HC Deb 28 June 1988 vol 136 cc297-304
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

I beg to move amendment No. 202, in page 94, line 12, after 'of, insert 'up to'.

The amendment deals with time limits on remand hearings. The matter was canvassed at some length in Committee when we considered the principle and content of the Government's proposals. In general, the Opposition parties do not accept a move which means that prisoners can be remanded for 28 days after the initial remand hearing. We had an insight into the Government's thinking on the issue when the Minister responded to the debate in Committee. He sought to argue that it was not the best use of prison officers' time to turn up every eight days to attend remand hearings, and that they could be employed usefully in other prison duties. In fairness to the Minister, he also claimed that it would encourage the courts to take a more active role in case management.

This is the classic confrontation between, on the one hand, civil liberties and the interests of prisoners and their families, which we often forget on these occasions, and administrative convenience, on the other.

That is not to say that Opposition Members do not recognise the problems of the present system. As we have heard in Committee and on Report, there are far too many prisoners on remand. Cases take too long to come to trial or to he disposed of by pleas of guilty. Valuable court time is taken up by the weekly ritual of remand hearings, but I do not understand why individual prisoners should have to pay the price in the curtailment of basic civil liberties.

The present position on remand hearings is set out in section 128 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980. Under its provisions, an accused may be remanded by way of detention at a police station for up to three days, or up to eight days if in custody either in prison or in a remand centre. However, there are provisions for the period to be extended if the accused consents and is represented by a solicitor or counsel and the provisions are fully explained to him.

Many prisoners opt for the eight-day remand rather than for a longer period because it is easier for solicitors to obtain instructions from their clients if they attend court every eight days, and arrangements can be made for prisoners to see their families. The point about obtaining instructions is important and it is one on which I sought to convince the Minister in Committee. I think that, in part, he conceded the point. Many remand centres are some distance from local courts. From my area it takes about two and a half or three hours by car to visit the local remand centre. The legal aid authorities do not allow travelling time for solicitors or counsel to see their clients in remand centres, so they are obliged to instruct agents. But that is always second best, because the accused wants to see his lawyer, and agents do not always take as detailed instructions as they should.

The principle of access to justice is at stake. If 28-day remands become the norm—that will undoubtedly happen—after the first hearing solicitors and clients will encounter difficulties in taking full and detailed instructions, especially in rural areas, because they will be unable to make arrangements to see their clients who are on remand. Therefore, access to justice will be denied.

10.15 pm
Mr. Alex Carlile

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his remarks have greater force when one considers that many prisoners from London are being held on remand in police cells in places such as Cornwall, Durham, and all over the country, to which their solicitors cannot possibly travel to take instructions

Mr. Jones

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for making that point. It advances our argument and shows why we are concerned about this problem.

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

Has the hon. Gentleman considered the disgraceful conditions in Lincoln prison for those who wish to take instructions from their clients? Prison officers breathe over one's shoulder, listen to every word and do not give anyone a chance to take proper instructions.

Mr. Jones

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point so well. On many occasions, my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) has made clear to Home Office Ministers the problems that solicitors and their clients encounter at Risley remand centre.

There are problems with solicitors and clients meeting to take full instructions, but, given the distances involved, families also find it difficult to visit their relatives who are on remand. When prisoners are taken to court every eight days, their families can visit them.

The issue of bail applications was canvassed at length in Committee. Clause 147 makes it clear that the accused's right to apply for bail at any time will not be affected. The Minister made that point clear in Committee. What does that mean in practice? Practitioners know that there will be practical problems in making bail applications in cases where there has been a 28-day remand. Difficulties are encountered in some parts of the country in bringing prisoners to court. We fully understand and appreciate prison officers' problems, but facilities should be available to enable prisoners to attend court. If the clause is passed unamended, we can foresee further problems arising.

