Crime and Courts Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Crime and Courts Bill [HL]

Lord Beecham Excerpts
Monday 10th December 2012

(11 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
116ZA: After Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“Requirement for review
(1) The provisions under section 25 and Schedule 17 shall cease to have effect at the end of a five year period beginning with the day the provisions come into force.
(2) Before the end of the five year period, the Secretary of State must—
(a) provide for a review of these provisions, in consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Director of the Serious Fraud Office,(b) set out the conclusions of the review, and(c) lay the Report before both Houses of Parliament.”
Lord Beecham Portrait Lord Beecham
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My Lords, knowing the Government’s inveterate enthusiasm for sunset clauses, I am not sufficiently naive to believe that the part of the amendment that deals with the sunset clause will command their agreement. However, the amendment is tabled partly to reflect a potentially dangerous underestimate of how the public might regard this major change in proceedings that we have collectively endorsed, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The objective of the amendment is to reinforce the need for a review of the operation of the provision which, in fairness, the Minister has previously indicated would take place as part of the normal post-legislative review process. It is particularly important in this case that we carry public support for this change because there is still a danger that there may be a suspicion on the part of the public that large companies are able to—I use the phrase I used in the recommitment debate—buy their way out of a prosecution. That is not the intention and we subscribe to the view that this is a sensible way of dealing with some matters, particularly in the light of the failure of the existing system and organisations to manage successful prosecutions.

The important part of the amendment is that which looks to the review as being a joint exercise with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the director of the SFO, and to the laying of a report before Parliament. There will certainly be a review and I see no difficulty in a report being laid before and discussed by Parliament although, as with other amendments which I shall be moving later, I resile from the position that affirmative resolutions and the like would be required to approve them. It is important that there is an opportunity for proper parliamentary debate to help carry public opinion with us as we move in the novel direction of deferred prosecution agreements. That will apply to other amendments as well as this one. Last week the Minister kindly organised a meeting at which four of us who are in the Chamber tonight, apart from the Ministers, were present and I rather thought he was sensitive to that view. Therefore, I hope he can give the assurance that any discussion of a review would be in consultation with the directors of the two relevant departments.

My noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith will speak to his amendment. I shall await what he says with interest and comment on it if necessary at the end. I reserve my position on that but I hope the Minister will look with some degree of acceptance on the point about having a proper consultation as part of the review and in discussion in Parliament. I beg to move.

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, the amendments in this group relate to issues raised and debated in Committee. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, that they have been considered in the intervening time. However, as the noble and learned Lord expected, the Government’s position on both issues is unchanged for the reasons that I will reiterate.

Amendment 116ZA seeks to introduce a sunset clause—I am always conscious that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, often talks of sunset clauses after the sun has set; I am sure there is no direct relevance—for the DPA scheme. The Government still consider that to be unnecessary at present. Let me be clear: our approach to these proposals allows us to test the water, as my noble friend Lord Marks, said, by dipping a toe in to this novel approach. Our proposals have been designed to deal with the particular issue of bringing organisations to justice for economic crime.

However, let me reassure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, that the introduction of the DPA scheme is not a pilot. The Government are committed to DPAs becoming a permanent fixture in the fight against corporate economic and financial crime. For this reason, we do not consider the proposed sunset clause to be appropriate. Additionally, this provision could have a number of prejudicial consequences for any DPA under negotiation, in force or expired. The inclusion of such a clause would introduce uncertainty that might deter prosecutors and organisations entering into a DPA.

Let me assure the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that the Government will review the operation of the scheme following its introduction, and I am content to reiterate that undertaking here. Pursuant to the Government’s policy on post-legislative scrutiny, of which noble Lords are aware, all new primary legislation is reviewed within five years of Royal Assent. We consider that there is no need to provide a statutory basis for the review of the DPA legislation and consider, on this occasion, that the undertaking we have given on post-legislative scrutiny conducted in the usual way is sufficient.

Amendment 116E, which was tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, broadens the scope of the Secretary of State’s power to specify by order further offences in relation to which DPAs may be entered. As has been stated already, the amendment would extend its scope to the addition of any offence whatever that could be committed by an organisation. We discussed this issue in Committee and have considered with great care the potential to extend the scope of the DPA scheme to cover a broader range of offences. The Government remain of the view that the scope of the scheme should be limited to financial and economic wrongdoing and that it should not be extended beyond this by way of secondary legislation for the following reasons.

First, 77% of the respondents to our consultation agreed that corporate economic crime is the right focus for these proposals, at least initially. Fewer than half of respondents supported the broader availability of DPAs. As we made clear in Committee, the proposals set out in Schedule 17 have been designed as a response to the particular problems of prosecuting organisations alleged to have been involved in financial or economic wrongdoing. Too few organisations are being held to account for economic wrongdoing owing to the particular challenges in investigating and prosecuting the conduct. These challenges are not as acute for other types of corporate offending, including—and I know other noble Lords have mentioned this—environmental offending, where successful prosecutions have been made and where there is already a range of effective alternatives to prosecution. Those responsible for prosecuting offences other than economic and financial crimes have not identified a broader need for DPAs.

