Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Lord Campbell-Savours Excerpts
Thursday 16th June 2011

(13 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee
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This amendment takes us to the issues relating to Parliament Square. I start with an apology. Like many other noble Lords, I had thought that we would be a little further advanced by this time and I am committed to a speaking engagement, fortunately as near as Portcullis House. However, it means that I will not be here for the whole of the debate on this part of the Bill, about which I am extremely sad. The future of Parliament Square is an issue dear to my heart. However, I am delighted to see the repeal of what I have always thought of as offensive provisions in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.

I have no need to rehearse at length why it is so important that demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament should not be blocked. Indeed, I think that they should be facilitated. I was heartened, too, by a discussion that I had with the Hansard Society recently about the work that it is doing to promote better co-ordination of the various institutions around Parliament Square that are part of our democracy. That includes not just Parliament but the Supreme Court and Westminster Abbey. We could all operate better together for the benefit of tourists, of course, but more particularly for our own citizens. I do not want to see the re-enactment in the Bill of what I have described as offensive provisions for a narrower area—in other words, not to halfway up Whitehall and so on, but for Parliament Square itself.

Maybe it is important to rehearse the importance of the rights to peaceful protest and assembly, which are integral to our democracy. Any interference in them must be proportionate as it is a matter of human rights. The Government are held to account through a number of mechanisms. Making views clear to both government and Parliament, whose job is partly to hold government to account, is integral to that. This is all wrapped up with the right of free speech. I have said to your Lordships before that it does us as parliamentarians no harm to be confronted, in a physically non-confrontational way, with other people’s views. Sometimes those views are expressed vocally, though we may not hear so much of that at this end of the building. We tend to hear more noise from Old Palace Yard, which I think is outside the area covered by these provisions. The loudest is often the hymn-singing that is sometimes organised there by religious groups. As I said, it is not appropriate to re-enact the provisions for a narrower area, nor to give aesthetic considerations —tidying up the square—more weight than considerations based on democracy.

What is there about Parliament Square that needs more protection than is available through the Public Order Act 1986? That is at the heart of the questions in this group and on this part of the Bill. The Joint Committee on Human Rights report said that,

“the right to protest is clearly not an absolute right”.

It can legitimately be regulated but,

“the regulation of protest should not represent a hidden obstacle to the freedom of assembly”.

At paragraph 1.16, the committee said:

“the proposed offences must be justified by the Government as necessary to meet a legitimate aim and as proportionate to the proposed interference with the rights protected by Articles 10 and 11 ECHR, the right to freedom of expression and assembly”.

It said, I thought rather generously, that,

“the Explanatory Notes explain in very broad terms the Government’s view that these provisions are proportionate”.

I found it harder to detect justification in the Explanatory Notes. That is why I am opposing the question that these other clauses, beside Clause 142, should stand part of the Bill. That will save others from perhaps wondering in my absence why I am opposing that the clauses stand part. I know that my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, who will move the amendments that I cannot, and who has a much longer track record of standing up for these matters than I do, will speak to them. I will therefore also be opposing that some of the other clauses stand part.

On Clause 142, I am troubled by subsection (2) which provides that public assemblies will come within the Public Order Act, including,

“public assemblies which started, or were being organised, before this section comes into force”.

This may not be retrospective in a technical sense but I wonder what it means. Section 14 of the 1986 Act provides that a police officer can only give directions or impose conditions prospectively. I have been wondering whether Clause 142(2) means that the directions bite only from when they are given. This is of course relevant to whether there is an offence as regards the past, or whether the offence is committed maybe in respect of a continuing activity but only from the point of a direction that is not obeyed. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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My Lords, I shall intervene for a few moments. We are often told that scrutiny in the Lords is better than that in the Commons, but this is a section of the Bill that I would have liked to have talked on, under a number of amendments, and due to pressure of time and the fact that we will be going late this evening we will not have the opportunity. This section of the Bill will not be subject to the level of scrutiny that I believe it deserves.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Portrait Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
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My Lords, I follow that by saying that this is a particularly important section of the Bill. My noble friend Lady Hamwee laid out a little bit of the history of this legislation. Last time, with the SOCPA provisions, which are now being repealed, Parliament got it very wrong—although it got it wrong in a panic, as a reaction to terrorism. There are still things in the Bill that are deeply worrying, which is why it merits scrutiny. Having said that, I welcome the fact that the Government are repealing the SOCPA clauses.

