HC Deb 20 March 1979 vol 964 cc1412-4

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Rifkind

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 2, line 12, leave out ' (which application need not be intimated to the accused person) '.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this we may take amendment No. 10, in page 2, line 15, at end insert ' and such date shall be intimated to the accused person not less than seven days before it occurs '.

Mr. Rifkind

In clause 4 the situation is envisaged in which a criminal diet is not able to be held during the emergency period because of the closure of the courts, and when that situation occurs it shall be deemed to be adjourned as if the accused person had failed to appear until such date as the court may determine upon application by the prosecutor. The clause in its present form indicates that the prosecutor making such an application need not ensure that any intimation is given to the accused.

The situation, as I see it, has two possibilities. Eeither no intimation requires to be made in similar circumstances at the present time, in which case these words are completely superfluous and should not be in the clause; or, in circumstances similar to this, if it exists at the time, an intimation would be made, in which case there seems no good reason why an intimation should not be made in the circumstances provided for by this clause. I understand that it is the former rather than the latter which is likely to be the case, and that in these circumstances it is not normal to make intimation to an accused person. If that is the case, I simply suggest that these words are superfluous, and we have enough verbiage in Acts of Parliament without making unnecessary contributions to them, so I hope the words can be quite happily deleted.

Amendment No. 10 provides in a related matter that where a diet has been adjourned to a new date on the application of a prosecutor, that date shall be intimated to the accused person not less than seven days before it occurs. I am aware that it would normally be the intention to provide such intimation to an accused person, but as I read the clause in its present form there is no provision for making that compulsory. Therefore, there could be the ludicrous situation of a new date having been fixed for an adjourned trial and the accused not having turned up because no one had chosen to intimate it to him and his nevertheless being penalised for his non-appearance. I am not saying that that would happen deliberately but it seems that it could happen by mistake. Therefore, there seemed to be very good grounds indeed for requiring that, in the circumstances provided for in this clause, intimation of a new date fixed for a criminal diet be made to an accused person within the reasonable time provided in this amendment.

Mr. Millan

On amendment No. 8, I understand that in normal circumstances such applications are not intimated to the accused in any case. But of course these are not normal circumstances. Therefore, it is right that we state in the clause matters which perhaps in other circumstances it would not be absolutely necessary for us to state so that there is no uncertainty. I am advised that not only is it not normal to give intimation of applications but in a sense it is unnecessary because it is the result of the application and the actual date for which the diet is fixed that is of interest to the accused.

Having said that on the first amendment, I think the logic is that, even if the second amendment may not be absolutely necessary because it would happen in any case, if one wants to make the clause completely logical and therefore state on the face of it everything that will happen the sensible thing would be to accept the second amendment, which I think would do what the hon. Gentleman is most concerned with—ensure that the accused is not put at a disadvantage by not being informed about the date. Therefore, if the hon. Gentleman would care to withdraw amendment No. 8, I should be perfectly happy to accept amendment No. 10, which I think would then give us a clause which would state the situation perfectly clearly.

Mr. Rifkind

I agree that the present circumstances are not normal; there can be little dispute about that. However, in view of the right hon. Gentleman's approach and his willingness to trade off one amendment against another, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 10, in page 2, line 15, at end insert ' and such date shall be intimated to the accused person not less than seven days before it occurs.—[Mr. Rifkind.]

Clause 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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