§ Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 1, line 12, leave out ("High court or").
§ Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
This amendment and the others before the House today are the result of a constructive dialogue in another place with which I have had the honour to be associated as the originator and sponsor of the Bill and which has resulted in a much improved Bill, I shall be brief because there are other matters for debate this morning.
The amendment relates to the judge to whom the prosecution may appeal. When the Bill left this House, the prosecution would have had a right of appeal to a judge of the Crown court or the High Court. That was because I wanted the largest possible number of senior judges to be available to hear appeals, because it is obviously of great importance that an arrested person should have his appeal determined as quickly as possible.
However, it has been drawn to my attention that if the prosecution were able to appeal to a judge of the High Court it might involve an application for civil legal aid, which can take rather longer to grant than criminal legal aid. That might result in the arrested person not securing legal representation until a late stage in the 48 hours allowed for the appeal to come on. I was, therefore, content to accept the amendment and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)
I think that hon. Members will welcome the Bill, which has been widely welcomed in the other place. The outrage felt by the general public about the events that led to the necessary introduction of the Bill is widely understood. However, I am concerned about the amendment and about some other aspects of what has happened to the Bill since it left the House without a full Second Reading. That concern stems from the fact that we seem to be steadily narrowing the scope of the Bill to which the House gave an unopposed and undebated Second Reading. I particularly question why we think it necessary further to narrow the scope of the Bill by excluding the possibility of a prosecution application to a High Court judge. I fear that, in the absence of a Second Reading debate, their Lordships have not had sufficient guidance about how the House felt about the Bill. Had they been guided by that debate, they might have understood our real sense of outrage.
Is the whole Bill and not just the amendment broadly drawn? I refer especially to instances that have occurred recently in my constituency. As I understand it, amendment No. I will bring no comfort to the police in West Mercia, where a driver was recently convicted of driving while disqualified and for a number of related offences. He was granted bail and subsequently committed eight further similar offences for which he was also granted bail. The Crown court judge criticised that, and I believe that he would have been concerned that the Bill would not help the police or the prosecuting authorities in that case.
Only on Thursday this week, in my police force area an 1238 individual was arrested at 4 am for burglary from a public house. He was already on bail for an identical offence. By 4 pm on the day of his arrest, 12 hours later, he was on bail again. Nothing, either in the Bill or in the amendment, remedies such a problem.
I understand that the problem is even worse than that. Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the police are obliged to release people on police bail if certain conditions are not met. The seriousness of the offence provides no ground for resisting bail. Therefore, even those charged with murder, if the conditions are not met, can and must be released on bail.
The scope of the Bill has nevertheless been narrowed time and again. I understand that in the Standing Committee of this place the clause relating to the presumption of the right to bail was dropped from the Bill to enable it to make progress. I fear that this amendment is yet another example of dropping something difficult from the Bill to enable it to make progress. Is my hon. Friend absolutely sure, in his heart of hearts, that this amendment, which narrows the scope of the Bill still further, is essential to enable the Bill to reach the statute book rapidly, as we wish it to do?
From what I have read of the debates in another place, and also from my hon. Friend's remarks, I understand that we are being obliged to make this amendment to the Bill because of concern that the legal aid system is unable to respond quickly enough to requests for new legal aid certificates. The view that High Court judges should be included in the scope of the Bill is, I believe, widely shared in all parts of the House. We are, therefore, being invited to make bad legislation because of bad administration. It is unsatisfactory that the House should find itself in this position. I am sure that all of us regard it in principle to be just as important that High Court judges should he included in the scope of the Bill. However, because of the different legal aid requirements relating to Crown court judges and concern about the speed of issuing legal aid certificates, we are dropping that provision from the Bill.
I ask my hon. Friend for particular guidance on the type of offender who is likely to gain the bail now, without the right of a prosecution appeal, as a result of this House accepting the amendment. I suspect that, sadly, the House will have to accept the amendment, if only to ensure that the Bill makes the progress that we wish it to make.
