Clause 37

Serious Crime Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:45 pm on 3 July 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Disclosure of information in accordance with orders

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in clause 37, page 23, line 35, at end add—

‘(3) Notwithstanding this, the rules on admissibility of evidence to be observed in such proceedings shall be the same as those observed in trials on indictment; and no person shall be required in such proceedings to answer any question or to produce any document which he could not be required to answer or produce in similar proceedings in a trial on indictment.’.

I will be genuinely brief. The amendment would ensure a higher standard of evidence than the civil standard. You may feel that this subject has been discussed to your satisfaction, Mr. Benton, but let me take a little longer to clarify my point. We believe that the civil standard of proof—on the balance of probabilities—is not sufficient, whereas the criminal standard, beyond reasonable doubt, would offer greater reassurance. Baroness Scotland said in the other place that the likely standard of proof for the orders would be

“very close to the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt.” —[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 February 2007;Vol. 689, c. 729.]

I am not a lawyer, but I think that “very close” is an extremely loaded expression. It is hard to be confident about precisely what it will mean in practice. The  amendment is yet another attempt to move the Bill towards firmer and more rigorous standards of evidence and proof.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

I ask the Committee to resist the amendment, which would change the rules regarding the admissibility of evidence in proceedings relating to an order from those that apply in civil proceedingsto those that apply in a trial on indictment. The amendment also seeks to provide that in proceedings for an order, the relevant person cannot be required to answer any question or to produce any document that they could not be required to answer or produce at such a trial.

The amendment is undesirable because the civil procedure rules already provide significant and wide-ranging powers to manage the evidence that will come before the court. The court is best placed to determine which pieces of evidence are relevant and should be admitted in proceedings and what weight should be accorded to each. The court will ensure that only relevant and appropriate evidence is admitted. It is both unnecessary and inappropriate to constrain that flexibility, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment. He went over some old ground in his comments, but these are civil orders, not a criminal penalty, so the strict rules of evidence that apply to criminal trials should not apply. Instead, the civil rules of evidence should apply, particularly in relation to hearsay.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I would rather not withdraw the amendment, and should like to test the Committee’s view.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 2, Noes 8.

Division number 21 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 37

Aye: 2 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

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

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I rise briefly to seek clarification and to ask the Minister to reconsider the drafting of the clause. Subsection (1)(a) provides that if an order requires something to be done, it is not, by virtueof the clause, intended to breach any obligation of confidence. However, subsection (2) appears to suggest that there might be an exclusion. It states:

“But see sections 12 to 15”,

which is slightly circular language. I therefore ask the Minister to reflect on the wording and to make it clear  that the exclusions in clauses 12 to 15 override the provisions contained in clause 37(1).

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

Of course, if the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is unclear, we will consider it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.