Clause 105 - Search warrants: other amendments

Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 18th January 2005.

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Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 3:30 pm, 18th January 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 289, in clause 105, page 72, line 1, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

'(1A) After section 8 (power of justice of the peace to authorise entry and search of premises), insert—

''8B Search warrants and multiple entries

(1) Any warrant granted under section 8 or section 8A may authorize entry to and search of premises on more than one occasion if, on the application, a judge of the High Court or a Circuit judge is satisfied that it is necessary to authorize multiple entries in order to achieve the purpose for which he issues the warrant.

(2) No warrant issued under section 8B(1) may specify more than three entries to the same premises under a period of 28 days.

(3) Where a warrant authorizes multiple entries, the number of entries must be limited to a maximum of two further entries to the same premises within a period of 28 calendar days from the date when the first entry took place.''.'.

I notice that the amendment is listed in the amendment paper as having been tabled by a Mr. Andrew McKenzie. I could develop a bit of a complex, although I am resisting it, because a speech that I made in Westminster Hall last week, when the Minister responded for the Government, did not even appear in Hansard the following day, as I saw when I turned somewhat nervously to read it.

I can speak to the amendment quickly, because much of my point has already been made. It is similar to amendment No. 287. I do not need to labour the point; we are anxious to protect our constituents with the necessary privacy and safeguards. The amendment deals with the permission granted to the police in clause 105 to re-enter premises after a search warrant has been executed. There are good reasons in practice for permitting multiple entries under the same search warrant, but as with clause 104, the provisions represent a significant further increase in the invasive powers of the police. For that reason, we wanted to test whether a higher court should make the necessary judgment. The number of multiple entries under the same search warrant needs to be restricted to a maximum of two further entries during 28 days from the date of entry. Can the Minister satisfy me on this clause as she did on the last?

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I should like briefly to add to what my hon. Friend has said. The amendment also needs to be looked at in the context of subsection (8), which extends the period for execution of the warrant from one month to three months. To the extent that an all-premises warrant will be wider than a specific premises warrant, there is accordingly a greater chance of the   circumstances changing before the warrant expires. Will the Minister address the reasons for the extension of the warrant?

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

I dealt with the issue of the level of judge in my previous comments. I, too, hope that I can beguile the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield with regard to his amendment. It has been properly tabled, in that it probes the safeguards of the new power. That power is indeed intrusive: it extends the period of the search warrant from one month to three months, and provides that there can be a series of multiple entries to the premises concerned. A similar series of safeguards relates to the exercise of this power to those regarding multi-premises search warrants. Again, the magistrate has to be satisfied, and where the officer wants to exercise the warrant on a number of separate occasions, they have to satisfy a superior officer of at least the rank of inspector to enable permission to be granted. That is a sufficient safeguard in justifying their actions at every stage of the process. We have to reach a balance between safeguarding people's privacy and proper concerns and giving police officers the tools to get on and do their job.

I say to the hon. Member for Huntingdon that criminals these days are sophisticated enough to move their property around and seek to hide it from legitimate searches. They can not only move their property around from premises to premises, but temporarily take it away and then return it to the same premises, in which case it would be necessary to allow multiple entry on the same set of warrants. A 28-day limit on the warrant would mean the police had to go back to court time and again. It is a matter of striking the balance as to whether we feel that a month is the absolute maximum we could allow for a warrant, or whether we are prepared, in circumstances subject to judicial and administrative oversight, to be more flexible.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

While criminals may have become more sophisticated, so has technology for prosecutors and the police. There should be no more difficulty in getting to the magistrate, who it appears will deal with the matter, than in the past.

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

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. He made a similar point in speaking to the previous amendment, when he asked what would happen if circumstances changed. It is a genuine and legitimate point. If an officer applies to court for a warrant based on a certain set of circumstances and the circumstances change, the officer will need to go back to the court. The warrant could be challenged if the circumstances were sufficiently different, as it could be claimed that it was obtained on evidence that had subsequently changed fundamentally.

We seek a degree of flexibility, but we do not want to go beyond the boundaries that would make it necessary to renew the authority for granting the warrant. We are keen to specify the need as tightly as we can, as it will give us the legitimacy to ask for a   wider degree of flexibility. Provided that we meet our obligations as far as we can, it is perfectly proper to allow the police to ask for some flexibility. It is not proper to take a free-for-all, broad-brush position, and that is not what we seek to do. We think that we have the balance right; the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield will have to consider whether he wishes to press the amendment to a Division if he feels that we have not done so. With that in mind, I have tried to give the Committee as many reassurances as I can.

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

I have listened with care to the Minister. She makes the same points that she made on clause 104. We had to consider the matter because it is an extension from one month to three months. On balance, however, I am happy to let it stand. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 105 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 106 ordered to stand part of the Bill.