Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Clause 1

Part of Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 29th April 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General 10:30 am, 29th April 2008

I beg to move amendment No. 51, in clause 1, page 1, leave out lines 6 to 11.

May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. O’Hara? As far as acoustics are concerned, the fact that it is much easier to hear people in this room than it was in Portcullis House says something for our Victorian forebears, so it is rather pleasant to find ourselves here, even without the modern facilities.

Clause 1 will give a power to remove documents for examination. I say to the Minister at the outset that I have tabled some amendments to clause 1, all of which are probing and, I hope, will provide the Committee with an opportunity of seeing and understanding what the Government intend to do in that area.

It is a rather long-established principle of English law that the right to the privacy of one’s papers is sacrosanct, except where statute or the necessities of bringing prosecution give the state power to seize documents. That was established long ago in the case of Entick v. Carrington, which is the sort of case that one learns about as a law student and is thereafter permanently engraved on one’s memory. As I recollect, that case involved a Secretary of State, Lord Halifax, who seized an individual’s papers. The courts came down fairly strongly against him in the 18th century, arguing that papers were some of the most important things that an individual could possess. In a country that is governed by the rule of law and where documents may be of  importance for legal reasons if for nothing else, it is easy to see where that principle originated. It is also enshrined in the European convention on human rights, certainly in respect of the clauses that outline the rights to property and privacy with regard to private documents.

When trying to seize material that is linked to terrorism and successfully bring prosecution, I fully accept that that rule needs to be tempered. The nub of the matter on which I seek the Minister’s clarification is this: what extra powers do the Government seek other than those in ordinary criminal law, which already gives the police the power, under a warrant, to seize documents that might be connected with the commission of an offence? It seems that the Government’s intention in clause 1 is, in those areas where it might be necessary, to seize documents to ascertain whether they are of a kind that can then be seized for the purposes of prosecution.

When one looks at subsection (1) in that regard, one will see that three of the provisions cited are linked to the Terrorism Act 2000. I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I was under the impression that the 2000 Act already made provision for that type of preliminary seizure for ascertaining whether a document was linked to terrorism. In those circumstances, the first probing amendment that I tabled for the Committee’s consideration questions whether it is necessary for those three provisions to be covered. Can the Minister explain that a little? I dare say that he may, at the same time, take the opportunity to explain more about the general thrust of the clause, and we can then go on to consider the amendments that we have tabled on other aspects of the clause.