Debates between Lord Faulks and Lord Coaker during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 30th Jan 2023
Public Order Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage: Part 1
Wed 18th Jan 2023
National Security Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 1
Wed 11th Jan 2023
National Security Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 2
Mon 19th Dec 2022

Public Order Bill

Debate between Lord Faulks and Lord Coaker
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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That is the point I am making: there is of course going to be a debate about what various words mean. I have admitted it. I said to the noble Lord and to others that I have asked in the debate what “significant” means in certain situations. All I am saying is that I want to set the threshold higher; I want the threshold to be at a level at which “serious” can be used, rather than the “minor” level which the Government seek to introduce, supported by other noble Lords. Of course there will be a debate, whether about what I have put forward, or about “minor”, or about what “hindrance” means in certain situations. But this Chamber should be saying to the courts that what we mean by “prolonged” is that it has to happen not just once. It has to be more than a daily activity; it has to be something that impacts on the life of the community more than once or twice. That is what we are saying and that is why I am putting forward these amendments. I want the courts to realise that, when this Chamber passes these amendments, we are saying that serious means serious.

Of course there will be a debate about what that actually means. It is the same as with any other law we pass—it does not matter which one. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has much more experience in this than I do, but, in the end, the courts will have to determine what it means. We will come on to “reasonable excuse” in a minute, but I think the courts would want to know that this House has debated it. I am saying that “serious” means more than minor, and that “prolonged” means more than daily. In the end, the courts will have to determine that. But I say to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that that would be true whatever wording we use in the Bill: there will be a debate in the courts as to what it actually means. I want the courts to debate what “serious” means and what “prolonged” means. I do not want them to debate what “minor” means because the threshold starts too low.

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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I think the noble Lord said, just before the intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that it would not be necessary to prove serious disruption. That cannot be right, with respect; I hope it was a mistake on his part. I understand that the proposed new clause inserted by the amendment is to go before the definition of the offence, which includes the words “serious disruption”, which will have to be established. Is that correct?

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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Yes, of course. If I gave that impression, it was a mistake on my part. This is the whole point: there has to be “serious disruption”, as in my amendment. The debate—not the argument but the debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, just raised—is about what we actually mean by serious disruption. I thank the noble Lord, for pointing that out. If I said that, it was a mistake.

National Security Bill

Debate between Lord Faulks and Lord Coaker
Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I add a couple of queries which I hope that the Minister can help with.

Clause 83(5) provides that:

“Where the court would award damages … of a particular amount, the court must decide whether, in light of its consideration of the national security factors, it is appropriate for it to reduce the amount of damages (including to nil).”


How is a judge supposed to decide whether it is appropriate? The national security factors are listed but perhaps, by way of an example, some illustration can be given to the Committee to help us understand what this legislation has in mind. Incidentally, I note at Clause 83(7)(b) the various other defences in common law to which the noble Lord, Lord Marks, referred—that is, ex turpi, volenti and contributory negligence—are reserved anyway. The question is whether anything further is needed. An explanation of why these provisions are needed would certainly help the Committee.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lords who have spoken. I very much appreciated the introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Marks. It was very carefully explained and helpful to the Committee. The only thing that I will disappoint him with is that, having heard his Latin pronunciation, I have decided that mine is not as good and so will leave it out.

Some of my remarks will be more general but none the less will ask the Government for justification—with respect to the clause stand-part debates rather than the individual amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, is absolutely right to ask what the court should take into consideration when determining what the level of damages should be, if it is to reduce them, even down to nil. The Minister in the other place talked about care costs. That is my point. It would be interesting to know what the Government’s thinking is. My remarks are mostly not as specific as those of the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Pannick, but raise some of the more general points that the Government need to justify these clauses and to clarify why we must agree them in their current form. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Hacking, whose stake in the ground gives me hope for the future and makes me realise that I am not alone when I stand here. I appreciate his support.

Amendment 105A, moved very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, raised a number of important concerns around the provision—or reduction in provision—of damages in national security cases, including, as the amendment probes, whether a public body could avoid accountability by categorising proceedings as national security. As I said, I want to address the clause stand parts but also Schedule 15, to get some clarity around the Government’s thinking.

Before anybody reading this in Hansard categorises it in a way that it should not be categorised, I make it clear that none of us in this Committee or indeed in this Parliament wishes to see damages used to finance terrorism or in any way to allow individuals or groups to benefit from them. That is the motivation behind Clause 83 and one that none of us could disagree with. However, it is important to consider how we do that. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, it is particularly important for us to do this because many people read our proceedings and so it is important that they understand the debate. The Explanatory Notes point out in stark terms, and more clearly than the Bill does, that:

“Clause 83(1) provides that the duty applies where the liability of the Crown has been established”.