The introduction of DPAs, as I have already said, is very much a toe-dipping exercise. We need to ensure that the benefits of DPAs are proven, that there are no unintended consequences and that the right cases are still being prosecuted before considering broadening the scope. The Government are therefore opposed at this stage to removing the restriction on the offences that might be brought within the scope of these proposals. We remain firmly of the view that the current draft of the schedule draws the scope of the DPA scheme appropriately.

However, I would like to reassure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, that the Government will keep this matter under review. If DPAs prove effective in tackling corporate economic crime, and the case is made for extending their availability for other types of offending, then we will reconsider this issue in the future. However, we consider that such a significant change in the scope of the scheme should be made only following appropriate consultation, and by way of primary legislation, with the more rigorous scrutiny that that entails, compared with the affirmative resolution procedure.

I therefore ask noble Lords to wait until these proposals have been fully tested in relation to economic crime in England and Wales, have been shown to be effective and, most importantly, have gained public confidence, before pressing for an extension in their scope. This is an important step forward. It is a new area and therefore it is right that we focus for the time being on economic crime. In light of these points and with the assurance that we will keep the scope of the DPA scheme under review I would be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, would agree to withdraw his amendment and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, would agree not to move his amendment.

Lord Beecham Portrait Lord Beecham
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My Lords, I am slightly disappointed by that response. It is not clear to me what form the review will take. Leaving aside the sunset clause—which I virtually left aside in moving the amendment—the amendment really talked about the consultation between the Government and the Director of Public Prosecution and the Director of the SFO and producing a joint report, as it were, for Parliament to discuss. It is not clear to me that that follows from what the Minister has described as the usual post-legislative scrutiny. I would be glad to be corrected if it is intended to bring effectively a joint report to be debated as part of that process.

In relation to the reluctance to envisage bringing forward other areas of law—environmental law was debated at some length at an earlier stage but not necessarily just that area—if we have a five-year review it will be at least six years before primary legislation is likely to be enacted, given that it would have to take its place in the queue, as it were, at that time. That strikes me as rather too long a period to wait, given the general acceptance that this offers a way forward, particularly in the field of something like the environment where you are not just looking at a financial penalty but at different ways, which we will touch on later in the amendments of my noble and learned friend, of corporations recognising their responsibilities in practical rather than purely monetary terms.

I have, as I have previously expressed, some reservations about extending the doctrine to individuals, although I take my noble and learned friend’s point about drugs, which is made on a day on which the Government seem to have been much too quick to reject a call from the Home Affairs Select Committee for a Royal Commission to look into what is not a noticeably successful policy on drugs and their impact on society and the courts. However, clearly, the Government are not minded to move things in the direction that either I or my noble and learned friend would wish tonight. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 116ZA withdrawn.
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Baroness D'Souza Portrait The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza)
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My Lords, I should warn your Lordships that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 116B by reason of pre-emption.

Lord Beecham Portrait Lord Beecham
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My Lords, I respectfully adopt and support most of my noble and learned friend’s comments and indeed most of his amendments. If I had a preference between Amendments 116A and 116B, I think it would be Amendment 116B, but it would be interesting to hear which way, if either, the Minister inclines on that particular aspect.

It seems very sensible that other possible consequences of a failure to comply should be incorporated, so I endorse Amendments 116C and 116D. As to the amendment in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Rosser, we return again to the principle of having these novel matters debated openly before the new process is set in motion. In this particular case, it is a matter of having the financial penalties and parameters that would be proposed by the Sentencing Council subjected to scrutiny and debate but not, as I suggested in Committee, to an affirmative procedure. In retrospect, I think that was going too far and perhaps trespassing on the role of the Sentencing Council in an unacceptable way, although I note that there seem to be some judicial misgivings about the operation of the council. Be that as it may, it does not relate specifically to this point.

Again, bearing in mind the need to carry public opinion with us on this new process, it would be helpful to have that debate before the Sentencing Council’s proposals became adopted. The novelty of the process is such that not only would that be justified but it would actually assist in securing public acceptance. I can anticipate the next amendment, which is very much on the same line; again, having it debated should inform both public opinion and possibly the final decision-makers in a way that can only contribute to the success of the experiment, if that is what it is. I suspect that it will be a successful experiment on which we are embarking.

On the question of incentives, my noble and learned friend is right. It is quite clear from the American example—I repeat for the second or third time that very much larger sums are secured under the American system—that an incentive has to be provided. Whether that is a maximum of one-third or not is another matter. I am not entirely surprised that most respondents disagreed with a maximum of one-third; no doubt they would prefer it to be larger, which underlines my point, but there needs to be some open debate about this before a final decision is made.

In these circumstances I hope that the Government will, even at this late stage, acknowledge that there is substance in my noble and learned friend’s amendments, and I hope that they will also agree that my proposal would actually assist in gaining acceptance for this new process, both by the public at large and by those who will potentially be the subject of its operation. In that spirit, I beg leave to move the amendment in my name.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames
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My Lords, I will be brief. In relation to Amendments 116A and 116B, after two debates in Committee and our meeting, I am still entirely unclear why the Bill as drafted contains only the all-or-nothing choice in relation to financial penalties. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, pointed out, the arrangements proposed are that the financial penalty should be optional only, but if there is a financial penalty then it must be broadly comparable to the fine that would be imposed on a guilty plea. I suggest that that is illogical because there is no room for such a reduced financial penalty, and there is no reason why there should be no room for one.