In speaking to Amendment 244ZZA, I shall give an example of one thing that should really worry us. My amendment suggests that we should remove from the Bill the words “or is about to”. If somebody is doing a prohibited activity, it is quite plain that the police can give them a direction to stop them doing it. However, how will the police know that the person is about to do a prohibited activity? Is the policeman a mind reader? Can he or she guess what that person is about to do? There is something slightly more worrying behind these words. It disguises what we now have in this country—that is, two classes of citizen. The vast majority of the country do not fall into this class, but there is a second bunch of people who are classed as domestic extremists. Some of them may be in your Lordships' House, because to be a domestic extremist, for which there is no legal definition, you simply have to be somebody whom the police think has regularly gone on protests. I do not know the rest of the criteria that the police use to judge, and I do not believe that the Home Office is very aware of them, because when I asked a series of Written Questions about this to the Minister’s predecessor I was told that there is no legal definition. There is a database, and people can find out if they are on the database if they apply under the Freedom of Information Act. However, of course they would not know to apply, because most people would not suspect that they were on it.

This year we have also had the issue of the somewhat out-of-control undercover surveillance of activists. I am very glad that HMIC is currently carrying out a review of operational accountability of undercover work of the national public order intelligence unit, but we have not had the results yet of that review.

In addition, the Metropolitan police force has just acquired some suspect-mapping software called Geotime, which can take account of the activity done by domestic extremists in their everyday lives. For example, it can follow social networking when they use their sites, as well their mobile use, cash withdrawals and sat-nav use. The police can build up thus an entire picture of somebody who is not a criminal or somebody who has been convicted of anything but someone who is classed as a domestic extremist, for which, as I say, there is no legal definition. It is quite worrying. Those people, the domestic extremists, have not necessarily done anything criminal—nothing except to be known protesters and activists. In other words, they are people who might do something. That is what worries me about the wording,

“or is about to do”.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire
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My Lords, there is no evidence for what the noble Lord has just suggested. We are talking about proportionality in a whole range of different ways here. Parliament Square, Old Palace Yard and the area around them, as some noble Lords were saying on Friday, ought to be a great democratic space to be enjoyed by a large number of people, not just those who come to visit Parliament or those who wish to make their views well known—loudly known—but also tourists and those substantial numbers of people who pass through Parliament Square every day on their way to and from work. It is a transient population that is obstructed by those who wish to be here permanently. Some of those structures are semi-permanent. I think that the noble Lord will agree that if the Aldwych—to take where he and I used to work as an example—had a similarly permanent encampment, there would be real problems of obstruction of the footway and so on.

The question that we are dealing with is: how best to arrange Parliament Square for the enjoyment, and the presence, of the maximum number of people under shared rules for all who come. This is a very large area. The intention of this part of the Bill is to give much greater clarity to protestors, public and the police as to what is and is not acceptable in Parliament Square. As I said on Friday, overnight protests and vigils are clearly one sort of acceptable behaviour. Being there for a year at a time—or, in the case of Brian Haw, several years—is a different sort of presence. It begins to obstruct the rights of others. I am sure that the noble Lord is familiar with John Stuart Mill and On Liberty, and the question of how one’s liberty has not to obstruct the rights of others. The maximum number of people in the democracy encampment was, I think, nearly 150. Brian Haw’s group has always been a mere handful. So we are trading off different rights. That is the purpose of this place.

I therefore say to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that scrutiny of this is taking place in a wider context, not simply today. We discussed this on Friday and there is, indeed, another Private Member’s Bill. This will continue to be a large set of issues.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked whether the policeman was a mind-reader. No, certainly not. Before anyone can commit an offence under these provisions, they must first be issued with a direction to stop: a warning. It is acceptable to issue a warning to someone you see carrying their sleeping bag and various other things that they should not put it down and spend several nights on it. That is what is intended in this clause.

The noble Baroness talks about fears of domestic extremists. I do not particularly want to go down that road beyond saying that I recall that when I once turned up to speak to the Campaign for the Accountability of US Bases in Britain at RAF Menwith Hill, it was remarkable how quickly the MoD policeman appeared to recognise who I was—my name and everything else. Perhaps I am on the list, too. We do not need to go too far into that for the moment.

