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Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Revision of Codes C, D and H) Order 2016

Volume 778: debated on Thursday 19 January 2017

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, this order, laid in draft before the House on 22 November 2016, will bring into effect three revised codes of practice issued under Section 66 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which I shall call PACE from now on: Code C, which concerns the detention, treatment and questioning of persons detained under PACE; Code H, which concerns the detention, treatment and questioning of persons detained under terrorism provisions; and Code D, which concerns the identification of suspects by witnesses and biometric data, for example, fingerprints, DNA and photographs. I will briefly describe what the PACE codes are, how these revised codes come before us today and outline the changes they introduce.

For England and Wales, the statutory provisions of PACE set out the core framework of police powers to detect and investigate crime, and require the Secretary of State to issue codes of practice. The eight accompanying codes of practice, A to F, do not create powers but provide rules and procedures for the police to follow when exercising their powers. Together, PACE and the codes establish important safeguards for individuals, which are designed to strike a balance between the need for police to have powers to tackle crime on the one hand and the need for safeguards for suspects and other members of the public on the other. In order to maintain this balance, we regularly update the codes—for example, as we change primary legislation—in the light of new decisions by the courts and to promote developments in operational policing practice.

The three codes before us today were published in draft format in March 2016 for statutory consultation in accordance with Section 67 of PACE. The consultation, which was also open to the public, ran for eight weeks, and the bodies that the Secretary of State is required to consult in accordance with Section 67(4) of PACE, and others, were invited to comment. These others included the Crown Prosecution Service, Liberty—I see the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, here today—Justice and the Youth Justice Board. The drafts, together with an invitation to the public at large to respond, were also published on GOV.UK. A total of 18 responses were received, which is normal for this type of consultation.

In accordance with Section 67 of PACE, the revised codes were laid before this House and in another place together with the draft order and Explanatory Memorandum. Yesterday, the order was approved in Committee in another place, and subject to the order being approved by this House, the three codes will come into force 21 days after the date the order is signed.

The main revision to PACE Code C is to expressly permit the use of live-link communications technology for interpreters. The changes enable interpretation services to be provided by interpreters based at remote locations and allow access to be shared by forces throughout England and Wales. This will avoid interpreters having to travel to individual police stations, and improve the availability of interpreters for all languages. By reducing delays in the investigation, it will enable a more streamlined and cost-effective approach to the administration of justice. The revisions include safeguards for suspects to ensure, as far as practicable, that the fairness of proceedings are not prejudiced by the interpreter not being physically present with the suspect. The provisions therefore require the interpreter’s physical presence unless specified conditions are satisfied and allow live-link interpretation.

Revisions to Code C also reflect the amendment to PACE made by the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 that defines a “juvenile” for the purpose of detention under PACE as someone under the age of 18, rather than under the age of 17. This resulted from a government review of the way in which 17 year-olds were treated under PACE and the codes. The review concluded that the age at which a person should be treated as an adult under PACE should be raised from 17 to 18. This accords with the age-related jurisdiction of youth courts and other criminal justice legislation applicable to children.

New provisions also support Section 38(6) of PACE, which requires juveniles who are not released on bail after being charged to be moved to local authority accommodation pending appearance at court. The revisions point out that the certificate given to the court in accordance with Section 38(7) must show why the juvenile was kept at a police station and require these cases to be monitored and supervised by an inspector or above. Separate measures in the Policing and Crime Bill ensure that outstanding provisions of PACE that continue to treat 17 year-olds as adults are amended.

New provisions in Code C permit an appropriate adult to be removed from interview if they prevent proper questioning. When a suspect who is a juvenile or a vulnerable adult is interviewed, the code requires that an independent adult, known as an “appropriate adult”, be called to help. Their job is to help ensure that the suspect understands what is happening and why, and that they are able to exercise their rights and entitlements under PACE and the codes. These new provisions are necessary to ensure consistency with the existing provisions, which have been in Code H since 2006, and they are modelled on paragraph 6.9 of Code C concerning the removal of a solicitor from an interview if they prevent proper questioning. Before an appropriate adult can be removed, an additional safeguard in both codes requires the inspector or superintendent who is called on to determine whether they should be excluded to remind the adult about their role and advise them of the concerns about their behaviour. That advice, if accepted, would then enable the appropriate adult to remain.