As I have repeatedly said, I am concerned that even before the Bill began its passage through Parliament its scope was too narrow. The scope of offences that it included could have been widened, to the great satisfaction of the people outside the House who are so concerned about the increase in the number of offences committed while offenders are on bail. Despite that concern, we are restricting the scope of the Bill.
I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to reassure me that my constituents need not be concerned if acceptance of the amendment leads to a particular class of offender being more likely to be released on bail than would otherwise have been the case. If I receive such an assurance, I suspect that, reluctantly, I shall be able to support the amendment. Nevertheless, I must register my real concern that a Bill which was already too narrowly drawn has been virtually emasculated. I am most concerned that we should do nothing to weaken its strength even further.
§ Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)
I warmly welcome the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) has reflected the great anxiety of the public about this issue and has responded to it in a way that is widely welcomed both in this House and outside.
I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff), who regretted that we did not have a Second Reading debate on this most important Bill.
I welcome the amendment, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester pointed out, there is danger when the High Court is excluded, for reasons related to the terms on which criminal and civil legal aid is granted. The right of appeal must be fast; it must also be accessible. Sufficient Crown court judges must be available at all times. An alleged offender could, for example, be held over a weekend. Custody for him will continue unless the matter is dealt with properly, Therefore, it is appropriate that Crown court judges should be available at all hours, even at weekends. Justice must be seen to be properly done.
The principle of the right of appeal is important. The fact that so many persistent offenders get off scot free when let out on bail must be addressed. There is so much public frustration about it. It is appropriate that we should respond to newspaper headlines. One of these reads:Uproar as deaths case joyrider is jailed.That headline refers to Christoper Lewin, aged 19, who was already on bail for two other driving offences when he killed two small children, Adele Thompson, aged 12, and Daniel Davies, aged nine. Adele was flung 90 ft and Daniel 50 ft. Their crime was collecting pennies for the guy.
It is tragic that the magistrates were not sufficiently alert when Lewin appeared in court six weeks earlier on other joyriding offences. I believe that we should rewrite the English language. We should refer not to joyriding but to deathriding. What is done kills and maims and is destructive. The expression "joyriding" is, I fear, deeply offensive to all those who have been so badly injured and to the relatives of those who have been killed.
When Lewin appeared in court—this is a good example of why the amendment is so important—the police had objected with some vehemence on two previous occasions to his being freed, because he had already been charged with reckless driving and other offences. I wonder whether the magistrates had full access to his previous record. Furthermore, do magistrates have access to the full records of all the people who appear in front of them?
The reason for the deep offence caused to the public and for their strong feelings about the amendment is that car-related crime is a curse. In my Sutton constituency, which I have made something of a landmark—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—there is as much car crime as anywhere else in the country. It is what I would describe as a textbook example of the sheer scale of the problem that we face.
When arguing about the need to keep persistent offenders in custody, we should bear in mind that we are referring not just to those who have committed murder or rape. In their way, car-related offences are deeply serious, because of their sheer scale, and reinforce the need for the amendment.
I do not want to underestimate the seriousness of charges of violence—for instance, the horrific case of Anna McGurk of Gloucester who was raped and murdered by a 1240 man on bail. Bail had been granted, despite strong police objections. Again, such a case justifies the amendment. The details of how that offender came to be freed are terrifying. He had been arrested for the brutal rape of a 20-year-old woman just 24 days before he murdered Anna. Had the amendment been in force, the police appeal against releasing that man on bail would have succeeded and Anna would still be alive.
In February, there was the case of the murder of Cathy Ainsworth. She would not have died had her boyfriend, Adrian Black, not been released on bail. The amendment would have kept him in custody and he would never have been able to shoot Cathy.
The Association of Chief Police Officers has long been aware of the seriousness of the problem. In February 1992 the Home Office produced a paper, "Offending on Bail: Survey of Recent Studies", which suggested that, on average, reoffending crimes increased by 26,000 between 1985 and 1990.
My experience in my textbook example of Sutton is of a demoralised police force. In their professionalism, the police find it frustrating and have almost given up opposing bail. They know that most criminals who appear in court will be released, despite their criminal history and convictions. The police are right. Those young men are temporarily getting off scot free—and in the present climate, they will do so almost for ever. They swagger off and commit more offences.