These amendments rightly test the replacement for SOCPA. The Government’s view is that getting rid of SOCPA and replacing it with measures that existed before—as far as demonstrators are concerned, the previously operating Public Order Acts—is the right response. There is a trade-off between different users, as I have already said. However, there is a clear consensus on all sides of this Chamber after five years of debate that Parliament Square should be fully developed as a democratic space and that we should be discussing with the Palace authorities, the Abbey, the Supreme Court and others how to use it better. That discussion is rather wider than the Bill goes and needs to be continued elsewhere.

The question of Abingdon Green was raised briefly. There are particular problems because Abingdon Green is private, not public, property. Noble Lords will be aware of the many subtleties of who is directly responsible for which bit of the various facilities around here. There are risks of hybridity if we apply this Bill to Abingdon Green. However, we understand the practical challenges in terms of applying these various remedies. The Government will therefore additionally discuss with the House authorities the benefits of moving an amendment on Report to make provision for a power of seizure to be attached to Royal Parks regulations, which apply to Abingdon Green, to support the position that we have taken for effective enforcement of GLA and Westminster City Council by-laws.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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Suppose that there is a big demonstration in London with a couple of thousand people on Whitehall all marching down towards Parliament Square carrying sleeping bags. Suppose that it looks to a police officer that they may well want to spend the night somewhere in the vicinity of Parliament. It does not mean that they are going to do it every day, or every week or whatever; they are not going to put up tents or anything. What would happen in those circumstances? Would the police simply ignore it? Or would they somehow find some excuse under the proposed legislation to say, “We are warning you, you cannot do it”. Then, if they breach that, an argument breaks out on the streets between the police and the demonstrators.

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Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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My Lords, I intervene with another rather silly and naive question. I ask these questions because previously sometimes the most ludicrous things have happened and we find an article in the Evening Standard about action taken during one of these demonstrations which none of us comprehends. I want to ask a very simple question. Clause 146(1) says,

“if it appears to that constable or officer that the item is being, or has been, used in connection with the commission of an offence under section 144”.

What about a deckchair? If a demonstrator turned up with a deckchair, who will decide whether the chair is for sitting upon or for sleeping upon? It is in those silly little areas that stupid decisions are taken that can lead to trouble in crowds, and subsequently to violence. It can be the small things that trigger a demonstration. This is why this whole area of the Bill should have been dealt with in far greater detail than it has been, and I simply ask what might appear a naive question but may well turn into an issue at some stage.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Portrait Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
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I have one illustration to add to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, made so well. Who is to say that that person with the deckchair is even on the demonstration? One of the issues under the—happily to be repealed—SOCA provisions was that a person turning up in a T-shirt with a slogan saying “down with the war” might be taken to be on a demonstration but might be taken to be walking down the road in a T-shirt. The same thing would apply to things like deckchairs and blankets. Is a poncho something for sleeping in? It is a sort of blanket but your head can go through it. There are all sorts of issues that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is correct to raise that are going to be an immense matter for judgment.

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Baroness Browning Portrait Baroness Browning
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My Lords, in responding to Amendment 244ZB and its linked amendments, it is important to re-emphasise why the Government are bringing forward this package of reforms. Parliament Square is a World Heritage Site surrounded, as we know, by important historic buildings such as Westminster Abbey. Its location opposite the Houses of Parliament makes it a focus for protests, and rightly so. This means that we need to balance the competing and legitimate needs of members of the public who come to the area as protestors and of Members of Parliament and others who need to be able to carry out their daily work and enjoy the space as visitors. This extends to the use of amplified noise equipment as much as to encampments.

However, the Government recognise that the use of loudhailers is linked to freedom of expression in a way that erecting a tent is not. The package of reforms accordingly puts lesser restrictions on the use of loudspeakers than on the erection of tents. It does this by putting in place a proportionate authorisation scheme which balances competing rights, so using a loudhailer is a prohibited activity only if it has not been authorised. The authorisation regime set out in Clause 148 applies to a much smaller area than the SOCPA provisions which the Government are repealing. This is in line with the Government’s determination to take an approach based on evidenced problems of the misuse of loudhailers in Parliament Square. The amendments would mean that there would be no regulation whatever on the use of items such as loudhailers and loudspeakers. Not only would this be an abdication of responsibility to deal with the noise nuisance that has plagued Parliament Square for many years, it would also risk causing difficulties where a number of competing protests are taking place.

I will not go into great detail on this. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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Can I check on a technical point with the noble Baroness? Clause 148(5) states:

“The notice must specify… the kind of amplified noise equipment to which the authorisation applies”.

Does that mean that there will be a control on equipment in terms of the channel output of the equipment being used? It is quite a technical question, but I would have thought that some kind of estimate must be made of the channel output of the equipment. I cannot see any other way of determining what kind of equipment could be authorised.

