclosure die with that   person? If so, P's dependants may find themselves at risk because of information disclosed.

My point is not entirely spurious, as I hope the Minister appreciates. There is no provision covering what happens posthumously to the protected identity of the person. To what degree is there still a duty to ensure that P's identity is not revealed? There could be significant repercussions for the family and acquaintances of that person, not least because the children might discover that their father or mother was not who they thought they were but had a protected identity. That is a hypothetical case, but one that could happen and it might be worth the Department's while to consider it.

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

My understanding is that when someone is put under a witness protection programme the protection needs of their immediate family and the people with whom they share or have shared a household would be assessed too. It would therefore be logical to assume that even if the prime person in the case died, the risk assessment would be made for those others.

I am informed that ''person'' in subsection (3)(b) continues to be associated with P, even though P is dead, therefore protection of that person continues. That is a rather legalistic way of saying what I think I just said. As we set out, close family members and acquaintances who would be part of the protection arrangements will be considered, and that should not be affected by the death of the prime person. There would have to be a risk assessment and, if necessary, protection would have to continue.

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

The Minister is moving a long way towards what I seek. Perhaps it would have been better to raise the issue under clause 80, although the two clauses are related. However, revealing the true identity of a deceased person would not be an offence. Although the other people would retain their protection, the continuing protection of that identity would have ceased, as I read it, under the statute. That is the potential difficulty that I have spotted. As I say, it may be that nothing could occur in reality, but I ask the Minister to consider that point.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

I am just wondering if that is a problem, because there are offences of disclosing information relating to persons assuming new identities. I imagine that an offence would be committed if anything was done that was likely to disclose the identity of the person surviving, which disclosing the deceased person's identity would be likely to do. The person who is associated with the principal prosecution witness, whoever that is, is entitled to a protection order of their own under schedule 5, paragraph 18. For safety's sake they could be given separate orders; it would then be very clear that anyone disclosing the true identity of the dead person would be committing an offence.

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

I wonder if the Minister's explanation is correct. I do not want to press for a debate on clause 80, but it is relevant to what we are talking about. Subsection (2) states:

''A person (D)''— that is, a person associated with P—

''commits an offence if . . . D discloses information which relates to a person (P) who is or has been a protected person''.

I assume that ''has been'' could mean that they are deceased. D also commits an offence if

''P assumed a new identity in pursuance of arrangements made under section 74(a)''.

I wonder if clause 80 does in fact indicate that if someone dies and their close associate D discloses their identity, D could be committing an offence. Will the Minister comment?

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

With the Committee's agreement, I shall write to hon. Members to clarify this matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 79 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 80 to 82 ordered to stand part of the Bill.