How does a prisoner give instructions to his legal advisers if he has been on remand for 28 days but wishes to make a bail application because of changed circumstances from the previous bail application or the first remand hearing? His legal adviser will not be at the end of a telephone or easily available for consultation. Those problems were canvassed in Committee, but the answers that we received were not convincing. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

In Committee we were prepared to make a number of constructive proposals about how the Government could overcome the difficulties facing the prison service and the courts. It is clear that the prison authorities must be given greater resources and better remand facilities. The Government could introduce legislation to ensure that cases are heard in magistrates courts by a certain date. A time limit should be set from the time that a person is charged to the disposal of the case. That would concentrate minds wonderfully and the current backlog of cases would be cleared. We have not only the problem of the number of prisoners on remand but the delay in the number of cases coming to court for disposal. That increases the applications that legal advisers have to make. Remand hearings are held needlessly because of delays in bringing forward cases for trial or disposal.

My fear, which was expressed in Committee, is that 28-day remands will increase those delays. At least now the prisoner can make weekly complaints about delays, and during those applications magistrates can put pressure on the Crown prosecution service. We fully appreciate the problems that that service has had in recent months, but the Minister tells us that the situation is improving so cases should be brought on much quicker. However, if 28-day remands become the norm, it will remove those opportunities for pressure to be put on the service and the court can effectively put aside a case for a month at a time.

There is general agreement about the problem of the number of prisoners on remand awaiting trial, but we disagree fundamentally with the Government on the solution. An amendment in Committee sought for the first remand application to be followed by a second application in eight days, moving on to 28-day remands, but the Government refused to accept that amendment.

Amendment No. 202 is different because it gives magistrates discretion whether to go on to 28-day remands. In other words, it gives the courts an opportunity to set remand hearings during a period of up to 28 days. Therefore, as I have said, it would give magistrates discretion whether to remand for the full period or for a lesser period. If the magistrates felt that 28 days was too long, they could set the remand at a lesser period.

That is a fair compromise. We have made it clear that we do not like the principle, but we believe that it is better to amend the Bill at this stage and for the Government to accept a compromise amendment, and I urge the Minister to do so.

Mr. John Patten

I have listened with great care to the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones). I know how concerned he is about equal access to justice, the geography of justice and the problems of rural areas. However, I would seek to persuade him and the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) not to divide the House on this issue. Perhaps to roll the pitch, in the previous debate on amendment No. 278, I showed the Government's willingness to listen by accepting an amendment tabled by the official Opposition. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady will consider what I have to say in the light of that.

Clause 147 already achieves what the hon. Gentleman has sought to emphasise in his amendment. Let me rapidly explain why I think that the amendment might confuse the courts by the following example. A defendant, perhaps from Ynys Môn, is before the court. He or she has been remanded in custody on at least one previous occasion. The court hears any representations from the prosecution or the defence in the normal way. Having done that, the court then goes on to ask itself when it should be possible for the next stage in the proceedings to begin.

Let us say that no further progress would be possible for six or eight weeks, for various reasons. There is no point in bringing the defendant back to court, unless his circumstances have changed in the meantime, within the maximum period of 28 days. After the maximum period of 28 days, the court considers the total period that the defendant will have spent in custody, and it is important that the court does that. If, having done so, it still thinks that a custodial remand is the right course, it can remand the defendant for 28 days. The defendant can apply for bail if his circumstances change at any time.

But let us suppose that his circumstances do not change, or for some reason he does not come to the court within the 28 days, and simply returns to the court at the end of the allotted time. Only two weeks now remain in my six-week example before the next stage in the proceedings can be expected, the six weeks then being up. If the parties agree that matters can be taken earlier, all well and good. If one asks for more time, the court will want to inquire closely into the reasons for the delay.

But suppose, happily enough, the preparations for the progress of the trial are exactly on course and the case will be ready for hearing in exactly two weeks' time. Then the court will remand the defendant for that two-week period. I can assure the House that clause 147 expressly forbids the court to remand for any longer period in those circumstances. What is crucial here is the requirement on the court to set a date by which it expects to make progress, a date when the proceedings will next move on. The court is required to take positive control over the progress of the case, and I know that that is welcomed by the hon. Member for Ynys Môn.

I want to say three things to the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady that I hope will help to reassure them.

We intend to test these new arrangements by way of experiment in a number of selected areas. If the prophets of doom, those who say that things will go badly wrong, prove right, the Government will not wish to extend the experiments any further. The Government would be totally wrong to do so, because the whole point is to make things better for the defendant and to save wasted appearances and productions in court.