If offenders are remanded in custody quickly enough, that can have a sobering effect on young, would-be criminals—especially those in their young teens. There is a lot to be said for catching them young and giving them a clear understanding of what offending can really mean, especially in cases where a caution is not suitable.
Magistrates should be schooled more, and be more in tune with appropriate courses of action. Recently, there have been many cases of magistrates misreading the situation. I am glad that the Bill will apply not only to murder and rape but to car-related offences. It may be argued that keeping more people in custody will produce an extra cost for the taxpayer. I maintain that the sheer scale of reoffending more than justifies the taxpayer paying for more custodial accommodation.
§ Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor and Maidenhead)
Does my hon. Friend agree that magistrates have been discouraged in recent years from committing offenders to gaol in certain circumstances? Some have become demoralised and have left the Bench because they felt that they were not encouraged to take the steps that my hon. Friend advocates.
§ Lady Olga Maitland
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In some cases, magistrates do not have the power to commit a persistent juvenile offender to a secure unit, because that decision must be referred back to the local authority to make. I hope that the amendment, or perhaps another Criminal Justice Bill, will introduce for magistrates the right to extend their powers. We should listen to magistrates who say that they are being held back from their course of duty.
I heard from members of the juvenile Bench in Sutton that their frustration is supreme, and that the arrogance and rudeness of young offenders appearing in court is beyond belief. They behave almost as though they are making a fingers-up gesture to the judiciary. One boy and 1241 girl were so determined to turn the hearing into a circus that they insisted on making a long and affectionate farewell in full view of the court. Nobody could do anything about it. There is insolence beyond belief.
The right of appeal to a Crown court will certainly help to tighten up a difficult situation. There is public support for such a measure. The public are beginning to buck. There are 33 different pressure groups campaigning on behalf of criminals, but only one, impoverished, victim support scheme. It may be impoverished, but it has the support of the public at large. The silent majority are saying, "We have had enough, and now we shall have the last word."
I have great faith in public opinion. More often than not, the public have their fingers on the pulse and know when things are going wrong long before bureaucracy understands and responds. In the west country in February, 2,000 people took to the streets of Plymouth. The local newspaper ran the banner headline:City march against rising crime. Enough is enough.A campaign, "Citizens against Crime," was launched.
All of that emphasises the amendment's importance. My hon. Friend the Minister is looking at me with an eagle eye, but I am becoming used to that. The amendment is totally justified in reflecting public concern.
§ Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)
I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) on introducing the Bill and guiding it through the House thus far. It is a great tribute to the influence of the Back Bencher in producing legislation that responds to public concern.
I have every sympathy with the Bill's provisions and with amendment No. 1, but perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can help to overcome one or two of my concerns. I am alarmed that Crown court judges may not always be as available as their High Court counterparts to deal with matters of urgency. I trust that my hon. Friend the Minister can assure me that Crown court judges will be available within the 48 hours required by the measure.
Can my hon. Friend confirm also that the appeal procedure will be subject to some standardisation in respect of the yardsticks used to determine whether it is appropriate to grant bail? As one who practised occasionally as a junior solicitor in magistrates courts before the Bail Act 1976, I recall that there were often wide variations between the standards that different courts applied in granting or not granting bail and in the conditions that they imposed. Will the appeal procedures facilitate the setting of standards that will provide guidance to magistrates on when they should or should not grant bail and on conditions that they might want to
§ Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)
Is it my hon. Friend's experience, as it has been mine, that the availability of High Court judges makes them much more accessible than Crown court judges? We are debating the availability of judicial time at short notice.
§ Mr. Thomason
That is the point. I trust that it will be possible to establish a procedure to ensure that Crown court judges are made available for the purposes of the Bill when it is enacted.
I understand the purpose of amendment No. 1 and the need to address the question of legal aid because of the delays that might arise should an application have to be made to a High Court judge through the civil system, 1242 which might lead to an accused person being held in custody longer than is envisaged by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham. Nevertheless, we need clear assurances about the judicial availability of Crown court judges.