The JCHR report uses even more strident language. It says this applies where the Crown, Government or state—whichever you want to call it—has been proven in court to have “acted unlawfully”. We are talking about a situation in which damages are reduced in cases where the guilt of the Crown has been proven. That is no doubt why many of us will tread carefully in this area: the state has been proven guilty and we are passing legislation that would enable the Government to further reduce damages. This is difficult territory but, with respect to terrorism and damages, it is none the less territory that we need to go to. It is true that certain human rights cases are excluded—those brought under Section 7(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998—but other cases are not. As I have said, even where the court has established that the state is in the wrong and the state has been found guilty of wrongdoing with respect to an individual, and the clause applies, the state can seek to reduce those damages.

How can the Government reassure the Committee that this clause cannot be used to allow the state to avoid accountability? As I have said, of course public money should not be used to fund terrorism via the damages awarded but, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, pointed out, the clauses seem to be drawn so broadly that potentially deserving victims may be excluded. How will the Government avoid that and ensure that the limitation of damages applies only to those who have committed wrongdoing involving terrorism, which I understand to be the point and purpose of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the amendments of others?

We do not wish to see innocent bystanders caught up in a terrible situation to be excluded, but the current drafting of these clauses at the very least implies that, if there is any evidence related to any unspecified national security or intelligence services issue, the damages could be reduced or taken away completely. The Law Commission points out that this could lead to the state introducing national security evidence to avoid paying damages under the provisions of the Bill laid out in Clause 82(2)(a). Can the Minister detail for the Committee why these provisions are necessary? What additional powers do they make available to a court? Can a court not already take into account whether a claimant is deserving or not and whether there are concerns about the potential misuse of any such moneys or damages awarded to them? A point raised in the other place is that this must not be a slippery slope. Could the requirement to reduce damages from terrorism, because of our obvious horror, ever be extended to other areas where we are also horrified—for example, paedophile cases?

I have other points and questions for the Minister on Schedule 15 and other clauses in this group. Are these provisions based on experience from some existing cases, where the Government think this has happened and needs to be stopped, or are they being introduced in anticipation of it happening in the future? If they are not based on existing cases, what are the limitations of the existing legislation, on which the Government have evidence that they can present to the Committee to show why we need this new legislation?

In the other place, for example, the Government were asked what the problem is with existing legislation related to the financing of terrorism. We already have legislation that deals with reducing or removing damages that are used to finance terrorism. I think the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, also made that point, unless I misunderstood.

The freezing orders under Schedule 15 are possible for two years and can be renewed for a further period, before leading to potential forfeiture. Can the Minister explain what the term “real risk” means, for example in paragraph 1(4) of Schedule 15? If it is a standard of proof, as real risk is in the future, how will the court determine it? Will the court require actual proof to allow freezing orders to be made, or will it make a subjective judgment about something that may happen, the real risk that may occur, in the future?

National Security Bill

Debate between Lord Faulks and Lord Coaker
Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I have very little to add to that brilliant exposition of the difficulties with this amendment. As I said in relation to a previous amendment, I am of course very concerned with any threat to public interest journalism, and therefore I have some initial sympathy with the idea of a public interest defence. But I am afraid that, the more I looked at it and thought about it, the more I was convinced that this was not the answer. As the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, pointed out so cogently, Article 10 is not an issue here. Article 10 has always been a qualified right. There is no violation of the convention by the absence of a public interest defence.

I am particularly concerned about proposed new subsection (2). It seems to me that what is contemplated is that, if a defendant raises some prima facie case that they disagree with government policy, or whatever their general justification is for being in breach of one of the very serious offences to which this would apply, the prosecution will have to prove that the conduct was not in the public interest. It is difficult to know how that can be done without potentially disclosing matters that, in the interests of national security, it might be most unwise to disclose. In fact, it might even result in the prosecution not going ahead because the prosecution might take the view that it would be too damaging to disclose this. That itself would not be in the public interest in appropriate cases.

I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said. A jury would be given a complex direction in writing. I can then only anticipate—I have had this experience myself, but not in this sort of case—that the jurors, who may be bewildered by a direction such as this, would ask a series of supplementary questions. What is meant by this? How do we respond to this? What if we agree with the defendant but do not think this? Et cetera, et cetera. It is difficult to conceive of this being a very satisfactory procedure, or indeed in the public interest.

So, although I sympathise with what lies behind this, I am concerned that the Bill could be altered more satisfactorily to protect journalists and whistleblowers. I am afraid that this is not the answer.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise to speak primarily to my diffident amendment, which is none the less an important one. I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said and what he seeks to achieve in his amendment. As he said, it is based very much on what Kevan Jones MP said on new Clause 5 in the debate in the other place.

I am going to leave to one side the notes I had written for this, because it is such an important debate and discussion. The amendment I put down was just a probing amendment to see that it was debated, but now I can see the sense of it, because in the remaining time for the Bill we will not have the opportunity for hours of debate about what a public interest defence should or should not be. But it is not going to go away.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, eloquently told us—supported by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, and others—there is a view that a public interest defence, if you are not careful, will compromise national security in the ways that were outlined. We cannot ignore that, but neither can we ignore the fact that many respected organisations fundamentally believe that the Bill as drafted will both cause a problem with respect to those who wish to act as investigative journalists, which none of us would wish to see compromised—I know that this will be debated later on the amendment on whistleblowing from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer —and prevent somebody who works in a service exposing serious wrongdoing. The wrongdoing going on might be so serious that, on reflection, we would be pleased that they had brought it to the public’s attention. There is a real conflict here between those two points of view.