Perhaps most tellingly, I remind the House that the clause 147 arrangements which are before the House can be brought into force only by order subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. That means that that procedure will have to go through another place and through this House to see whether experiments take place and whether any subsequent extension on a regional or national basis should occur.

Mr. Alex Carlile

I am most grateful to the Minister. Would he also add that steps will be taken to ensure that a complete change is made in the arrangements for instructions being taken by lawyers from their clients in prison? As we have heard from the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby), who has considerable experience of these things, and from the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones), and as many other hon. Members know, it is virtually impossible to hold proper conferences in some prisons and other custodial establishments because of the staffing and time constraints placed upon solicitors and counsel.

It sounds to me as though the hon. Gentleman is not aware that, for example, one is not allowed to hold more than, say, five hours maximum of conference on any one day with an individual client in a remand centre such as Risley because of the timetabling of the establishment's meals, and so on. In a complicated case, that means that there have to be repeated visits by solicitors and counsel, which are extremely expensive for the public purse and extremely disturbing and delaying for the prisoner.

Mr. Patten

Of course I understand the points made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, which were also made very forcibly by my hon Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashley) when he intervened to discuss the position in one particular prison in Lincoln. Of course we will look seriously at the problems raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend and I shall draw them to the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary who is responsible for prison matters. I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Government will have further proposals about these matters in the not-too-distant future.

On the basis of what I have said and the undertakings that I have given, particularly about procedures that will have to be followed, I hope that the hon. Member for Ynys Môn will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

10.30 pm
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

I appreciate that the Minister is trying to be as helpful as he can in these circumstances, but there is an underlying principle here. We are establishing a system in clause 147 that means effectively that, on the second remand, magistrates would have no option—if, as in his example, a case would take six weeks to come to the next stage—but to remand for 28 days.

Let us take the Minister's example. In effect, the court would be saying that, in view of the constraints for solicitors and for counsel and of the distances involved, 28 days would pass before the solicitor could take adequate instructions from his client or counsel in an appropriate case. That principle is wrong. The amendment simply seeks to state that, in appropriate cases, the magistrates may decide not to remand for the full 28 days. They may decide to remand for 15 days or 21 days, but there will always be an opportunity for solicitors to make representations for it to be less than 28 days.

We understand that the Minister is attempting to be helpful, but this is an important principle of access to justice and, for that reason, we believe that we should press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 135, Noes 253.

