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Clause 111 - Staff custody officers: designation

Part of Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 18th January 2005.

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Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 5:00 pm, 18th January 2005

We are going to get into relative implacability shortly, which would be a fantastic debate.

Obviously, I understand the concerns expressed by the hon. Members for Sutton Coldfield, for Cotswold and for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar. I feel very strongly about this provision, partly because it is a difficult one. It is easy to promote the things in the Bill that are straightforward and gain a degree of consensus. This is one of the provisions on which people genuinely have some pretty trenchant views and opinions. Hon. Members have cited the Law Society, Liberty and other organisations. Equally I can say that in response to the consultation we received support from ACPO, Unison and, perhaps not unexpectedly, a whole range of police forces. They thought that the provisions could be implemented. I would not pretend that the weight is entirely balanced. Clearly there is a range of views about the provisions.

I feel strongly about the provision because it is symptomatic of the fundamental change that we are seeking in our police service. Several hon. Members have helpfully said that they support the move towards increased civilianisation and that there should be a move to modernise the work force, to flexibility and to   people taking on roles that they have perhaps never taken on before. We are increasingly seeing escort officers, custody officers, detention officers and investigating officers, which we would not have seen four or five years ago in the police service. All those roles would have been carried out by fully warranted police officers in the service.

In the past few years, we have made an incremental shift towards convincing people that it is possible for people other than fully attested warranted officers to carry out some of the functions that are important in our police service. That is the important point for me. We have to examine the function and see what we can put in place to ensure that it is properly carried out. That is why I was grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar for amplifying the responsibilities of the custody officer under PACE.

I asked for some fairly extensive details about that. The role of the custody officer is perhaps on a different level from some of the other roles that we have civilianised. Many of the things that the custody officer has to determine are matters of judgment. They relate to charging, establishing whether people are fit to be detained, access to legal advice, access to medical attention and looking at whether detention should be extended. These are important matters requiring experience and judgment.