Baroness Browning Portrait Baroness Browning
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I do not know if I am going to answer the noble Lord in as much detail as he would like. There are already noise regulations which, for example, would deal with other types of equipment such as radios. The noble Lord is indicating from a sedentary position that that is different. Perhaps I may write to him on the point.

We understand that the use of a loudhailer is intrinsic to the right to protest and being able to communicate one’s message, but we consider that some restrictions along the lines proposed in these clauses and elsewhere in Part 3 are required in order to ensure that the rights and freedoms of others are adequately protected and balanced with the rights of protestors. We have no wish to prevent protest around Parliament, and I would hope that the other provisions in Part 3, namely the repeal of SOCPA, show clearly our commitment to restoring rights to protest.

As I have made clear during the debate, the provisions in Part 3 are about ensuring that individuals do not usurp the rights of many others. Therefore it does not seem disproportionate for responsible authorities to be able to place limits on the duration of the use of a loudhailer. The details of this authorisation scheme are clearly set out in the Bill to ensure that it is clear and accessible to all. I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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I have a further question. Sometimes when we come in by St Stephen’s Entrance, 200 or 300 people might be meeting on the other side of the road where there is a space. Someone with a loudhailer will be standing there. What control on them will exist? Will they be free to use that loudhailer, or is that a regulated area?

Baroness Browning Portrait Baroness Browning
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They would be free to use it, but subject to authorisation, which at the moment they do not have. I am coming to the question of applications to use the loudhailer, which might be helpful to the noble Lord. I shall just make this point. He and I have both experienced the use of a loudhailer there. If you stand within the precincts of the House of the Commons, you cannot hear what is being said. Protestors are not delivering a message; you just hear a very loud screeching noise. In that context, I also point out that it is not only Members of Parliament who have had their work disrupted by this. It is extremely difficult for the police officers who stand permanently on duty by Palace Gates, and who also have to endure this noise.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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I did not refer to Palace Gates.

Baroness Browning Portrait Baroness Browning
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You can still hear it from there. I am not saying that that is where the loudhailer is; I am saying that you can hear it from there. You cannot hear what is being said; you just hear a shriek. As I have said, we are not trying to prevent protestors using a loudhailer but we want it to be proportionate in how it impacts on other people.

I shall just go through the regulations on applications. Twenty-one days is the period currently used by the GLA and Westminster to consider applications for loudhailers under local by-law provisions and Section 137 of SOCPA. Six days would be too short a period and would not give local authorities sufficient time to consult others. We are talking about a very limited area in which authorisation to use amplified noise equipment is needed. The authorisation scheme is there to protect competing interests in the limited space. Therefore, I urge the noble Baroness not to press her amendment.

I come to the court and the distinct issue of limiting its ability, on conviction, to make an order requiring the convicted person not to enter the controlled area of Parliament Square by imposing a time limit of no more than seven days. The Government’s provisions leave the length of time entirely to the court to determine, in line with the circumstances of each case. This is wholly appropriate and would allow the courts to deal with determined individuals who might be resolute in simply coming back after seven days. I hope noble Lords will understand that we believe we have got the proportionality right here. I will write to the noble Lord on his more detailed technical question about different types of equipment.

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Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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I am very sympathetic to the amendment because I feel quite strongly, and always have done, that people should be allowed to demonstrate in the square. This is a perfectly reasonable way of dealing with the difficulties that arise. Basically, you are simply clearing the square in the evening after the demonstrations have taken place during the day.

It always gives me a thrill when I drive around Parliament Square to see those people encamped on the pavement. This must be one of the only democracies in the whole world where people can demonstrate on the very steps of Parliament. It must be most enlightening for people coming in from all over the world to see it actually happening here in the United Kingdom. It might give them cause to reflect on the way we run our democratic arrangements in this country. This amendment should be seriously considered by the Government. It would certainly save a lot of space in the printing presses where they produce legislation and it would deal with the problem in a way that is perfectly acceptable. I hope it can be considered on Report in perhaps greater detail—perhaps even in the Division Lobbies.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Portrait Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
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The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is quite right. When parliamentarians from other countries come here it is one of the things that they comment on—and not adversely. They do not dwell as much on the slightly messier aspect that MPs and some noble Lords have complained about. They are more impressed with the fact that the demonstrations take place. There is much attraction in the noble Lord’s amendment, not least for the Government. They have signed up to a bonfire of regulations and this gets rid of an awful lot of regulations all at once. I imagine that they will be nervous of adopting it because it seems perhaps too gentle but for my part I am very attracted to it.