The changes to Code C are mirrored in Code H, as applicable, for persons detained under terrorism provisions. This ensures consistency in the provisions that are common to both codes.

In Code D, eye-witness and witness identification procedures are updated to take account of significant changes and developments in case law and police practice, and to address operational concerns raised by the police. Revised video identification provisions clarify and confirm the identification officer’s discretion to use “historic” images of the suspect; to regulate the presence of solicitors at witness viewings; and to direct others—police officers and police civilian staff—to implement any arrangements for identification procedures. The investigating officer’s responsibility concerning the viewing of CCTV and similar images by a witness other than an eye-witness is also clarified.

Other revisions to Code D reflect amendments made by the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to PACE concerning the retention of fingerprints, DNA profiles and samples. Revisions to all three codes also highlight the need to check all sources of relevant information in order to establish a detainee’s identity; enable officers to use electronic pocket books and other devices in order to make records required by the Codes; clarify those who are not eligible to act as the appropriate adult for children under 18 and for mentally vulnerable adults; and highlight the requirement under Section 31 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to separate children from adult detainees in police stations and other places of detention by including a link to College of Policing guidance on this matter.

Minor typographical and grammatical corrections have been made, and out-of-date references updated.

The revisions strike a balance between the need to safeguard the rights of suspects while supporting the operational flexibility of the police to investigate crime. They are being introduced to bring codes C, D and H in line with current legislation and to support operational police practice. The revised codes provide invaluable guidance to both police and the public on how the police should use their powers fairly, efficiently and effectively. I commend the order and urge noble Lords to support it.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her explanation of the effect of the order before the House this afternoon. I say at the outset that the Opposition support the order, and that we must always carefully consider these matters and strive to strike the right balance between giving the police and other law enforcement agencies the tools, guidance and procedures to do their job effectively and keep citizens safe, when we are balancing the rights of citizens and ensuring that the rights of suspects and witnesses are protected. This is very much my thinking in how I approach the order and similar matters when they come before this House.

I have a number of questions to ask the Minister and hope that she will be able to answer me today—but, if she cannot, I will of course be very happy for her to write me. I turn first to Code C and the ability to permit the use of live-link communication technology for interpreters. This will allow for interpreters to be based at remote locations and for their services to be used by a number of police forces without the need for travel. I can see how this will help the police by speeding up their investigations. Can the noble Baroness confirm whether this facility will be used only in respect of suspects, or will the police be making use of it in respect of witnesses? Is that the intention of the change? Is it envisaged by the department that this will become the norm; will it be used on only limited occasions; or is it somewhere between the two? How will the test of fairness to the suspect be assessed, and what role will there be for the suspect’s solicitor in making representations on the appropriateness of the use of remote translation services?

I move on to the provision to enable an appropriate adult be removed from an interview if they prevent the proper questioning of a subject. An appropriate adult is used when a juvenile or vulnerable adult is being interviewed. They have a specific role: to help the person understand what is happening and to protect their rights under law and the relevant codes. These individuals do a very important job in the justice system, but their role is not to prevent the questioning of suspects. However, there can be cases where there is a very fine line between what could be deemed fair practice and action that could be determined as breaching somebody’s rights. Will there be a role for the suspect’s solicitor in the process of determining whether an appropriate adult should be removed? What would happen if it was viewed that an appropriate adult should be present but, for whatever reason, it was thought that the appropriate adult present at the time had overstepped the line and needed to be removed? Would the interview be suspended until such time as another person could be identified to fulfil that role?

In respect of the electronic pocket books for use by police officers, can the noble Baroness say a little more about the trials that have taken place? It is important that police officers have access to technology that makes their jobs and the application of the law easier and allows for the efficient administration of justice to be done in a timely manner, but we must always be confident that the appropriate safeguards are in place. Very clever people invent, develop and create all sorts of devices, and where they can be used to fight crime, that is welcome—but we must be satisfied that there is no possibility that these devices can be tampered with to produce an inaccurate or untrue picture of what has happened.

