Offence of breach of pre-charge bail conditions relating to travel

Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 12th April 2016.

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“(1) This section applies where—

(a) a person is arrested under section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, or under article 26 of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (S.I. 1989/1341 (N.I.12), in respect of an offence mentioned in section 41(1) or (2) of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008,

(b) the person is released without charge and on bail under Part 4 of the 1984 Act or (as the case may be) Part 5 of the 1989 Order, and

(c) the release on bail is subject to a travel restriction condition.

(2) Each of the following is a travel restriction condition—

(a) a condition that the person must not leave the United Kingdom,

(b) a condition that the person must not enter any port, or one or more particular ports, in the United Kingdom,

(c) a condition that the person must not go to a place in Northern Ireland that is within one mile of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland,

(d) a condition that the person must surrender all of his or her travel documents or all of his or her travel documents that are of a particular kind,

(e) a condition that the person must not have any travel documents, or travel documents of a particular kind, in his or her possession (whether the documents relate to that person or to another person),

(f) a condition that the person must not obtain, or seek to obtain, any travel documents (whether relating to that person or to another person) or travel documents of a particular kind.

(3) The person commits an offence if—

(a) the person’s release on bail is subject to the travel restriction condition mentioned in subsection (2)(a) and he or she fails to comply with the condition, or

(b) the person’s release on bail is subject to a travel restriction condition mentioned in subsection (2)(b) to (f) and he or she fails, without reasonable excuse, to comply with the condition.

(4) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (3) is liable—

(a) on summary conviction—

(i) in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months (or, in relation to offences committed before section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 comes into force, 6 months) or to a fine, or to both;

(ii) in Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to a fine, or to both.

(5) Section (Offence of breach of pre-charge bail conditions relating to travel: interpretation) defines words used in subsection (2).”—

This new clause applies where a person arrested for certain terrorist offences is released before charge and on bail, subject to a travel restriction condition (defined in subsection (2)). Where the person’s release on bail is subject to a condition that he or she does not leave the United Kingdom, the person commits an offence by failing to comply with the condition. Where the person’s release on bail is subject to any other travel restriction condition, the person commits an offence if, without reasonable excuse, the person fails to comply with the condition.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 42—Offence of breach of pre-charge bail conditions relating to travel: interpretation.

New clause 43—Breach of pre-charge bail—

“(1) A person commits an offence if, having been released on bail under sections 37, 37C(2)(b) or 37CA(2)(b) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 under investigation for a terrorism offence or serious crime offence they breach any of the terms of

(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to 6 months imprisonment or a fine or to both.

(3) For the purposes of this section, serious crime shall be specified of the Secretary of State by order.”

This new clause would make it an offence for those suspected of serious crimes and terrorism to break bail conditions linked to travel.

Government amendment 226

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

This is a very important Government new clause and amendment, which I discussed with the shadow Minister outside the room, but I think it is particularly important that we debate them properly in Committee. The issue of suspected terrorists absconding from pre-charge bail was quite rightly raised on Second Reading. In January, the Prime Minister indicated to the Liaison Committee that the Government would look very carefully at the issue to avoid a repeat of instances in which somebody is not charged, released on police bail and then breaks the conditions of that police bail within the counter-terrorism context.

This new clause is about counter-terrorism suspects, a subject on which I know the Opposition would like to expand. Although I will keep under review any other offences that are alleged against somebody who has been released on pre-charge bail, the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 already lists a range of offences, including membership of proscribed organisations, that would prevent bail from being granted. The new clause relates to people for whom bail has been granted because the police need to continue with their investigations and do not have evidence to give them concern about a more serious offence taking place. The breach of this bail would carry a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment. This very important Government new clause enacts the commitment that we made, and I look forward to the Opposition’s response.

In oral evidence, the police representatives indicated that they would like to have such an offence for all types of pre-charge bail breaches. In such circumstances there would be 400,000 such offences. I am no libertarian—as people may know, I am a little on the right of that particular argument—but we have to take into consideration that no charges have been brought, so the police must use their existing powers, as well as the counter-terrorism powers that will be introduced by the Bill. If it is not a counter-terrorism offence, bail conditions such as the requirement to hand over a passport or travel document before release are already on the statute book. This measure is particularly about counter-terrorism, and I look forward to hearing from Her Majesty’s Opposition.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 2:30 pm, 12th April 2016

The starting point for us is that we may have our disagreements on other fronts but there is unity across the House in opposition to the grotesque threat posed to our nation by terrorist violence. There is utter determination that we rise to the challenge of keeping our communities safe. On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham, the shadow Home Secretary, called on the Government to toughen the police bail regime for terror suspects, and we are pleased that the Government have listened and are now taking action.

Photo of James Berry James Berry Conservative, Kingston and Surbiton

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that was in fact a recommendation of the Select Committee on Home Affairs? Keith Vaz circulated something to the Committee this morning saying that it was his cross-party Committee that brought the issue to the Government’s attention, and it is something on which we all agree.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

All I would say is that this measure was not part of the original Bill. It is certainly true that the Home Affairs Committee has done valuable work on this matter, but ultimately it was our proposal on Second Reading that led to the Government’s welcome shift. The fact that there is cross-party support is also welcome.

If we believe that the Government have moved, we are not convinced that they have yet gone far enough. The issue of principle is simple: it should not be right that terror suspects on pre-charge police bail have previously been able to leave the country with ease to escape justice, and it is essential that the loophole is closed as a matter of urgency. The Government’s new clause would make it an offence for those suspected of terrorism to break bail conditions linked to travel.

