Written Ministerial Statements
Wednesday 5 June 2013
Victim's Right to Review
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has today published interim guidance to Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) staff on handling cases that give rise to a victim’s right to review (VRR). The VRR guidance, which takes immediate effect, follows a judgment by the Court of Appeal (Thomas LJ, Dobbs J, and the Recorder of Redbridge) in R v Christopher Killick  EWCA Crim 1608 that a victim of crime has a right, derived from the ordinary principles of English law, to seek a review of a CPS decision not to prosecute; meaning a clear procedure for the exercise of this right is required.
The guidance sets out when the victims’ right to review arises, the process for victims to request a review and how the review will be conducted by the CPS. Victims will be notified of their right to review when a CPS prosecutor decides not to charge or to terminate criminal proceedings involving that person as a victim. If the victim requests a review of the decision, a different prosecutor will consider the decision afresh and determine whether or not the decision of the original prosecutor was wrong. The decision on whether to reinstitute proceedings as a result of that review will be made at the level of deputy chief Crown Prosecutor or above.
The guidance has been issued on an interim basis and is the subject of a consultation exercise that will last for three months. The DPP will publish his final guidance later this year, once he has considered the responses to the consultation. Copies of the interim guidance have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Culture, Media and Sport
Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council
A meeting of the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council was held in Brussels on 16 and 17 May. I represented the UK at the culture and audiovisual sections of the Council, together with Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Minister for Culture and External Affairs. Shan Morgan, the UK’s Deputy Permanent Representative, represented the UK for the sport section of the Council.
Culture and audiovisual
The Council adopted a general approach on the proposal for a decision establishing the action for the European capitals of culture 2020-33. This action will follow on from the existing European capitals of culture action which ends in 2019. It envisages that the UK will host a European capital of culture in 2023. The UK supported the adoption of the general approach.
The Council also adopted a decision designating Aarhus (Denmark) and Paphos (Cyprus) as the European capitals of culture for 2017 and Valletta (Malta) as one of the two European capitals of culture for 2018.
The Council held an exchange of views on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. The Commission highlighted the need to secure an ambitious negotiating mandate, while acknowledging that it is essential to protect European culture, particularly in relation to the audiovisual industry. The Commission was clear that it believes the current text of the mandate is consistent with this approach in seeking to protect the audiovisual industry by maintaining existing EU measures, protecting existing national regulations and financial support, and reserving future policy space for new technologies. France argued strongly for audiovisual services to be excluded entirely from the trade agreement. This position was supported by Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. For the UK, I welcomed the Commission’s commitment to securing these vital cultural protections, but argued that this trade agreement presents a historic growth opportunity for the European economy and it would be wrong to risk damaging our overall level of ambition by excluding a particular sector completely before negotiations have started. This position was supported by Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden.
The Council debated the role of culture in the EU’s external relations. Speaking for the UK, the Scottish Minister noted that the UK was recognised as a world leader in soft power and gave some examples of how Scotland is fostering strong bilateral relations, particularly with China. The Minister emphasised that any EU initiatives must bring added value and not dilute the work which is already going on in member states. Other member states were positive about establishing a third-country co-operation framework for the EU.
The Council adopted conclusions on dual careers for athletes. These conclusions are based on the “EU guidelines on dual careers for athletes” produced by the EU expert group on education and training in sport, which is chaired by the UK.
They recognise that young people should be supported as they seek to continue their education while aspiring to be high performance athletes. This will offer them further opportunities to contribute to society following the end of their athletics careers. The UK supported the adoption of these conclusions.
The presidency reported on the meetings of the World Anti-Doping Agency which were held in Montreal last week. These meetings had focused on the amendments to the code review and the budget.
The Council also held a policy debate on the role of public authorities in combating increased sophistication of doping in sport. The debate opened with a presentation from Travis Tygart, chief executive of the United States’ Anti-Doping Agency, who identified four key areas in which public authorities need to take action: legislation, independence, funding and engagement. Member states described some of the solutions they have adopted to tackle doping, including awareness-raising, co-operation and improved methods to uncover doping. The UK noted that the national Anti-Doping Agency had adopted an intelligence-based approach to tackling doping, which had been used as the basis for conducting tests on athletes before the Olympic games, and emphasised the importance of education, such as through the “Win Clean” campaign, developed during the Olympics, to inform athletes of their rights and responsibilities.