Division No. 389] [10.30 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Allen, Graham Clay, Bob
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Clelland, David
Armstrong, Hilary Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Ashdown, Paddy Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Ashton, Joe Corbett, Robin
Battle, John Corbyn, Jeremy
Beckett, Margaret Cryer, Bob
Beggs, Roy Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bell, Stuart Dalyell, Tam
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Bermingham, Gerald Dewar, Donald
Blunkett, Oavid Dixon, Don
Boateng, Paul Doran, Frank
Boyes, Roland Dunnachie, Jimmy
Bradley, Keith Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Eastham, Ken
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Evans, John (St Helens N)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Fearn, Ronald
Buchan, Norman Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Caborn, Richard Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Callaghan, Jim Flannery, Martin
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Foster, Derek
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Foulkes, George
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Fyfe, Maria
Galloway, George Morley, Elliott
George, Bruce Mullin, Chris
Godman, Dr Norman A. Murphy, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin Nellist, Dave
Gordon, Mildred O'Neill, Martin
Graham, Thomas Pendry, Tom
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Pike, Peter L.
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Prescott, John
Grocott, Bruce Primarolo, Dawn
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Quin, Ms Joyce
Henderson, Doug Randall, Stuart
Hinchliffe, David Richardson, Jo
Holland, Stuart Robertson, George
Hood, Jimmy Rogers, Allan
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Rooker, Jeff
Howells, Geraint Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Rowlands, Ted
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Salmond, Alex
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Short, Clare
John, Brynmor Skinner, Dennis
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Leadbitter, Ted Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Leighton, Ron Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Livsey, Richard Spearing, Nigel
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Steel, Rt Hon David
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Steinberg, Gerry
Loyden, Eddie Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
McAllion, John Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
McAvoy, Thomas Turner, Dennis
McCartney, Ian Vaz, Keith
Macdonald, Calum A. Wall, Pat
McFall, John Wallace, James
McKelvey, William Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
McLeish, Henry Wareing, Robert N.
McWilliam, John Wigley, Dafydd
Madden, Max Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Winnick, David
Meale, Alan Wise, Mrs Audrey
Michael, Alun Worthington, Tony
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Wray, Jimmy
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Tellers for the Ayes:
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Mr. Frank Haynes and
Moonie, Dr Lewis Mr. Frank Cook.
Morgan, Rhodri
Alexander, Richard Burt, Alistair
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Butcher, John
Allason, Rupert Butler, Chris
Amos, Alan Butterfill, John
Arbuthnot, James Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Carrington, Matthew
Ashby, David Carttiss, Michael
Aspinwall, Jack Cash, William
Atkins, Robert Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Colvin, Michael
Baldry, Tony Conway, Derek
Batiste, Spencer Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Bendall, Vivian Cope, Rt Hon John
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Couchman, James
Benyon, W. Cran, James
Biffen, Rt Hon John Currie, Mrs Edwina
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Curry, David
Boswell, Tim Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Bottomley, Peter Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Day, Stephen
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Devlin, Tim
Bowis, John Dickens, Geoffrey
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Dicks, Terry
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Dorrell, Stephen
Brazier, Julian Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Dover, Den
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Dunn, Bob
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Durant, Tony
Browne, John (Winchester) Dykes, Hugh
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Burns, Simon Evennett, David
Fallon, Michael McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Favell, Tony McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Madel, David
Fookes, Miss Janet Major, Rt Hon John
Forman, Nigel Malins, Humfrey
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Mans, Keith
Forth, Eric Maples, John
Franks, Cecil Marland, Paul
Freeman, Roger Marlow, Tony
French, Douglas Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Gardiner, George Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Gill, Christopher Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Maude, Hon Francis
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gow, Ian Mellor, David
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Miller, Sir Hal
Gregory, Conal Mills, Iain
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Grist, Ian Moate, Roger
Ground, Patrick Monro, Sir Hector
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Morrison, Sir Charles
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Moss, Malcolm
Hampson, Dr Keith Neale, Gerrard
Hanley, Jeremy Nelson, Anthony
Hannam, John Neubert, Michael
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Nicholls, Patrick
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Harris, David Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Haselhurst, Alan Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hawkins, Christopher Oppenheim, Phillip
Hayes, Jerry Page, Richard
Hayward, Robert Paice, James
Heathcoat-Amory, David Patnick, Irvine
Heddle, John Patten, John (Oxford W)
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Pawsey, James
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hind, Kenneth Porter, David (Waveney)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Portillo, Michael
Holt, Richard Powell, William (Corby)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Price, Sir David
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Redwood, John
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Rhodes James, Robert
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Riddick, Graham
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hunter, Andrew Roe, Mrs Marion
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Irvine, Michael Ryder, Richard
Irving, Charles Sackville, Hon Tom
Jack, Michael Sayeed, Jonathan
Jackson, Robert Shaw, David (Dover)
Janman, Tim Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Key, Robert Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Kilfedder, James Shersby, Michael
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Sims, Roger
Kirkhope, Timothy Skeet, Sir Trevor
Knapman, Roger Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Speller, Tony
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Knowles, Michael Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Knox, David Squire, Robin
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Stanbrook, Ivor
Lang, Ian Stanley, Rt Hon John
Lawrence, Ivan Steen, Anthony
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Stern, Michael
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Stevens, Lewis
Lightbown, David Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Lilley, Peter Sumberg, David
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Summerson, Hugo
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Taylor, Ian (Esher)
McCrindle, Robert Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Maclean, David Temple-Morris, Peter
McLoughlin, Patrick Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Wheeler, John
Thorne, Neil Whitney, Ray
Thornton, Malcolm Widdecombe, Ann
Thurnham, Peter Wiggin, Jerry
Townend, John (Bridlington) Wilkinson, John
Tracey, Richard Wilshire, David
Trippier, David Winterton, Mrs Ann
Twinn, Dr Ian Winterton, Nicholas
Waddington, Rt Hon David Wolfson, Mark
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Wood, Timothy
Waldegrave, Hon William Woodcock, Mike
Walden, George
Waller, Gary Tellers for the Noes:
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Mr. Robert Boscawen and
Warren, Kenneth Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.
Watts, John

Question accordingly negatived.

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