On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh referred to the case of Siddhartha Dhar, who absconded while on police bail and went to Syria via Dover, as a prime example of the unacceptable loophole in the current system. In reference to what the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton said earlier, the Home Affairs Committee investigated forensically and collected evidence on this important issue. That was strongly buttressed by the compelling evidence given by the head of counter-terrorism, Mark Rowley, and Sara Thornton, the chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, when they came before this Committee. They both made it absolutely clear that they wanted to see the removal of the limitations currently obtaining, which are operational constraints.

Although we welcome the Government’s amendment and new clause, we want to ensure that in cases such as that of Siddhartha Dhar the police are able to insist on a suspect’s passports being handed over when they are in the custody suite. We should not wait to write to them after they have been released to say, “Please, would you hand over your passport?” because we risk that they may have already used the opportunity to leave the country, as Mr Dhar did. The Home Affairs Committee recommended that to the Government some considerable time ago, and we welcome the fact that Ministers are now acting, but their proposal does not set out how exactly the police can seize travel documentation, where necessary. For example, will the police be able to accompany the suspect to wherever his or her passport is being stored? Could they prevent a suspect from leaving until documentation is brought to the station? Will the police be able to request the surrender of passports and travel documents as a condition of release from custody? What exactly does the Policing Minister envisage happening next time the police arrest a terrorist suspect who inconveniently does not have his travel documentation on him at the time of arrest? I would be grateful if the Government would set out in some detail how they see this working.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The new clause is about breach of a bail condition that carries a 12-month sentence. The police already have the power to set police bail conditions and, if they wish, they could say that a person cannot be released on bail until their travel documents have been surrendered. That could be part of the bail. It could be seven days. They already have the powers. It is not within the Bill because it does not need to be.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I have looked at what the Minister said in our earlier discussions, in particular in relation to the Terrorism Act 2000. There is no provision for bail, before or after charge, under the Terrorism Act. Under the Act it boils down to either charging or releasing a suspect; the initial detention limit is 48 hours, which is extendable, and there is no existing terrorist legislation, therefore, that provides for the police to seize a passport from a terrorist suspect or relates to the enforcement of pre-charge bail conditions.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Conservative, Rossendale and Darwen

An interesting point in the case of terrorism is that many—not all—people accused of terrorism offences will have dual nationality and more than one passport. Has there been any thought as to how that would be discovered by the police, if the information was not volunteered, and what provisions may be required to get someone to surrender passports of another country as well as their British passport?

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. That is precisely why I referred earlier to “passports”. There have been a number of cases of people having dual nationality in the way the hon. Gentleman has suggested. Fundamentally, this is about making sure that we do not have somebody like Dhar who walks out of the police station, says, “Yeah, okay, I will surrender my passports, I will be back tomorrow” and is then on the first plane to get out of the country. It is about certainty beyond any doubt that that simply cannot happen in future. Relatedly, have the Government looked at the issue of the ability of agencies to communicate immediately when passports are to be surrendered—for example, crucially, the Border Force? We look forward to clarification on these crucial points.

On another issue, the Government proposal applies only to terrorist suspects and not to those suspected of serious crimes. There is no question but that there is something uniquely awful about the terrorist threat to our country but, having said that, our new clause includes serious crime offences to be specified by the Secretary of State in regulation and so would address cases where, for example, suspects have fled the country before standing trial over rape allegations. The Minister has very helpfully said that he will keep this matter under review. We hope, however, that the Government will now give the Home Secretary that power; of course, it is for the Home Secretary to determine, in consultation, how that power is exercised thereafter.

The Minister was right when he said that the National Police Chiefs Council highlighted that it would like this power not to be confined to counter-terrorism. We urge the Government to include suspects of other offences in their proposals. As such, in circumstances where the Government are taking action, we will not press our new clause to a vote today. We seek assurances from the Government on the points I have raised as soon as possible, however, and we stand ready for further dialogue before Report. I very much hope that we can go to Report with a common position. In that dialogue, we will seek a strengthened clause and we will work with the Government to make sure that the pre-charge bail regime truly has teeth. We will return to this on Report; for now, on this crucial issue, we urge the Government to reflect and I stress, once again, that we very much hope that we are able to make common progress by the time of Report. The way we vote on Report will depend on whether we can put our hand on our hearts and say that never again will there be a case like that of Dhar.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am genuinely pleased that the shadow Minister is not going to push this to a vote. Perhaps it is right that a subject of this seriousness is debated on the Floor of the House on Report. Yet again, I offer the shadow Minister my help and that of my Bill team to see if we can come to a consensus.

The shadow Minister asked specifically whether the police can accompany the person who was still under arrest before they were given police bail, to ascertain their travel documents; under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, they can do that. Where police have already requested under the arrest warrant their immediate surrender, they can accompany the individual to their place of residence. If they breach that—in other words, they try to abscond and so on—that is where the sanctions in the new clause apply.

Of course, the shadow Minister is absolutely right that under the Terrorism Act 2000, there is no bail—a point that I made earlier on. This proposal relates to other alleged offences. Let us see what position we can come to. It is very important, because we are all as one in wanting to protect the public. We are as one in wanting people who are suspected of terrorism offences not to abscond. But the police have substantial powers at the moment. I have discussed that with them extensively to make sure that they use their existing powers, including making sure that they have the travel documents.

I do not want to go into individual cases. It is for officers in an operation to make operational decisions, not for politicians, but it is for us to give them the powers and to say to them, sometimes, “By the way, you already have the powers and you should use them.” I am pleased that new clause 43 will not be moved and we offer as much assistance as possible to reach consensus, as we have done throughout the progress of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 41 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 42