England and Wales

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 2nd July 2020.

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Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice Team Member) 2:30 pm, 2nd July 2020

I beg to move amendment 48, in clause 32, page 28, line 22, at the end insert—

“(b) In subsection (1) at the end insert—

( ) The regulations under section 35(1) of the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2020 must include provision that the following must not be used in evidence against the released person in any proceedings for an offence—

(a) any statement made by the released person while participating in a polygraph session, or

(b) any physiological reaction of the released person while being questioned in the course of a polygraph examination.”

This amendment ensures that the results of any polygraph test must not be disclosed for use in a criminal prosecution.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 49, in clause 33, page 29, line 41, leave out “may” and insert “must”

This amendment ensures that the results of any polygraph test must not be disclosed for use in a criminal prosecution.

Amendment 50, in clause 34, page 31, line 13, leave out “may” and insert “must”

This amendment ensures that the results of any polygraph test must not be disclosed for use in a criminal prosecution.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice Team Member)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. Amendments 48, 49 and 50 were tabled in the name of Scottish National party Members but were put forward by the Law Society of Scotland, trying to achieve the best interests. That is obviously the position of the Government, but there is a distinctive legal jurisdiction. I know that yesterday the Prime Minister referred to the fact that there was no border between Scotland and England, but administratively and legally there most certainly is—the Minister has commented on that both today and yesterday.

Indeed, there is also the issue of polygraphs, which these amendments relate to. They are something that is currently unknown within the Scottish legal jurisdiction. They are something that, to be fair, the Scottish Government are sceptical about, but so are the legal profession and the judiciary. However, it is accepted that this is a reserved issue. It is a Government policy, and they are entitled to bring in that policy and it will have effect. Therefore, I think we are required to ensure that Scotland is able to deal with it adequately and appropriately.

These amendments are put forward on the basis of seeking to improve the legislation or seeking assurances from the Minister that the issues causing concern are being or will be dealt with. To be fair, the amendments are not simply tautological in any way; they are, in fact, a point of principle. We know that legislation is significant, and that the interpretation of words matters. It will produce a significant difference in the outcome, and it is not a matter that we can simply leave to a future court. In bringing the amendments forward, we seek clarification on the matters of concern. “Must”, as I say, is not tautological, in our view, but gives a clear indication that it is mandatory. “May”, while it may very well end up being the likely situation, certainly leaves it much more discretionary, even if it is not entirely absent.

As I say, the amendments were tabled on the basis of seeking clarification that Scotland will be able to act within the separate structures that we have, accepting the requirement and will of the Government, but that we take into account various issues and, in particular, the ability to protect the rights of the accused or, indeed, the released person in future issues that may come before them, to ensure that it is not counterproductive for them, and indeed that the system that we are operating is able to operate as efficiently as possible.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

We welcome this amendment in the name of the hon. Members of the Scottish National party, and we agree that the results of any polygraph must not be disclosed for use in a criminal matter. Put simply, they are far too unreliable to be used as evidence or an indicator of a person having committed a crime. We do not determine a verdict by the toss of a coin and Members will recollect the oral evidence given by Professor Acheson, who, in answer to a question about our operating regime for polygraph tests from the hon. Member for East Lothian, said:

“I must say I am not a great fan of the polygraph solution. Polygraphs are a very good way to demonstrate a physiological response to nervousness. Most people who take polygraphs are going to be nervous, so it is a very inexact science. I think it is probably slightly better than tossing a coin.”––[Official Report, Counter-terrorism and Sentencing Public Bill Committee, 30 June 2020; c. 80.]

We should not be using a method as unreliable as a polygraph to determine whether a person has committed a crime. So I join the hon. Member for East Lothian in asking the Minister to give assurances here and now that the use of polygraph testing for offenders released on licence will not become a stepping-stone towards the introduction of polygraph testing across the justice system.

As colleagues may have noticed, I have submitted a new clause on the issue of polygraphs so I shall reserve most of my comments for the stand part debate later today, but we do need some clarification and assurance that we are not moving in the direction of an unreliable method of fact-finding like polygraphs.

What knowledge and evidence do the Government have on the reliability of polygraph tests, and why are they intent on their use in this context? As Professor Acheson said in his oral evidence,

“Polygraphs are a very good way to demonstrate a physiological response to nervousness”—

I am aware that I am repeating myself—and I, for one, would certainly be nervous undertaking a polygraph even if I knew I had not committed a crime, which makes me question whether polygraphs provide anywhere near the necessary level of assurance. We need a much more robust system if we are to start making decisions around a person’s future. We are not entirely dismissive of the place of polygraphs or the potential role that they can play, but we would not want to see the burden of proof rely heavily, or even moderately, on a polygraph result.

I plan to go into further detail in later examination of the Bill, once we reach the new clauses, on the impact of polygraph licence conditions on those with protected characteristics. In the meantime, it would help if the Minister were able to clarify the Government’s position on polygraph tests, including plans for future use.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines Conservative, Derbyshire Dales

On a point of order, Mr Robertson. There was an unintentional mistake earlier, about Professor Acheson saying that the polygraph was only “slightly better” than the toss of a coin. Those who were here last week listening to the professor will remember—it is in the Hansard record at column 83—that I called him out on that. He said that I was “quite right” to do so and that it was a “useful” test. It is tricky, I know, when looking back on evidence on a hot afternoon. It was a mistake, I think.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

I think we are getting into matters of debate. The point was well made.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As we discussed in evidence last week, the Government—and the Committee—fully recognise that polygraph testing does not provide definitive information that meets a burden of proof that a court of law would expect to be met.