There is also the question of the development of technology, which does not stand still. Because something cannot be done at the moment does not mean that it cannot be done in future. How does the noble Baroness plan to ensure that technological developments do not get ahead of the procedures before the House today and the practices of the police and other law enforcement agencies?

In respect of the changes to Code D that alter the way in which witness identification is undertaken, the change effectively deletes the old annexes A and E. We need a bit more evidence for why that is necessary, so I hope that the Minister will give a full explanation when she responds. With those questions, I say again that we are happy to support the order.

My Lords, may I say how much I support the revision of the code of practice? I cannot emphasise enough how welcome these codes were when they were introduced in 1984. Before that, a great deal of time was taken up in the criminal courts with what was called the voir dire—a trial within a trial—to determine the admissibility of police interviews and alleged confessions, and the content of what was said.

I recall, some years after these codes had come into practice and were commonplace in this country, being in Hong Kong, where a confession was produced. I was told by my client that in order to sign it, the interviewing officer had stamped on his hand. I said, “Tell me another one”, and he then pointed to his signature at the beginning of the statement, where he had simply signed in characters, and the very squiggly, spidery signature that appeared at the end. There was a great deal of truth in what he had said, perhaps assisted by the fact that the interviewing officer had committed suicide between taking the statement and the actual trial.

Noble Lords can see that what goes on in the police station is extremely important. The codes of practice that were introduced were an excellent way of making sure there was fairness all round. I am grateful to the Government for continuing to update them and to look at how technology can help protect both the suspect and, of course, the interviewing police officers, against whom allegations of all sorts were made in the past. We very much welcome this.

My Lords, I have just one brief question. Suspects under the age of 18 are to be looked after by the local authority. What security measures will be taken to ensure that they are safe and do not get away?

I thank noble Lords for their questions. Perhaps I can deal with the question of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, first while it is fresh in my mind. The usual safeguards for young children in detention would be employed to ensure that a young person did not get away.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked about the use of live link and whether it would become the norm or used only on limited occasions. The police will use the live-link technology only in certain circumstances judged on a case-by-case basis, taking account of the representation given to the suspect by an appropriate adult and a solicitor. The noble Lord also asked whether the facility would be used only in relation to suspects. I can answer in the affirmative yes, not for the witnesses. He asked about safeguards being ensured and the role of the solicitor. Solicitors must be asked if they wish to make representations to be considered by the police. If there is any doubt the inspector must authorise.

If the noble Lord would like me to go through the conditions, I will do so. Before interview, the suspect’s solicitor, where legal advice is requested, and an appropriate adult for any juvenile or vulnerable adult, must be asked about their views on live-link interpretation. The representations for the interpreter to be present may be made at any time before and during the interview. If there is any doubt about the suspect’s ability to adequately cope with the live-link arrangements during the interview, the physical presence of the interpreter will be required, unless an inspector, having considered the circumstances—in particular, the availability of an interpreter, representations from the suspect’s solicitor, the appropriate adult’s impact on the suspect and the evidential implications—authorises live-link interpretation.

It is very kind of the Minister to give way. She said that it would not be the case for witnesses, but could she explain why? At an interview, the witness and the suspect might both need interpreters, so I understand that you might want to bring the live link in to speed things up. If you have a witness with the same language problems—I think that the Minister can see the point that I am making.

I understand the noble Lord’s point, but at the moment it is just for suspects. It may well be that we will consider future codes that will extend it to witnesses—but not at this time.

The noble Lord also asked about the use of electronic pocket books and recording devices—and he took a very pragmatic approach to the need to move on with technology. He made the point about what happens if there are errors. I suppose that that is a risk in any method of recording. It is not good practice to have errors, but we are human. The likelihood is just as risky in electronic recording as it is in written recording.

In fact, the PACE codes apply only to suspects—and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, who should have taken this question, is nodding. I do not know why I did not think of that. Those codes apply only to suspects and not to witnesses.

I made the point about technological developments. I am conscious that we might not be able to do something today but that people are very clever and invent all sorts of things in future—so how are we going to keep up to speed with those sorts of changes? What does the department do?

The code talks about electronic recording devices. I would imagine that within the code that in some way attempts to keep up with technology.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 4.52 pm.