Serious Crime Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:32 pm on 8th March 2007.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 3:32 pm, 8th March 2007

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5671, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on a legislative consent motion on the Serious Crime Bill, which is United Kingdom legislation.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 3:39 pm, 8th March 2007

The Serious Crime Bill will make it an offence in Scotland to breach a serious crime prevention order issued in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. It will extend the use of production orders to cash seizures, and put it beyond doubt that reasonable force may be used when executing a search warrant under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

It is a sensible package of measures that will ensure that Scotland does not become a bolthole for those trying to circumvent the provisions of their SCPO. The bill also strengthens the provisions of the 2002 act.

The Justice 2 Committee supports the Executive's approach, and I trust that the Parliament will too.

I move,

That the Parliament endorses the principle that the offence of breaching a Serious Crime Prevention Order should be extended to Scotland and that amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 relating to the use of force in executing search warrants in Scotland under section 387 of that Act and the extension of production orders and search warrants to include cash seizures as set out in the Serious Crime Bill, introduced in the House of Lords on 16 February 2007, should be considered by the UK Parliament.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative 3:40 pm, 8th March 2007

Although the Conservative party has expressed scepticism about serious crime prevention orders, we welcome the overall direction of the bill. Irrespective of different parties' standing on SCPOs, the bill will become law. Once it becomes law, it would be stupid to have false borders to protect those who deserve no protection within the boundaries of the United Kingdom.

The bill is well intentioned. My colleagues at Westminster will give it the go-ahead and my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament will support the minister in her ambitions.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

As the minister explained, the Serious Crime Bill seeks to introduce a new variant of the civil preventive order that will allow any restriction imaginable to be placed on an individual who has not been convicted of any crime.

The UK Government has made increasing use of such preventive orders. Antisocial behaviour orders were largely a response to small-scale antisocial behaviour with restrictions explained in court to the individual concerned, not simply imposed by law enforcement officers. Then we had control orders, which made possible house arrests without trial because ministers argued that the threat from terrorist acts of mass murder was a unique threat that demanded a unique response.

The Serious Crime Bill now applies the same principle to literally any crime that a court considers serious enough. SCPOs are broad ranging, they require no conviction, no trial and carry the possibility of up to five years in prison if they are breached. If we agree the legislative consent motion before us today, we accept the legitimacy of that particular use of a civil preventive order in the Scottish justice system. We might do that, but it is a debate for another time that will demand significantly more than a few minutes' discussion in the chamber.

If we have such a debate in the next session, we will need to consider with great care the implications of a sentence of up to five years in prison being imposed on someone who has never been convicted, never been tried and never even been charged with involvement in serious crime. The business of holding a fair trial, presenting evidence and hearing a defence might be tiresome, but it is not optional. The UK Government's consultation stated that SCPOs were intended for use against individuals

"for whom a separate trial is not thought worthwhile."

I find that statement shocking. We have a right and a duty to prevent crime and prosecute the guilty, but we cannot abandon the importance of fair and formal criminal trials. We should reject the legislative consent motion at least until there is time to debate its implications fully.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 3:42 pm, 8th March 2007

I note the support of the Conservatives and I am rather concerned by the overcooked and overstated position taken by the Greens. I am sure that members of that party have studied in great detail the Official Report on the subject. The legislative consent motion was discussed in great detail at the Justice 2 Committee and the conclusion was that the committee was content to support it.

The committee recognised that, should the bill be passed and a serious crime prevention order attached to someone in England and Wales was breached in Scotland, it would be entirely reasonable for the Scottish courts to address the matter. The motion does not deal with the broader issue of whether we should be able to apply SCPOs in Scottish courts. I suspect that views will be divided on the subject when it is considered. The Executive judged that it should deal now with the small issue of orders that are issued in England and Wales and prevent Scotland from becoming a bolthole. The broader issue will be addressed by the next Administration.

Members should note that it is possible for SCPOs to be applied post-conviction, which seems entirely reasonable to me, or indeed by a High Court, rather than by somebody taking an order out of their hip pocket and saying, "I think this might be a good idea." The orders would be tested in court. The breach of such an order will be a criminal offence, but the person to whom it is applied will have been advised of the consequences of breach. If they believe that the order ought not to have been applied, they can apply to the court for it to be put aside.

The question whether the SCPO is valid is a matter for the court and the question of its breach, the terms of which the person will understand absolutely, is also a matter for the court. We took the view that it was important that we deal in this small way with the fact that the bill is going ahead in England and Wales. As was made very clear in the Justice 2 Committee, that does not prevent the scrutiny of the matter and I have no doubt that it will be scrutinised in detail by a future Parliament that will look at the issues in Scotland. However, as serious crime becomes more imaginative, creative and difficult to address, we must give our judicial system the levers and powers to allow us to address it, although at the same time maintaining the important rights of the accused.

On those grounds, I urge members to follow the Justice 2 Committee and the Subordinate Legislation Committee and support the legislative consent motion.