May I return to the point that I was making a moment ago and invite my hon. Friend the Minister to confirm that information will be disseminated to magistrates to assist them in determining yardsticks for appeals? It is important that this measure is seen as part of the overall Government drive to deal with the problems of law and order. I trust that we shall see it as an important brick of the wall to protect the community against the increasing threats of disorder and the alarming cases to which my hon. friends have referred.
I invite the Minister to confirm that sufficient accommodation is available to hold accused persons, which there was not a few years ago, in the prison and police services to ensure that excessive overcrowding will not arise in the fairly limited number of cases to which the Bill is likely to apply.
§ Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport)
I should like to follow the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason), because I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister is aware of the genuine concern that the amendment might be interpreted as a signal that prosecution appeals are not being given the highest judicial consideration that those who are concerned about the principle of a prosecution right of appeal should like.
Hon. Members are a little concerned that the amendment would restrict the hearing of appeals to Crown court judges. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would address that point.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)
Some of my hon. Friends may wish to say a few further words on the amendment, but it might be helpful if I were to give the Government's view now.
I listened carefully to the valid points made by my hon. Friends and to the appalling, tragic cases that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) mentioned. The amendment would prevent prosecution appeals from being heard by judges of the High Court, restricting the hearing of appeals to Crown court judges.
Some of my hon. Friends expressed concern that the Bill had not been given a Second Reading in the House, but it has returned from another place in a slightly different state from that in which we dispatched it. The Bill has benefited from the scrutiny of the other place and there has been an opportunity to reflect on the implications of what a prosecution right of appeal might mean to our criminal justice system.
I say "our system" and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) has departed because he would have confirmed that under Scottish law the prosecution has had the right of appeal against bail decisions of the lower courts for a long time. Indeed, without wanting to detract from the drafting skills of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen), I detect some similarity between the Bill and the prosecution right of appeal that operates in Scotland.
That is all to the good. Those who are concerned about the rights of the individual in law and the fact that the Bill 1243 will, if enacted, give the prosecution the right to appeal against a court's decision to grant bail might draw some comfort from the fact that the system has been shown to work well in a part of the United Kingdom.
I make no apology for spelling out what powers the Bill and the amendment would endow on the prosecution. The defendant will be held in custody while the prosecution and defence prepare their arguments for the appeal hearing. There are strict limits on the time that the accused will be in prison pending the appeal. We should recognise, however, that the Bill will, in principle, deprive someone of his liberty who has already been granted bail by a court. I believe that from the outset the House has accepted the consequence, which was evidenced by the support for early-day motion 1134, which was tabled on Wednesday 13 January and signed by more than 100 hon. Members. That support is a measure of the concern throughout society about the problems of offending on bail. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam vividly drew our attention to some horrendous incidents.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham on introducing a Bill which addresses an element of that concern—the need for a safeguard against decisions to grant bail that, in the past, have had serious and, at times, tragic consequences. That is not to say, I hasten to add to my hon. Friends, that the 500,000 bail decisions that are made each year in magistrates court are under suspicion: they are not. The Government have great respect for members of the community who are willing to play a part in the administration of justice by becoming magistrates. They are called on to make many judicial decisions, of which bail is perhaps the most difficult. At that stage of the proceedings, they will know little of the offence, the circumstances under which it was committed or the person alleged to have committed it.
The public have expressed concern that the granting of bail in inappropriate circumstances has brought bail and the courts into disrepute. That point was put to me by the hon. Member for Cardiff. South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) two days ago. I replied that, if bail was abused, it should not be granted, and I hope that he agrees with that.
The Bill provides a safeguard that will ensure that where the prosecution has objected to bail, but it is granted by magistrates, the prosecution will be able to apply, in certain circumstances, to a Crown court judge to rehear the arguments for and against bail. I listened to my hon. Friends' concern that High Court judges are removed from the face of the Bill by the amendment. The initial inclusion of High Court judges was a genuine attempt to provide as large a pool as possible of appellate judges so that appeals should never be delayed for want of a judge to hear them.