Nobody wishes to compromise national security or to curtail the opportunity for people to reveal things which are in the public’s interest. But having put a probing amendment down, it seems that my amendment is one way to try to wrestle with this problem in slower time, while we reflect on how we bring all this together. As I say, we cannot just dismiss all the institutions and organisations, including very respected people, who want a public interest defence. They include the Law Commission and many others such as Mishcon de Reya, who have sent us all a really informative argument for why there should be a public interest defence. They have pointed to various cases, some historic and some not so historic, to give examples of where a public interest defence may have helped.

National Security Bill

Debate between Lord Faulks and Lord Coaker
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, this is a very important group of amendments which in many ways goes to the heart of much of the debate that will take place on a number of amendments. It reminds the Committee that the heart of the issue is Clause 1(1)(b), which says that to commit an offence

“the person’s conduct is for a purpose that they know, or ought reasonably to know, is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the United Kingdom”.

Fundamental to that is that what we are discussing here, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, ably set out, is what we actually mean by the interests and safety of the United Kingdom. It is to the great credit of our country that we can debate that here to try to decide what it should be.

I agree with the majority of noble Lords who have said that it is important that we try to understand how to make sure that defending the interests and safety of our country is about national security and defence. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, reminded us that there are grey areas in that respect. That is not a criticism of having the debate, but it means that we have to decide where we want to draw the line. I have mentioned this to the noble and learned Lord Hope, and I pray him in aid. He mentioned it with respect to the Public Order Bill, and again with this one. It is an abrogation of this Parliament’s responsibility if it does not seek to answer these difficult questions and just leaves it to the courts, saying that it is for the courts to decide and determine. We ourselves should try to give greater clarity to what we as legislators think that phrase actually means.

It is incumbent on the Government to say what they will do to try to define this, as Amendment 2 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and my Amendment 3 seek to do. Either they should say “We don’t need to do that”, lay out why it is not necessary for Parliament to determine it and why they think we should leave it to the courts, or say how we will get some sort of definition that makes sense and gives greater clarity. To be frank, that is a real problem for the Bill.

As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, pointed out in his interesting and incisive remarks, along with other noble Lords, the Government say at paragraph 62 of the Explanatory Notes:

“The term safety or interests of the UK is not defined”.


They have already made up their mind that they do not need to define it. The basis of these amendments is that we think they do. We do not oppose the Bill or think it is not important that we protect the safety and interests of the United Kingdom, but somewhere along the line our Parliament should try to say what that means. The Government say in the Explanatory Notes that it is not defined and, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, mentioned,

“case-law has interpreted it as meaning, in summary, the objects of state policy determined by the Crown on the advice of Ministers (see the Court’s view in Chandler v Director Public Prosecutions (1964)”.

I remind noble Lords that in that judgment, the House of Lords—constitutional arrangements were different then—essentially rejected the idea that it was for a jury to determine or decide whether something was in the interests of the state. As Lord Pearce’s judgment stated,

“the interests of the State must in my judgment mean the interests of the State according to the policies laid down for it by its recognised organs of government and authority, the policies of the State as they are, not as they ought, in the opinion of a jury, to be.”

I am not a lawyer—I have been a politician all my life—but I would argue with that. It may be quite correct from a legal point of view, but sometimes Parliament has not caught up with public opinion or where people are. Often, juries are an important way of determining what the public think, and they work.

We have seen recent examples of that. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, reminded us well of all the different issues that have arisen with protests. They are irrelevant to the Bill, but let me give another example: assisted dying. Time and again, juries have refused to convict on assisted dying, because they will not convict somebody in those terrible circumstances and do not believe that Parliament has caught up with the reality of where we are.

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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I entirely understand why the noble Lord is concerned about any uncertainty in these provisions, given the significant penalty, but is he at all reassured by the fact that it would be necessary for a jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a defendant knew or ought reasonably to have known? That is quite a high threshold to be crossed before you even get on to this definition.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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I agree; I am just making the point that a definition would also help and give us certainty and clarity. It is important for a Bill that seeks to address issues of national security that it seeks to define that. The debate has already taken place in Parliament; the noble Lord takes the view that it is unnecessary, but I think a definition would be helpful. A number of noble Lords have said that, in the Bill as drafted, it appears that not only national security or defence issues will fall under the Bill but a whole range of other potential offences which have nothing to do with national security or the defence of the realm.

That is the clarity we seek, and it is right to explore it in Committee. It will be interesting to hear what the Minister says as to why my amendment or those of the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Purvis, are unnecessary. Maybe he will use the argument the noble Lord put forward to say that that is what makes it unnecessary—