Any Other Business
Germany introduced an item on the revised draft Commission communication on state aid for films and other audiovisual work, arguing that it place limitations on member states in relation to territoriality. Belgium, France and Portugal supported this concern and France also questioned the threshold for the amount of aid. For the UK, I welcomed confirmation that our film tax relief remains in line with the communication, but I expressed our concerns about the publication of information about aid beneficiaries which could influence the price for which films are sold. I called for a speedy conclusion to the revision of the communication. In response, the Commission emphasised that it had incorporated into the communication almost all the demands from member states.
Germany also introduced an item on the proposed exemption clause for state aid for culture. Germany argued that there should be a complete exemption without the requirement of a maximum amount of aid, and that there should be timely notification procedures which did not interrupt the aid from public sources. France expressed concern about the extent of the exemption and where the boundary lay. I intervened to support the Commission, noting that the proposed changes would provide more flexibility for member states and remove the need for burdensome processes. In response, the Commission accepted that the scope for non-notification needed to be made clear.
The presidency updated member states on the negotiations on the creative Europe and Europe for citizens programmes, and Portugal introduced a paper on “Better connections for a better Europe” which set out two proposals designed to improved communications between EU Culture Ministers and between European cities.
Finally, Lithuania outlined the priorities for its forthcoming presidency of the Council. In the culture and audiovisual fields, these would focus on the role of culture in addressing social challenges, negotiations on a revised directive on the return of cultural goods unlawfully removed from a member state, decisions on international co-operation agreements with Colombia and Peru, and a recommendation on European film in the digital age. For sport, the priorities were conclusions on financial aspects in sport, a recommendation on health-enhancing physical activity and a ministerial debate on good governance principles in sport.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Afghanistan (Monthly Progress Report)
I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is today publishing the 27th progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.
On 30 April, three UK military personnel were killed and six seriously injured when their Mastiff armoured vehicle struck an improvised explosive device while conducting routine vulnerable area checks in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province.
The insurgency launched its 2013 “Khaled Bin Walid” fighting season on 28 April to coincide with Mujaheddin victory day. Reminiscent of previous years, there was a general increase in attacks across Afghanistan to mark the start of their new fighting season but these were largely ineffective. Our message to the Taliban remains that entering a peace process is a chance for Afghans to sit down together and help shape their country’s future.
The UK agreed to provide funding of up to £4.5 million to help strengthen women’s political participation ahead of and during the 2014 presidential/provincial and 2015 parliamentary elections. Support will be provided for female candidates, including workshops and direct training, so that they can reach out to voters and improve their prospects in the 2014/15 elections.
Tensions along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border continued throughout April. Afghanistan accused Pakistan of building up a border post on the Afghan side of the Durrand line. In a military-to-military meeting on 15 April, the two sides agreed that new construction would halt and be dismantled.
NATO Foreign Ministers met in Brussels on 23 April to discuss progress in planning for the post-2014 mission, the international community’s commitment to a stable, secure and sovereign Afghanistan, and the pledge made at Chicago to fund the Afghan National Security Forces. Following the Foreign Ministers’ meeting, US Secretary of State Kerry, Afghan President Karzai and Pakistani chief of army staff Kayani held a trilateral meeting in Brussels on 24 April.
I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the gov.uk website (www.gov. uk/government/publications/afghanistan-progress-reports).
Justice and Home Affairs Council (Pre-Council Statement)
The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council is due to be held on 6 and 7 June in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and I will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed.
The Council will begin in mixed committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (non-EU Schengen states) where the presidency is expected to report significant progress on the Schengen evaluation mechanism and make a statement on the latest compromise package. The UK’s priority has been to ensure the UK’s participation in the mechanism, and retention of a peer- to-peer process as the basis for the mechanism, as agreed by the Council in June 2012. The presidency will also present the latest Commission report on the functioning of the Schengen area.
Next, Greece will update the Council on progress in implementing the Greek action plan on asylum and migration management. The UK supports Greece’s efforts to reform its asylum and migration system, and notes the significant progress made in reducing illegal immigration at the Greece-Turkey land border. However, more rapid and effective action is needed to address issues around the availability and use of EU funding, access to asylum procedures, and Greek operational capacity on the Aegean islands.
