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Clause 4

Part of Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 29th April 2008.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General 11:45 am, 29th April 2008

I apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Newark, who has had to leave to attend a funeral. Although the amendment also stands in my name, it was tabled by him.

We come to the issue of the records of removal that we touched on when discussing clause 1. The Minister pointed out that the provisions were relevant to the remarks made about that clause, for which I apologised to him.

My hon. Friend raises the concern about whether a time limit within which the written record should be produced should be inserted into the Bill. The current wording is “reasonably practicable”, which I simply say would often be within a much shorter period than 24 hours. If a police officer is doing his job properly, a written record should be made contemporaneously with the work. I would regard that as good police practice. Equally, it is not necessarily a bad practice to provide a finite limit. I acknowledge that the way in which the amendment has been drafted removes the reasonable practicability test and replaces it with “24 hours”. A possible approach would be to add “and in any event within 24 hours.” I therefore simply throw this in as a probing amendment to ask the Minister whether, despite the reasonable practicability test, there should be a finite time limit within which a record should be produced.

Amendment No. 58 concerns the copy that must be provided within a reasonable time. That brings me back to my concern in relation to clause 1 that a reasonable time should be a very short time indeed, because of my anxiety about the consequences for an individual who loses control of a document that might be of great utility to him. Unlike the seizure of material when the police are satisfied of a suspicion that there is a terrorist purpose and that there is good reason for not allowing the person to keep a copy, we are dealing with situations in which no such imputation of wrongdoing might arise. I wonder what is considered to be a reasonable time. My anxiety is that we could end up with court challenges if the police hold on to material and give assurances that they will produce copies, but  try to wriggle out of doing so because they are concerned that the document might turn out to be capable of being used for a criminal purpose.

I tabled amendment No. 58 because the clause raises a difficult issue and I want to tease it out. If there is nothing criminal on the face of a document, but the police want to take it away and look at it, the basic rule ought to be that there are no grounds for not supplying a copy immediately so that the person is not placed at a disadvantage by not having it. It is only at the point of seizure that the issue of depriving somebody of the possession of such a document arises. To what extent will the reasonableness test be used as an excuse to ensure that a person does not have a document until the reverse burden of proof has operated to show that it is completely innocent?