Clause 103 - Power to direct a person to leave a place

Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 18th January 2005.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:00 pm, 18th January 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 186, in clause 103, page 69, line 10, after 'offence', insert

'or in the case of an order made by virtue of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, following the person's conviction or acquittal of an offence,'.

I am happy to acknowledge the Conservatives' support for the amendment. Its aim is to correct an unintentional omission by the Government. The clause deals with the power to direct a person to leave a place, and it says that

''A constable may direct a person to leave a place if he believes, on reasonable grounds, that the person is in the place at a time when he would be prohibited from entering it by virtue of . . . an order to which subsection (2) applies, or . . . a condition to which subsection (3) applies.''

Subsection (2) deals with orders that are made by virtue of any enactment following a person's conviction of an offence—that is the qualifying feature. It is obviously intended to apply to any restraining order applied by a court for an offence that prevents a person from entering a particular vicinity, and it provides for the constable to order the person to leave. However, as those of us who, only a few months ago, spent many happy hours disagreeing with what is now the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 know, the Government introduced in that Act a new power-making capacity that allows for restraining orders on acquittal. That is important, because it allows a criminal court to find a person not guilty of an offence, but for the material that was before that court   to be used in evidence for the making of a restraining order, essentially on a civil court basis, preventing that person from harassing another individual under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

We agreed with the Government that it was a necessary addition to the order-making powers, to provide for circumstances in which somebody who clearly had been involved in domestic violence had been found not guilty of a specific offence, but there was a reasonable likelihood of some form of harassment against the spouse of the accused or another individual. It is clear that that order, which was to be made on acquittal rather than on conviction, would not be covered by the provisions of clause 103(2)(a), which refers to ''following the person's conviction'' of an offence. Therefore, if we want to give police officers the power to move somebody who, following acquittal, is in breach of a restraining order under that legislation, we need to extend the provision. That is the purpose of the amendment. I hope that it is self-explanatory, that I do not need to expand further on what I have said, and that the Minister will either accept it or undertake to bring it back in an amended form that will achieve the same objective.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

The hon. Gentleman's amendment seems to be making a good point. I would certainly expect that the orders made on acquittal under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act, which we considered only recently, ought to be included in the power under clause 103. No doubt, if we have got it wrong, the Minister will tell us. If we have got it right, then she might be happy to accept the amendment.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

There is little between us in terms of the mischief that we are able to resolve. I am sorry to tell both hon. Gentlemen, however, than the amendment is unnecessary in technical terms. It is also technically defective, but the important point is that it is unnecessary. It appears to be intended to extend the scope of proposed new powers to restraining and non-molestation orders. The purpose of clause 103 is to plug a gap that does not exist in relation to non-molestation and restraining orders.

We are trialling satellite tracking technology, particularly for sex offenders. Such people may be excluded from going near a primary school or the scene of previous offences. As we track them through that technology, if they go into that exclusion zone we can ask them to leave, but we do not have any power of arrest if they refuse to do so. In the case of non-molestation and restraining orders that are made on acquittal, as the hon. Gentlemen said, they attract a power of arrest, so there is no gap for non-molestation orders and restraining orders. The gap that we are specifically trying to plug is in relation to breaches of community orders, suspended sentences or licence conditions where there are other enforcement provisions in place. That is why we are now seeking to take the power of arrest when somebody fails to obey a police instruction to leave the exclusion zone. At the moment, police have the power of arrest only if they feel that somebody is about to commit another offence in that exclusion zone.

If that explanation is not sufficient, I might add some more information, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are just as keen as they are to ensure that if somebody has been issued with a non-molestation or restraining order and they breach it, swift action can be taken by the police in terms of arrest. The current law allows for that, and therefore there is no need for the amendment.

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

Clearly, there is nothing between us in terms of our intention. The Minister tells me that my amendment is unnecessary and of course I accept her advice. I do not see the specific power within the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act, which suggests that it must be either in other general legislation, or within the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. If she could either let me know by intervention or writing, so that I can check that the matter is covered, I shall be delighted. I certainly do not wish to trouble the Committee further if I am trying to correct a mischief which does not exist.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

As I understand it, the provisions on the non-molestation orders are in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act amends. That is the reason why his amendment is technically defective, because he is seeking to amend legislation which does not contain the primary power in terms of the non-molestation and restraining orders. It is also why he cannot find the substantive provisions in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004.

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

Although I did not advertise the deficiencies in my amendment when moving it, it did occur to me that it needed to be an amendment to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 rather than what I had suggested.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

I am deeply perplexed by what the Minister has just said. Clause 101 says that an arrest can be made to protect a child or other vulnerable person from the individual in question. If someone wearing a tag goes into a certain area when they have an order not to do so, I cannot for the life of me see why they cannot be arrested. The whole of clause 103 therefore seems unnecessary.

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

The hon. Gentleman raises a question that the Minister will have to answer. Given his comments in Committee, his general position appears to be that everybody should be arrested in all circumstances. The Minister does not seem to share that intention, as she has been at pains to assure us.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 103 ordered to stand part of the Bill.