Over a working lunch there will be a discussion of free movement, which the presidency intends to report back to the Council plenary. This follows a request for a substantive discussion from the UK in a joint letter co-signed by Interior Ministers from Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. The UK will voice its concerns about the impacts of abuse of free movement and benefit tourism by EU and third-country nationals and will urge the Council to work together to tackle these issues.
During the main Council there will be an update on the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The UK has opted in to the Dublin (III) regulation and the new Eurodac (II) proposal, but not the recast directives on asylum reception conditions, procedures and qualifications. Dublin (III) will be put forward for adoption at the Council. Eurodac (II) will be put forward for “political agreement” with adoption likely later in June. We are content with both.
The Council will be updated on progress in reaching agreement on the proposed legal migration directives on conditions of entry and stay for third-country national intra-corporate transferees and on seasonal workers. The UK has not opted in to these measures. The Council will also be provided with an update on initial discussions on the recently published proposal for a new directive on the entry and stay of third-country national students and researchers. The Government will be making a decision on whether it will opt in to this measure in due course.
There will be an orientation debate on the proposal for a new Europol legal base, also encompassing CEPOL, where the UK will highlight the risk of mandatory obligations to share information with Europol, to seek clarity that Europol cannot order investigations and reiterate the UK’s objection to the Europol/CEPOL merger.
There will be a discussion on foreign fighters and the threat they pose if and when they return to Europe. While not a new issue, the situation in Syria is attracting significant numbers of EU citizens who have various reasons for engaging in the conflict. The UK welcomes the opportunity to discuss with member states how individuals are engaging with extremists while overseas, the extent to which they may develop the intent and capability to conduct an attack against the UK/Europe as well as the risk of radicalising others upon their return. The UK supports the work that the EU CT co-ordinator has been doing to understand the scale of the problem, and agrees that there is value in enhancing our understanding of how others are addressing the problem and how we can work collectively in mitigating this potential threat.
There will also be a discussion on the protection of refugees from Syria during which the UK will reiterate its interest in joining the Regional Protection Programme (RPP) steering committee.
There will be a presentation by the Commission on their communication “Maximising the Development Impact of Migration: the EU contribution for the UN High-level Dialogue and next steps towards broadening the development-migration nexus”.
Under AOB there will be a presentation by Lithuania of the incoming presidency programme and a presentation by Sweden on the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD). Hungary will update on recent developments with the Budapest process (an intergovernmental forum on migration) and the presidency will use this opportunity to update on the recent fifth ministerial conference that took place on 19 April in Istanbul, launching the new Silk Routes Partnership on migration, on which the Budapest process will now focus. The UK is committed to its participation in the Silk Routes Partnership. The UK is leading a “bridging project”, ahead of the commencement of EU funding, to ensure the momentum generated by the ministerial conference is maintained, and that the new partnership is focused on concrete practical co-operation initiatives.
The justice day will begin with a discussion on key issues on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and the free movement of such data. The presidency has issued a “key issues” paper with seven draft conclusions as well as a further redraft of the whole of chapters I-IV of the text. The presidency will also look to gain political agreement on some elements of the text.
The Council will be aiming for a general approach on a directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the fight against fraud to the Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law.
This will be followed by an orientation debate on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council creating a European account preservation order to facilitate cross-border debt recovery in civil and commercial matters. The UK has not opted in to this proposal due to a number of concerns, the main concern being the lack of protection for debtors in what can be a draconian procedure.
There will also be an orientation debate on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council regulation on insolvency proceedings. The UK is in support of this proposal.
The Commission will present the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on promoting the free movement of citizens and businesses by simplifying the acceptance of certain public documents in the European Union and the introduction of common format, multi-lingual public documents. The document seeks to promote the free movement of citizens and businesses by simplifying the acceptance of certain public documents in the EU.
On non-legislative activities, there will be a discussion of the Council conclusions on how to support fundamental rights and the rule of law, where it is likely that adoption of the conclusions will be sought in the member states. The UK has long been a champion of rule of law values throughout the world but would want to be satisfied that any action at EU level genuinely added value to existing mechanisms, for example in the Council of Europe, and is not persuaded that there is any need for new EU competences in this area.
There will be a presentation by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drugs Addiction (EMCDDA) on the EU Drugs Strategy Action Plan 2013-2017, which is scheduled for adoption.
The presidency will give a state of play update on the accession of the European Union to the European convention on human rights.