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Moved by
245: Clause 154, page 102, line 19, leave out from “applies” to end of line 20 and insert—
“(a) a justice of the peace shall apply to the Director of Public Prosecutions for advice on the advisability of granting the warrant or summons,(b) no warrant or summons shall be issued under this section without taking into account any advice given by the Director of Public Prosecutions”
Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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My Lords, before I deal with my amendment in detail, I want to say a few words by way of preamble. I am not a lawyer and I cannot claim any knowledge of the background to the administration of justice in the courts, but I am a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group and I have closely followed the debate on this matter in the other place.

A lawyer put it to me in this way the other day: “Clause 154 presents us with a paradox. The Department of Justice is responsible for the administration of justice, yet in certain cases it does not have confidence in the judges it appoints to sensibly administer the justice system, so it effectively nationalises the responsibility”. What many of those concerned about Clause 154 keep asking themselves is: what is driving this agenda on? Some people believe that in part it is fear among some supporters of the state of Israel that prominent Israeli citizens who stand accused of breaches of international law might be detained when visiting the United Kingdom. The problem is that there is an element of truth in all this in that, out of the 10 applications made over the past 10 years, the only two that I understand were successful were against Israeli citizens: one the former Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni; the other, Major-General Almog. I have to confess that this targeting of Israeli citizens is a very powerful argument for giving the DPP greater responsibility than the Government proposed. But is it so powerful an argument as to totally undermine the well-trodden path of the legitimate right of the citizen to step in where the state may fear to tread for all sorts of diplomatic, interstate, political or commercial considerations?

The problem is that people have difficulty distinguishing the actions of political leaders in democratic states, such as Israel, which I strongly support, who mistakenly believe that they are defending the interests of their democratic state by engaging in actions which border on breaches of international law. Some people confuse Israeli excesses in Gaza with monstrous atrocities in Srebrenica, Rwanda, the Congo, Uganda and Cambodia and the treatment of Tamils in Sri Lanka. But in my view it is totally counterproductive to threaten the Israeli leadership with arrest. We have to maintain a dialogue with such people and force their hand if necessary through sanctions, freezes on assets and other heavy forms of action depending on the circumstances. So, although I have some sympathy with the Government’s overriding concerns, I believe that they are proceeding in the wrong way.

I shall now speak to my Amendment 245. I tabled this amendment before the publication of the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Our excellent report captures very well almost all the concerns that I would raise. The Government have explained that their motivation for changing the procedure in these cases is to prevent vexatious applications being successful; that it should not be possible for someone to be able to obtain an arrest warrant as part of a stunt or to make a political point. The Government are quite right on this. However, eight of the applications were turned down by the courts and no warrant was issued. So it is not entirely clear to me that such a major change in the law is necessary. The courts seem to be doing a good job in the few cases that there are of weeding out vexatious applications and turning them down. Furthermore, those cases involve the very same experienced district judges who sit at the City of Westminster magistrates’ court—the same judges whom we entrust to hear terrorism and extradition cases. They are people with experience whom we can describe as a steady pair of hands. It is just not clear to me why the Government think that we should trust these people to be wise and judicious in terrorism and extradition cases but not in universal jurisdiction arrest warrant cases.

I am not wholly unsympathetic to the Government’s aims. Perhaps there is a need to make it completely clear that the law of England and Wales can allow arrest warrants to be issued only in genuine and serious cases. However, I am not sure that the Government have got the change quite right in their proposals in the Bill. The Joint Committee on Human Rights recommends in its report that,

“if no further justification for the existing proposal is provided, the Bill be amended to substitute the requirement for the DPP to consent with a requirement for the applicants to notify the DPP of any application for an arrest warrant”,

which I understand is the substance of one of the amendments before us. That appears to me to be the substance of the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill.

My amendment is very similar but I go a little further. I have tried to capture the enhanced role for the DPP that the Government want to bring in. Crucially, my amendment—like that of the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester—would leave the final decision to a court. That is very important. The effect of the Government’s proposal is that in practice the DPP will be the decision-maker on whether an arrest warrant is granted. Although it is reasonable for the Government to want the DPP to have a role, it is important that the court remains the final arbiter.

