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Clause 6

Part of Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 29th April 2008.

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Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office 12:15 pm, 29th April 2008

Thank you, Mr. O’Hara.

Clause 6 makes provision for certain persons to have access to documents removed for examination under clause 1. Although removal of a document for a period of up to 96 hours may have little or no impact on some, I recognise the point that, for others, the document concerned may relate to important business, family or other matters. I think that that is perfectly reasonable, which is why clause 6 provides for the right to supervise the access. It is made clearer in the explanatory note, which says:

“Clause 6 allows a person referred to in subsection (2) to have access, on request, to a document retained under the provisions of clause 1, under the supervision of a constable.”

The hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely right that the measure is not about affording a photocopy or other copy of the document, but about access other than in relatively, but reasonably, limited circumstances. I understand the spirit of the amendments, which are rightly intended to seek clarification on the functionality and purpose of an important safeguard.

It is important that access is not granted if the officer in charge of an investigation has reasonable grounds for believing that it would prejudice criminal investigations or proceedings, or that it is sought for a nefarious purpose such as to interfere with a prompt and effective investigation into terrorism-related offences or to facilitate further offending. As the hon. and learned Gentleman implied, the amendments are intended to limit the circumstances in which access can be refused. Their result would be to enable access that might hinder investigations into criminal offences already committed or facilitate the commission of new offences.

I consider that each of the reasons for limiting access set out in clause 6(3) is required. Subsection (3)(a)(i) is required to cover the original investigation, for example a search under proposed new section 7A of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, conducted to see whether a person subject to a control order has absconded. Subsection (3)(a)(ii) covers the investigation of the document in question, so that access may be refused if, for example, it would prejudice the process of examination by slowing it down and taking it outside the time scales for retention—48 hours in the first instance, or 96 hours ultimately.

Subsection (3)(b) covers matters relating to the investigation of an offence, such as if it were thought that access would tip someone off about the documentation seized, meaning that other evidence of the offence could be covered up. Subsection (3)(c) covers the prejudice of criminal proceedings, the justification for which speaks for itself. Subsection (3)(d) covers matters related to the facilitation of an offence, for example access to a document that might contain information about potential terrorist targets.

As the Committee will know, similar restrictions on access to documents seized are provided in section 21(8) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, on the prejudice of investigations or criminal proceedings. I accept the notion that, even with clause 1 agreed to, we are still in a twilight zone of establishing whether it is appropriate to seize the documents in question in the first place. We need to be mindful of that, even in the context of restrictions of the right to access, albeit supervised. I take the thrust of what is suggested in the amendments, but to lose subsections (3)(b) and (3)(d) would be disadvantageous to the intention of the Bill. I therefore ask that the amendments be withdrawn.