New Clause 6

Serious Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 10 July 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Review of serious crime prevention orders

‘(1) The Secretary of State must appoint a person (“the independent reviewer”) to conduct an independent review of the operation of this Part.

(2) In conducting a review under subsection (1) above the independent reviewer shall have regard to the desirability of minimising the use of serious crime prevention orders except where they are necessary to protect the public by preventing, restricting or disrupting involvement in serious crime in circumstances where prosecutions cannot otherwise be pursued.

(3) The independent reviewer must send the Secretary of State a report on the outcome of a review under subsection (1) before the end of a period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, and before the end of each subsequent period of 12 months beginning with the day on which the first report was sent to the Secretary of State.

(4) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a copy of each report received under subsection (3) above.’.—[James Brokenshire.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

In the light of the Minister’s helpful comments on new clause 5, I hope that he will be as favourable to new clause 6, which relates to the review of serious crime prevention orders. The new clause would provide for an annual review of the orders. It is important that the mechanism exists to ensure that the orders are used proportionately and to provide reassurance that they will not become some sort of automatic substitution mechanism to bring prosecutions before the court in a different manner.

The Minister said that only a small number of orders—about 30—are expected each year. The new clause would allow the annual review of the number of orders to be independent. We have heard some significant, passionate concerns about what serious crime prevention orders will mean in the context of the criminal justice system. If the orders are to exist, they must be used in a way that promotes co-ordination between all law enforcement agencies, to provide the protection that the Minister said he intends to be part and parcel of the measures.

It is important to have a 12-monthly review, so that we can regularly examine the operation of the orders. It is easy in the Committee to look at the drafting of the Bill and say that the orders will be applied in a particular way. We are concerned about their practical operation and application, however. To provide reassurance as these matters proceed, it is therefore important to have such protection and to ensure that an independent reviewer is able to conduct analysis of the operation of the serious crime prevention orders, with regard to the desirability of minimising their use except where they are necessary to protect the public by preventing, restricting or disrupting involvement in serious crime in circumstances where prosecutions cannot be pursued. The Minister has said that that is the intention of the serious crime prevention orders. If that is the case, what can be wrong with an independent mechanism to ensure that that is what happens in practice? I hope that the Minister will consider the new clause favourably and, perhaps, kindly.

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

I advise the hon. Gentleman not to get too carried away. The powers under the Bill will be exercised by the High Court. To say that it needs an independent reviewer to review its actions is inappropriate. I am more than confident in the ability of our senior judiciary to act appropriately. I also think that the amendment is unnecessary.

The purpose of such a reviewer, presumably, would be to ensure that the orders were being used in a way that was compatible with overriding imperatives, such as the European convention on human rights. I have full confidence that the High Court would always seek to act in such a way, and if the subject felt that it had not, there is already a perfectly suitable process for review of the decision: appeal to the Court of Appeal, followed by the House of Lords.

In addition, we have stated clearly several times that the orders will not be used as an alternative to prosecution—a suggestion alluded to in new clause  6(2). To underline that commitment, I point out that in no way can it be argued that the orders will be easy to obtain. Earlier in our deliberations, we went through, at some length, the various tests that are necessary before the High Court can make someone the subject of a serious crime prevention order. That is just as it should be, and it will mean that law enforcement bodies cannot use the orders as an easy alternative to prosecution. I ask the Committee not to support the creation of an expensive review process that would achieve nothing that the Bill and the existing judicial processes do not already achieve.

Although I do not support the notion of an expensive review of the orders that would achieve nothing that is not already provided for, we might consider before Report whether there is a way of combining the recording of information, which I have said that we will do, with some sort of reports deriving from that. I am not committing to doing that, but I am happy to consider doing so and to offer a commitment to return to this issue on Report.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 12:00, 10 July 2007

I hear what the Minister says, but I think that, in many ways, he has missed the point. The new clause is not about questioning whether the judiciary would act appropriately or inappropriately; they will interpret the Bill as it is stated. The point is that there is some element of doubt about how the Bill could be interpreted, which means that they could go off in a different direction—hence the extensive debates that we have had on various aspects of the serious crime prevention orders.

The Minister also talked about the ease with which the orders will be obtained. We have had considerable debate on the burden and standard of proof that will be applied in relation to the orders, on whether there will be one test, and on where on the sliding scale such cases will be. That is clearly a matter for judicial interpretation and judgment, but it could be that the characteristics of the orders are slightly different from the way that they are expressed in the Bill. That is how the law emerges and develops. It has nothing to do with the appropriateness of the judiciary’s actions—they would be doing their job and interpreting the statute before us.

The point is that an independent review would ensure that the expressions of general intent were applied, and that we would proceed with that safeguard if it was possible to obtain a criminal prosecution. Any movement towards using the serious crime prevention orders in a way that detracts from the criminal justice process should be clearly understood and reported to Parliament as part of the review process proposed in new clause 6. On that basis, I am not satisfied by what the Minister has said and I would therefore like to test the Committee’s opinion of new clause 6.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 9.

Division number 27 Nimrod Review — Statement — New Clause 6

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.