Under my amendment, on receiving an application for an arrest warrant in respect of the relevant offences, the court would contact the DPP and request his advice on the likelihood of a future prosecution. This would mean making available to the DPP the evidence on which the arrest warrant would be decided. The court would then be obliged to take into account the advice of the DPP. It may be argued by those who oppose the Government’s proposals that in practice this is not much different from those proposals. However, I have tried to reflect the fact that it is very important who the decision-maker is: it must be the court. The Government want a role for the DPP, so I have suggested that the court should be obliged to take into account the advice of the DPP in making its decision.

There are several closely connected issues that the Government should also clarify. They concern the test that is to be applied by the DPP. This issue, too, is addressed in the Joint Committee report, and is at the heart of the debate. The first aspect is the level of evidence that will be required. Currently, as I understand it, a court is required to establish that prima facie evidence exists—although I am told that in practice a higher standard of evidence has been applied in previous cases. Alternatively, there might be a threshold test to establish if the evidence is such that it is reasonable to suppose that, in a reasonable time, there will be a reasonable prospect of conviction; or the full code prosecutorial test to establish if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable prospect of conviction. As a non-lawyer, I believe that it should be something more like the threshold test, which the public would understand and which would allow at least for an interview prior to action. It would be helpful if the Government would clarify what tests they expect the DPP to apply. The other element of the test is a consideration of the public interest. Having applied the evidential elements, the DPP would go on to consider the public interest element. This area would benefit from clarification from the Government, for it is here that suspicion surrounding the change is centred.

In conclusion, I would like us to note that the Government are proposing an entirely new role for the DPP. As I understand it, they are not extending to further offences a role that already exists in relation to some offences; the role is entirely new. Arrest warrants are not normally the domain of the Director of Public Prosecutions. In framing the new procedure, it is important to get it right. The Government have not quite got the balance right in their proposals, and I hope that my amendment will be the subject of serious consideration. I beg to move.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza
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My Lords, because of the lateness of the hour, I will not rehearse the arguments put forward so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, with which I broadly agree; our aims are very similar. However, I will emphasise one or two points. My interest is in a fair application of universal jurisdiction. Whatever the driving causes of this are, this country has a duty to apply universal jurisdiction, as other European countries do. In defending the proposition that the current system is neither mischievous nor vexatious, I will add that in the past 10 years, only two cases have resulted in successful prosecution—one in 1999 and one in 2005. The 2005 case concerned an Afghan man who was convicted of torture and hostage taking. I think this argues for a pretty restrained system. Indeed, it is very far from being a vexatious system at the moment.

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None of the amendments before this Committee is necessary or appropriate. Amendments 245, 245A and 245AZA would all give the director an advisory role. Yet that would leave open the anomaly that the magistrate who takes the decision on whether to order arrest and detention applies a different standard to that of the Attorney-General and the DPP, who look at whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction and any public interest considerations. The amendments would ensure that the advice from the DPP would be on issues which are not for the magistrate to determine and are therefore, with great respect, very difficult to understand.
Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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As a non-lawyer, I wonder whether I can ask the noble Lord a lay man’s question. What kind of considerations would the public interest considerations be in the application for a warrant in a case like this? What would the DPP have in mind?

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick
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The DPP dealt with that matter in the evidence that he gave to the Public Bill Committee. He was very reluctant to address hypotheticals but said:

“There may be a case where there is a very powerful argument … the example that is given by others and therefore not from my mouth is where you have a fraught and difficult peace negotiation that has to take place in 24 hours in a country and you need international leaders there. I do not know. There may be a situation where you would have to carefully consider the arguments one way or the other”.—[Official Report, Commons, Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill Committee, 20/1/11; col. 134.]

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick
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I will just finish my answer, then I will happily give way to the noble Lord. If he is saying that public interest has no role in this area then his quarrel is with the code for Crown prosecutors, but his amendment does not address that.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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When the noble Lord said that the DPP was totally independent, he appeared to be saying that they would not have political considerations in mind. If peace negotiations were about to take place, surely that is a political consideration. It is precisely those sorts of areas that might cause the public some concern, even though the justification may be merited.

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick
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I am grateful to the noble Lord. It is of course the experience of all those who have held the sensitive and difficult office of Director of Public Prosecutions and Attorney-General—we are fortunate to have two former Attorney-Generals here—that they have to address these sensitive and difficult questions. There is nothing unusual about this area that singles it out from the problems that are faced, if not on a daily basis then I am sure on a weekly or monthly basis, by those who hold that office. I am sure that they will be able to assist the House regarding this matter.

