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Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Code of Practice C and Code ofPractice H) Order 2006

Volume 684: debated on Wednesday 5 July 2006

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 14 June be approved [30th Report from the Joint Committee and 39th Report from the Merits Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, during debates on the Terrorism Act 2006, the Government agreed that a new code of practice should be issued to govern the detention of terrorist suspects before bringing into force the sections of the Act which will extend the maximum period of pre-charge detention of terrorist suspects from 14 to 28 days.

The order before your Lordships today therefore brings into force a new PACE code of practice on the detention, treatment and questioning of terrorist suspects arrested under Section 41 of the 2000 Act. This new PACE code is to be known as “Code H”. The order also issues a revised version of PACE Code C, which deals with the detention, treatment and questioning of both terrorist and non-terrorist suspects. This order will remove references to terrorist suspects from Code C.

Code H reflects the results of a consultation held between 2 and 23 May. We received a total of 26 responses to the consultation from a wide rangeof organisations and individuals, including the Association of Chief Police Officers, Liberty, the Law Society, the Criminal Bar Association and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, to name but a few. I hope that your Lordships will all agree that thecode we are planning to introduce represents an appropriate and effective tool for governing terrorist detention. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 14 June be approved [30th Report from the Joint Committee and 39th Report from the Merits Committee].—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her explanation of the order. As my honourable friend Nick Herbert made clear in another place when this matter was debated last week, we do not wish to rehearse the debate about whether detaining terrorist suspects without charge for 90 days was justified. Parliament agreed on the28 days. It is very clear that the subject matter of this order is very narrowly confined to whether Code H is appropriate to be put into effect. We certainly support the making of the order on that basis.

In another place, my honourable friend Mr Herbert asked two questions, one of which was satisfactorily answered. He was assured by the Minister, Mr McNulty, that it was envisaged that if the police need to interview detainees after they have been transferred to prison, arrangements will be made for them to be moved back to the appropriate police station. That was a welcome assurance, since it is in keeping with the needs of an investigation.

However, my honourable friend also pointed out that the code provides that detainees may receive visits from friends, family or others at the custody officer’s discretion. He therefore asked to what extent that provision would be subject to supervision or review, whether such visits would be left to the discretion of a single custody officer and what appeal procedure would be available if the custody officer decided not to allow the visits. In glancing through the report of that debate on 28 June, I did not readily see that Mr McNulty had responded. I should be grateful if the Minister could take the opportunity to do so today.

My Lords, we understand that the revised codes of practice made under Section 66 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 are necessary because of the extension of the maximum period of detention from 14 to 28 days, to which Parliament finally agreed with some reluctance after many contentious debates.

As the Minister said, Code H deals in particular with the treatment of suspects who are detained for the longer period under the Terrorism Act 2000. I understand that after consultation it was agreed that suspects would be transferred to prison if a warrant is issued taking detention beyond 14 days. My noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew strongly endorsesthat proposal as ensuring that detainees are held in establishments which have the experience and facilities to deal with longer periods of detention.

When my honourable friends the Members for Hornsey and Wood Green, and for Somerton and Frome, asked whether someone held under the code would be transferred to a place where the officers had received appropriate training, the Minister who replied took the question to refer only to police stations. He said that the equivalent of Paddington Green would not be needed everywhere unless there was a large increase in suspects charged under the code. Does that mean that as long as the number of suspects is small enough to be accommodated in Paddington Green, every suspect will be held there initially, regardless of where they were detained in England and Wales? What is the situation in Scotland? If the number of suspects increased beyond the limit that Paddington Green can hold, has another police station been prepared to receive the extra suspects, with appropriately trained officers?

Similarly, are there designated prisons to receive the suspects who are detained for 28 days, with appropriate facilities and trained officers? If the first preference is to be Belmarsh, has another prison been designated as back-up in case the number exceeds the capacity of Belmarsh? I need hardly add that with the prison system as a whole crammed to bursting point, it would impose an intolerable strain on the service if it suddenly had to accept more than a few 28-day detainees. It would be useful to know how the Minister thinks that it would deal with such an emergency if it occurred.

Finally, I should like to ask a question, of which I am afraid I did not give the noble Baroness notice, on paragraph 5.7 of Code H. It provides that detainees will be,

“informed that what they say in any letter, call or message ... may be read or listened to and may be given in evidence”.

There is no reference to the recording of any telephone call that is made. Particularly as reference is made elsewhere in the code to the possibility that telephone calls may be conducted in a language which the officer does not understand, does the Minister not consider that there may be a requirement to record those conversations so that they can be translated and examined later?

My Lords, first I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for giving their assent to the codes of practice, but I shall answer straightaway the questions that they have quite properly asked.

On the supervision of family visits and any appeal procedure, I can assure the noble Baroness that all visits will have to take account of the operational sensitivities of an investigation and will be arranged in liaison with the investigation team, while also taking into account the needs of the detainee. The balancing exercise will have to be gone through, and of course the noble Baroness will understand that each situation will be different. Any complaints, however, can be made to the Independent Police Complaints Commission or to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, depending on where the detainee is held.

I turn now to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. All police stations are designated for the detention of terrorist suspects, but the Terrorism Act 2000 requires that a detainee is taken as soon as is reasonably practical to the police station which the constable considers the most appropriate. In the majority of cases this will mean Paddington Green, but other police stations are used and a secure detention facility exists in Scotland at Govan. The decision about which station is the most appropriate is an operational one to be taken by the police and will depend on the needs of the investigation and the circumstances of the detainee.

The noble Lord asked whether suspects would all be sent to Belmarsh and what the position there is. The police and the National Offender Management Service will maintain an agreement as to the most suitable places for detention, which will again depend on the individual detainee and take into account, for example, their age, whether they are male or female and the circumstances of the investigation. Belmarsh will be one of the institutions under consideration for appropriate cases but other institutions will be considered when all the relevant issues are taken into account. Those will form part of the plans we make.

On the question of telephone calls, I shall write to the noble Lord. However, the ordinary principleof “he who asserts must prove” will prevail. If information is to be relied on, it makes prudent good sense to try to get the best quality evidence. That is my response generally but I shall write to him in relation to that specific issue because I do not have clear instructions to hand. With that, I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.