We did hear, however, compelling evidence from Professor Grubin that polygraphs provide a great deal of utility in two areas—first, in causing offenders being questioned while a polygraph is being applied to disclose more information than they otherwise would. He gave some compelling statistics, showing that a high proportion—from memory, something like two thirds—of offenders questioned with a polygraph being applied made a disclosure of information, which is a far higher figure than would ordinarily be the case. It is helpful to get people on licence to disclose information that is useful in working out whether their licence conditions are being adhered to.

Secondly, if a negative polygraph result follows in answer to particular questions, the principal consequence is further investigation by the probation service or, if appropriate, the police. Only if those further investigations yielded new evidence or new facts would further action follow. Polygraph evidence would never be admissible in a court of law, and there is no intention of that, because we heard clearly that although it is helpful, it is not definitive in a way that we would wish evidence submitted to a court of law to be definitive.

That approach is already enshrined in section 30 of the Offender Management Act 2007, expressly disallowing the admissibility of polygraph evidence in court, but it is also covered in the equivalent provisions made for the devolved Administrations in this Bill, particularly clause 33 in relation to Scotland and clause 34 in relation to Northern Ireland. The Bill and the law in general are clear about how polygraph evidence should be used.

On amendments 49 and 50, and the use of “may not” as opposed to “must not”, I think that the phrases have the same meaning. “We may not do something” means the same as “we must not do something”—it is an express prohibition. I am sure it is helpful to put my view of that on the record, and I hope that the Committee concurs. It is categoric that something that may not be used cannot be used, and must not be used in any circumstances.

In support of clause 32 standing part, this is a useful additional tool in the hands of the probation service. It is used already with sex offenders in England and Wales. Professor Grubin provided very informative evidence—certainly the most entertaining evidence that we heard during our earlier proceedings. He made a powerful case for the way in which polygraphs, used properly, carefully, with the right training and with acknowledgment of their limitations, add something to the monitoring process. Therefore I think it is appropriate to include the measures.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice Team Member)

I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I am not going to debate “may” or “must”, which seems to be becoming a tautological argument. I am happy to accept the Minister’s assurance, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 6—Reports on polygraph licence conditions for terrorist offenders—

“(1) Before section 32 comes into force the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report in accordance with subsection (4).

(2) Before section 33 comes into force the Scottish Ministers must lay before the Scottish Parliament a report in accordance with subsection (4).

(3) Before section 34 comes into force the Department of Justice must lay before the Northern Ireland Assembly a report in accordance with subsection (4).

(4) The form of the reports is an analysis of the expected impact of the appropriate section of this Act on people with protected characteristics, including but not limited to—

(a) the impact on people from minority faith groups, including the numbers received into prison and the length of the sentence served;

(b) the impact on people from BAME communities, including the numbers received into prison and the length of the sentence served;

(c) the consequences of any disproportionate impact on people with protected characteristics on efforts by the prison authorities to rehabilitate prisoners convicted of terrorism offences; and

(d) the impact on people with physical and mental disabilities.

(5) No later than the anniversary of the appropriate section coming into force in each subsequent year, the Secretary of State, Scottish Ministers and Department of Justice must each lay a further report updating the analysis under subsection (4).”

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I want to address new clause 6, and will be brief as I have covered much of what I wanted to say with reference to the SNP amendments. I will do the same on clause 35.

The new clause is simple enough. It would build in safeguards for people with protected characteristics, which includes people from minority faith groups and the BAME community, including on the numbers received into prison and the length of the sentence served, by ensuring that the Government commission reports on the impact of the relevant provisions on the distinct groups. The report would also cover the consequences of any disproportionate impact on people with protected characteristics on prison authorities’ efforts to rehabilitate prisoners convicted of terrorism offences, as well as the impact on people with physical and mental disabilities.

We can all accept—and the evidence given to the Committee bears it out—that polygraph tests are far from being the holy grail in general, never mind when they are applied to the people covered by the amendment. It is worth noting that some of the evidence contained more detail. Professor Silke—I hope I will quote him correctly this time—was clear in his evidence. He said that there could be a role for polygraph tests, but discouraged Ministers from going headlong into a full roll-out:

“There are potential benefits to using polygraphs within an enhanced framework, recognising that they do have their limits. I support the calls that are being made, if polygraphs are being introduced, for running a pilot programme first before implementing them across the estate.”––[Official Report, Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Public Bill Committee, 30 June 2020; c. 86, Q182.]

Rather than going full steam ahead and introducing a regime of polygraph testing for everyone in the category in question, will the Minister launch the pilot that Professor Silke and other witnesses favour? That would help to address some of the issues that I have been concerned about, and that I raise in the new clause.

The Minister will be pleased to hear that I shall not rehearse again the injustices against certain groups that sadly remain very much part of the justice system, but I ask him to be mindful of the reality and to recognise that data is critical if we are to overcome those injustices.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would say two things about a pilot. First, as I said before, polygraph use has been running for a number of years now for sex offenders in England and Wales, and it has been found to be useful. It is used quite widely around the world, as Professor Grubin mentioned in his evidence.

In particular, the use of polygraphs for monitoring licence conditions is designed first to prompt the disclosure of information and secondly to provide information that might be followed up. Bearing that in mind, I do not think that the biting effect of the polygraph findings is of sufficient severity to require further pilot work, particularly as the technique is used already.

As to BAME communities, that is something we debated at some length a short time ago, as the hon. Gentleman said, but I would observe that the application of the technique applies to everyone equally, regardless of colour and creed.

In relation to the review, there is a standing convention that legislation is reviewed three years after coming into effect. I am sure that the effectiveness of the provision will form part of such a future review.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

That is very helpful. I will not press the new clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 32 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.