My point is that the noble Lord’s amendment seeks to give an advisory role to the DPP in relation to a matter that the magistrate simply has no role under existing law to determine. I suggest with respect that that is not a sensible way to proceed, nor would it be sensible to confer on the magistrate a new role, which the magistrate has never had, of having to consider the criteria in the code for Crown prosecutors of whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction or whether the public interest justifies a decision being taken.

The other amendment, Amendment 245AA, would include in the legislation criteria that told the DPP how to exercise his discretion. It would be quite unprecedented for Parliament to tell the DPP what criteria to adopt in exercising his functions, nor do the courts do so. Indeed, it was highly controversial that the Appellate Committee of this House decided in July 2009 to require the DPP even to publish guidelines on whether he would prosecute for assisting a suicide. I declare an interest as counsel for Mrs Purdy in that case. Parliament and the courts have, for good reason, preferred to leave the DPP to develop his own criteria in the code for Crown prosecutors. Amendment 246 raises very different issues—

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Lord McNally Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally)
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My Lords, sometimes the House throws up, well outside the usual hours of attention, debates of immense importance. There is no doubt that this debate will be read and studied outside the confines of the House to great advantage, because it was extremely thorough, with arguments deployed on both sides with great passion but also, in the tradition of the House, with great courtesy. As one of the non-lawyers participating, I very much benefited from listening to the learned side of the House dealing with matters of law.

Of course, as with all these things, it is a matter of judgment. We get advice from many quarters. It is not a matter of setting the view of the Joint Committee on Human Rights at nil; our judgment is carefully considered. However, as the two former Attorneys-General pointed out, somebody then has to make a judgment. The judgment that we have made is that the purpose of Clause 154 is to ensure that in respect of offences over which the United Kingdom has asserted universal jurisdiction, an arrest warrant is issued on the application of a private prosecution only where there is a real prospect of a viable prosecution. This outcome is achieved by requiring the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before the warrant can be issued. The Government have decided that this is the best way forward.

The detail of this debate indicates that more than one opinion can be honestly held, but nothing that I have heard today has dissuaded me from thinking that this is the right way forward. However, we will return to this on Report. I hope that some issues were clarified in the debate. Certainly I will look at the resource issue that was raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, but I am a little worried about the answer that I will be given—[Interruption.] It is always worrying when there are interventions. It is bad enough when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, intervenes, but when the thunderous intervention seems to come from an even higher authority, one gets really worried.

I pay tribute to the previous Government on their record on universal jurisdiction. The two officeholders responsible can take rightful pride in it. I also put on record the confidence of this Government in the independence and abilities of the present DPP. The way that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, introduced the debate set a tone that encouraged the exchange of honest and informed opinions. Although I will ask noble Lords, given the nature of the Committee stage, not to press their amendments, it is clear that the debate will influence further discussions on how we go forward.

I will deal with some of the issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, finished her remarks by expressing her concern that there would be unnecessary delay. That concern was also expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza. It was answered very clearly by the noble Lords, Lord Carlisle and Lord Pannick. In some ways, I shall try to shorten my remarks because I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is after my job, but his speech answered many of the questions raised, including on delay. The DPP has made it clear that anyone who wants to pursue a crime of universal jurisdiction should engage very early with him. Giving evidence, he said:

“They should come to us with whatever evidence they have, and we will undertake to look at it and to advise”.—[Official Report, Commons, Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill Committee, 20/1/11; col. 124]

We have already heard evidence about the amount of resources and the 24/7 nature of that coverage.

It is not a matter of trusting the judges to do their job. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, put the problem far better. The actual case put to the judge is not the one that causes the problem in that, as the noble and learned Lord rightly pointed out, it may involve somebody being detained on very spurious grounds. We are all experienced politicians and we have seen examples. The gain for those wanting to raise these issues is not in the trial or the verdict but in the publicity gained by getting the individual into the situation in the first place. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, suggested, it is not in any way that we wish to take away the right of the private citizen to pursue matters of universal jurisdiction, but simply that we believe that the present situation is unsatisfactory and extremely difficult in terms of law. I know that there have been very few cases but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, pointed out and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, confirmed, the previous Government were looking at this issue and feared, as do we, that there is a risk that the present weakness of our system could be exploited at a time when we would want to use all our influence.

