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Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (Violent Offender Orders) (Notification Requirements) Regulations 2009

Volume 712: debated on Thursday 2 July 2009

Motion to Approve

Moved By

That the draft regulations laid before the House on 9 June be approved.

Relevant document: 17th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, under Part 7 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, violent offender orders will come into force on 3 August 2009. These are civil preventive orders that are designed to protect the public from the most dangerous violent offenders: those offenders who continue to pose a high risk of serious harm to the public at the end of their licence or term of imprisonment.

On application from the police, a magistrates’ court may impose a violent offender order containing prohibitions and restrictions on an individual. These restrictions may prevent the individual from going to any specified premises or place, attending any specified event or having any contact with a specified individual. The restrictions can prohibit: residence at a particular address—for example, in the vicinity of a previous victim or known criminal associates; contact with a particular individual—for example, a previous partner who has been a victim of domestic abuse; or attendance at certain events—for example, extremist rallies where the offender has a history of violence. Additionally, a person subject to a violent offender order will have to comply with the notification requirements of the order. An offender will need to inform the police annually of basic details such as his or her name and any aliases used, date of birth, home address and any other address at which he or she regularly stays.

The breaching of a violent offender order or its notification requirements is a criminal offence that is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. We are also strengthening the notification requirements for offenders who are subject to a violent offender order who intend to travel overseas or who identify themselves to the police as having no sole or main residence in the UK.

The police currently have a limited ability to monitor these offenders. It could clearly pose a public protection risk if police officers could not track the location of these individuals because they may be out of the country or have no sole or main UK residence. We want to close down the possibility that those subject to a violent offender order could exploit the notification requirements deliberately to mislead or exacerbate the police management of their risk.

The proposed amendment to Section 110(5) therefore makes it a requirement for a person subject to the violent offender order notification requirements who has no sole or main residence in the UK to provide his notification weekly rather than annually. More frequent reporting will allow better monitoring of their location and will help to close the loop for individuals who may claim to be homeless to evade the police.

The proposed amendment to Section 111(1) makes it a requirement for a person subject to a violent offender order and who intends to travel outside the United Kingdom to notify the police of their plan to leave the UK, the method of their travel, the countries they intend to visit and when they plan to return. This will ensure that, should it be necessary, the police can liaise with the authorities in the destination country as appropriate. Importantly, the offender will also be required to notify the police of all their personal details again on their return, which will ensure the consistency of data.

I commend to your Lordships this secondary legislation, which is designed further to minimise the risk to the public from violent offenders.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the regulations, which are not very contentious but give rise to a couple of questions that will probably be relevant to the next regulations, too.

As I understand it, people who are of no fixed abode or who have no address are one category of people who will have to give notification every week of their current whereabouts. That is presumably if they intend to travel at some stage. I do not quite understand that. Are they going to have to give information about their whereabouts weekly to the police whether or not they are going to travel? That was not quite clear in the Minister’s statement.

Arising from that, who is going to keep track of this? One of the conditions in court that one can put on people who are on bail is that they should report to the police on a regular basis. However, the police do not always know whether they have reported or not, and it is not a very reliable handcuff, as it were. I just want to be sure where that information is going, who is going to deal with it and who is going to be running around keeping track of it if the information is not given.

Secondly, why three days’ travel? You can leave the country for one day or 30 days or whatever. I do not understand why this is limited to kick in for somebody who wants to go away for three days and over. You can say you are going away for any length of time. My own view is that it would be better if it kicked in at any time they wanted to go abroad for any length of time. That would make this a much tighter system.

Is the assumption that the intention of these people is to return? Or is there an assumption that they may intend to come back but it does not matter if they do not come back because the information will still be passed on? I ask that only because under the heading, “Additional information to be disclosed”, it says firmly:

“That the information is—

(d) where the offender proposes to return to the United Kingdom on a particular date, that date; and

(e) where the offender proposes to return to the United Kingdom at a particular point of arrival”.

They may never propose to come back at all so what is the lock on that?

One bit of information does not seem to be there. They are asked to give their national insurance number but there is no mention of passports. Presumably at the moment you still cannot leave the country or get back in without some indication of identity or a passport. I would have thought that one of the most valuable bits of information for the police to have would be the passport number, but that is not mentioned. I have no objection to the regulations but I think it might be helpful if we could have an explanation.

My Lords, we debated at length violent offender orders when the matter came before Parliament in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill and we made it quite clear that we oppose the whole concept of civil orders made under civil procedures for evidence and giving power to the magistrates to impose conditions covering a wide variety of circumstances which could impinge very considerably on the life of the individual who is made subject to that order. It must be borne in mind that that person will, by definition, have served his period of imprisonment and will have served also the period that may be necessary for supervision after that period of imprisonment has expired. When we made these objections, they were fully supported by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, on behalf of the Conservative Party, and by noble Lords around the House. Nothing that I say in relation to these regulations should be taken as in any way diminishing our opposition to regulations of this sort.

It is not surprising that these regulations have not been brought into force yet. However, before they are brought into force, the legislation is being altered because the legislation did not, for some reason that perhaps the Minister can explain, stipulate how frequently a person must report if he does not have a home address, as defined in Section 108, which is his sole or main residence in the United Kingdom and he has to give,

“the address or location of a place in the United Kingdom where he can regularly be found, or if there is more than one such place, such one of them as the offender selects”.

The Act and the particular matter that we are concerned about today in Section 110(5) says that the applicable period for a notification and for registering is,

“in any case where subsection (6) applies, such period as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State”.

We did not know when the Bill was passed how often you would have to report. Suddenly, just before the regulations are brought into effect, we are told in one sentence in paragraph 11 of the regulations that someone has to report every week. What has happened? Why could the Government not make up their mind when the Bill went through as to what the appropriate period was for the homeless person or the person without any particularly fixed abode to have to report to the police? Why now, before the regulations are brought into effect, is it stipulated to be one week?

The rest of the regulations deal with very ordinary administrative matters that I do not propose to comment on, but changing the legislation so as to reduce the period to one week is something for which I would request an explanation from the Minister.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions and support, with some questions. I recognise the principled position of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and his party in respect of these orders. A number of points were raised which I will seek to address. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, pointed out that there have been, on other occasions, perhaps not the best of monitoring systems. For violent offender orders, it is intended that the information will be provided by the police and the police will undertake the monitoring of violent offenders. It is an annual monitoring in terms of the information required of someone with a static home, if I can put it that way. For homeless people, I do not think we have changed the legislation. As we said we would do, we have provided in secondary legislation, after consultation with the police and others, that a weekly notification is an appropriate monitoring period for people who are peripatetic or homeless. If people are moving around, they can no doubt inform the police where they will be in a week’s time and report to a police station in that location. If they are static for any period of time, it should not be too onerous an obligation to pop into the police station and say, “I am still here”.

Why three days? Much of what the regulations seek to do in terms of notification for those travelling abroad—for homeless people it is automatic and applies whether they are travelling or not—is based on best practice from the regimes that currently exist for sexual offenders, who we monitor when they go overseas. Three days, after consultation, was chosen to be the most appropriate period. That has proved successful for another group of people monitored and hopefully will prove successful in this case. The noble Baroness raised the question of passport numbers, which are currently not required. However, we will keep that under review and, if thought necessary, it could be introduced by secondary legislation at a future date.

The legislation enables the making of regulations to require more frequent reporting of a person of no fixed address. Thus, flexibility was always envisaged. It is preferable to set this at a period which is not too onerous on the individual concerned and yet gives the police the required monitoring information that they need. I hope I have answered the questions of the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. I commend the regulations to the House.

Motion agreed.