The presidency will also provide an update on work achieved during its term on e-Justice, a project which seeks to improve access to justice across borders through the use of IT.
Under AOB the presidency will provide an update on current legislative proposals, including the progress of the proposed regulations on matrimonial property regimes and the property consequences of registered partnerships. Given that the UK does not have similar property regimes for married couples or civil partners, we have not opted in to either proposal.
The Lithuanian delegation will then provide the Council with a presentation on their programme for the presidency, which is due to start in July.
Legal Services Review
The complexities of the current legal services regulatory landscape have been raised with Ministers by a number of different stakeholders and through the red tape challenge, and Ministers have decided to undertake a review of the legal services statutory framework. The purpose of this review is to consider what could be done to simplify the regulatory framework and reduce unnecessary burdens on the legal sector while retaining appropriate regulatory oversight. This review will encompass the full breadth of the legislative framework, covering at least 10 pieces of primary legislation and over 30 statutory instruments. We are also open to comments on the interaction between the legislative framework and the detailed rules and regulations of the approved regulators, licensing authorities and of the Legal Services Board and Office for Legal Complaints; although we recognise that these are not owned by the Ministry of Justice.
We are starting the review with a “call for evidence” from stakeholders. At this initial stage, we are interested in hearing about concerns with, and ideas for reducing, regulatory burdens and simplifying the legal services regulatory framework. We would be interested in ideas covering the overall legislative framework, and any specific provisions or aspects within it. The evidence provided will be analysed to identify potential ways in which the framework might be simplified while retaining appropriate regulatory oversight. Following the analysis, Ministers will decide on next steps.
We are seeking views from a range of stakeholders across the legal services sector including the representative and regulatory arms of each of the approved regulators and licensing authorities, and those applying to be approved regulators/licensing authorities, the Legal Services Board, Office for Legal Complaints, Legal Services Consumer Panel, Office of Fair Trading, consumer bodies, legal academics and the judiciary. We will also be seeking views from persons providing legal services.
Motoring Offences (Fixed Penalty Levels)
In June 2012 the Government consulted on increasing the fixed penalty levels for most motoring offences and making careless driving a fixed penalty offence. The Government have today published their response to this consultation.
The changes will give the police the power to issue fixed penalty notices for careless driving and allow them greater flexibility when dealing with less serious careless driving offences—such as tailgating or middle lane hogging—as well as freeing them from resource-intensive court processes. The police will also be able to offer educational training as an alternative to licence endorsement. Drivers will still be able to appeal any decision in court.
Careless drivers put lives at risk and are also a major source of concern and irritation for law-abiding motorists.
Fixed penalty levels for most motoring offences—including using a mobile phone at the wheel and not wearing a seatbelt—will rise to £100 to bring them into line with the penalties for similar non-motoring fixed penalties. Fixed penalty levels for most of these motoring offences have not increased since 2000 and these changes are intended to ensure that penalties for motoring offences reflect the seriousness of the offence and are consistent with similar penalty offences—such as disorder.
The fixed penalty for careless driving will be £100 with three points on the driver’s licence. The most serious examples will continue to go through court, where offenders may face higher penalties.
The changes, which we aim to bring into force in July this year, are being introduced following extensive public consultation with road safety groups and police forces.
We are also increasing penalties for a range of other driving offences to a level which reflects their seriousness and which will ensure that they are consistent with other similar penalty offences:
A non-endorsable £30 fixed penalty notice will rise to £50;
An endorsable £60 and non-endorsable fixed penalty notice will rise to £100;
An endorsable £120 fixed penalty notice will rise to £200;
The fixed penalty notice for driving with no insurance will rise from £200 to £300.
Graduated fixed penalties (mainly for commercial goods and passenger-carrying vehicles and includes offences like drivers’ hours and overloading) and financial deposits (for drivers without a satisfactory UK address) will also increase:
A £30 non-endorsable fine will rise to £50;
A £60 endorsable and non-endorsable fine will rise to £100;
A £120 endorsable and non-endorsable fine will rise to £200;
A £200 endorsable and non-endorsable fine will rise to £300.
Endorsable road traffic offences contribute to a significant number of casualties. For example, in 2011, excess speed contributed to 213 deaths and using a mobile phone while driving contributed to 374 road casualties.
Though penalty levels will increase, penalty points will not change. Fixed penalty notices for parking, waiting and obstruction offences will also remain unchanged.