One accepts the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, that there may be a chill factor in asking for that hurdle to be cleared. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, argued, there may be a deterrence factor. We have had to weigh those things, and we have come down in favour of trying to remove that deterrence factor while not removing the line to universal jurisdiction. We are asking a non-political officer to look at the issue and asking those wishing to take it forward to clear what is in many ways a very modest hurdle if the situation is as clear as they would claim. There is no point in allowing the court to issue a warrant in a case where the director has concluded that there is no realistic prospect of a viable prosecution. That is why we believe that the first three amendments cast the Director of Public Prosecutions in an advisory role to the court, which is not welcome.

Amendment 245 requires the court to apply to the DPP for advice on the advisability of granting a warrant or summons. It goes on to make it clear that such a warrant or summons cannot be issued without taking into account the DPP’s advice. As was acknowledged by those who tabled the other amendments, the thrust of them is to move from giving responsibility to the DPP to putting him in an advisory role. The DPP was clear in his evidence to the Public Bill Committee about the degree of detail in which applications for consent are examined and the specialist resources that are available for him in doing so. If the DPP concludes that the tests under the code for the Crown prosecutors are not met, it is difficult to see what purpose will be served by the court nevertheless issuing a warrant or why it would wish to do so.

Amendment 245AA is obviously intended to place in the Bill the test used by the DPP in considering whether to grant this consent. I will not go into great detail at this point because I would be afraid of rekindling the fire between the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. But I ask readers of Hansard to turn to those exchanges to judge again whether we have got the balance right. I think that we have. I am not persuaded that it is necessary to embody the guidance in the clause. The tests are of general application but they are not set out in statute and it would be strange to do so in this context.

The amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Carlile is designed to monitor the arrangements for investigating and prosecuting certain grave international offences and for assisting the International Criminal Court. I understand the interest in reviewing the effectiveness of these arrangements but I am not sure that what is proposed would be helpful. Prosecutions for one of these exceptionally grave offences are rare and when one takes place it is newsworthy enough for a reporting requirement to be superfluous. Investigations that do not end in prosecution are a different matter and reporting on them would not be straightforward.

As the exclusions built in the amendment recognise, it would not be right to disclose personal details, but without such details the information is unlikely to be meaningful. The information that the report provided would therefore be so incomplete as to make it effectively useless. What would be of value would be for the Director of Public Prosecutions to monitor any case for which his consent is sought under Clause 154, which applies to offences that to some extent overlap with those listed in this amendment, and to publish the number of cases and the outcome. I understand that the director would be content to carry this out.

The amendment includes a requirement to report on the assistance of the International Criminal Court. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office produces an annual human rights command paper, which includes details of the UK policy on criminal justice and the rule of law. It is subject to the scrutiny of the Foreign Affairs Committee. The command paper makes clear the UK’s commitment to the principle that there should be no impunity for the most serious international crimes and that we should provide details of the practical support which we have provided to all six existing international criminal tribunals. The paper does not currently provide the level of detail which the amendment would require but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will give careful consideration to extending it to include more specific details of assistance provided as envisaged by this amendment.

I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, when they have time to look at those two responses, to see whether they are satisfactory. I will be happy to meet with them on these points, but I hope that they go a long way to meet what they say. If not, of course, we can return to this on Report or clarify it further in discussions. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment, but with real and personal thanks both for the spirit and the level of engagement in this debate which I hope will help to reassure people about where we are coming from. I think that both in this House and in this Parliament there is cross-party commitment to pursuing those who perpetrate horrific crimes that are committed all over the world and which were so graphically described by my noble friend Lady Tonge. As a country, we have been for many years a leader in this, and we will continue to be.

I can make a personal commitment. At the Ministry of Justice and within this Government, I am the Minister responsible for civil liberties and human rights. I would not stand at the Dispatch Box advocating this clause if I did not believe that it was absolutely foursquare with our continuing full commitment to the universal jurisdiction. It is not a step towards political control. It gives us a law that is fit for purpose, a very noble purpose, if we all continue to pursue it.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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My Lords, we have had a fascinating debate. It is nearly 10 o’clock and I have not eaten yet, as indeed will be the case for most noble Lords. We have a lot to reflect on before the Report stage, as indeed will many organisations outside this House which have been in contact with Members. Before I withdraw the amendment, I should say that I remain slightly confused about the public interest. That is where the suspicion may well lie, and as I understand it, explanations as to what constitutes the public interest in particular cases are not published. With that in mind, the responses of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, to my interventions may well be of interest to a number of organisations. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 245 withdrawn.