It was pointed out in another place that if an appeal over bail is made to the High Court and legal aid is applied for, it has to be on the basis that it is civil, not criminal, legal aid that is made available. Criminal legal aid can be granted by the courts whereas civil legal aid is available only from the Legal Aid Board. Assurances were offered on behalf of the Legal Aid Board that if an application is made for civil legal aid for the defendant to be properly represented before a High Court judge hearing an appeal, it will be granted over the telephone and, if necessary, 1244 retrospectively. But those assurances were not enough to satisfy the concerns that were voiced in another place about whether such legal aid would be made available in sufficient time.
As, in practice, the vast majority of such appeals would have been heard before a Crown court judge anyway, and in the light of concerns about legal aid, it seems right that the issue has been resolved by removing the words "High court or" from the Bill. It means not that the High Court will not continue to take a close interest in the operation of all aspects of the bail process, but rather that the appeals will be best brought on quickly and efficiently before a judge of the Crown court. Judges will, I am sure, be able to hear such appeals before the start of the day's court business and will want to do so in order to reduce as far as possible the time spent in custody by the defendant.
In this context, it may be right to refer to the views expressed by the Lord Chief Justice—I assure the House that he has been consulted, although with less time for deliberation than we would have wished—on the introduction of a prosecution right of appeal via the Bill. He came back to the Government on one point in particular: to ask that everything possible is done to ensure that defendants spend as little time as possible in prison, pending the hearing of the appeal.
To that end, the Lord Chancellor's Department proposes to consult the judiciary with a view to providing guidance to the effect that, in cases where the time limit would, but for the formula provided in the Bill as it now stands, expire on a Saturday or a public holiday, everything possible should be done to expedite the hearing. If that proves impossible, consideration will be given to the possibility of making special local arrangements to bring on the appeal on a Saturday or public holiday. That encompasses the desire expressed by the Lord Chief Justice, on being consulted about the prosecution right of appeal, that everything should be done to avoid the necessity of defendants being held in custody for long periods. Lord Taylor said that if the appeal is launched just before a weekend or bank holiday he would expect it to be heard wherever possible on the same day.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) asked about the criteria for granting bail. The Bail Acts already set out the criteria to be applied when considering the granting of bail. The bail process projects which were set up last November are considering ways of ensuring that feedback of decisions made in higher courts reaches magistrates. In addition, the Judicial Studies Board review of training, commenced in 1992 by the previous Home Secretary, should lead to much greater standardisation of those decisions.
My hon. Friend, the Member for Bromsgrove also asked about prison accommodation. The right of appeal will of course be used only in rare cases. The Government are satisfied that the increase in the number of remands in custody will be small and can be accommodated within the present prison system.
We may deal with the question of guidance when debating a later amendment, but I can say now that we intend that there shall be guidance for Crown prosecutors so that they may know the special circumstances in which they would raise the right of appeal. That may reassure hon. Members who may be concerned that the right of appeal will be raised in frivolous or unnecessary cases.
In the light of my comments, I hope that my hon. Friends will be satisfied that my hon. Friend the Member 1245 for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) has not only introduced a good Bill but that this amendment is eminently sensible and should be supported.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Lords amendment: No. 2, in page 1, line 13, at end insert—
("(1A) Subsection (1) above applies only where the prosecution is conducted—
- (a) by or on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions; or
- (b) by a person who falls within such class or description of person as may be prescribed for the purposes of this section by order made by Secretary of State.")
§ Mr. Stephen
These two amendments are taken together because they deal with the question of who should he allowed to appeal on behalf of the prosecution. When the Bill left this House, it would have been possible for a private prosecutor to appeal and possibly—although it would have been rare—for the right of appeal to be used vindictively—and that a defendant could have been held in prison for a maximum of 48 hours. That was clearly not desirable and was not intended. I am, therefore, happy to accept an amendment to restrict the right to appeal to a public prosecutor.
Lords amendment No. 2 defines a public prosecutor as a prosecutor who acts on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions ora person who falls within such class or description of person as may he prescribed for the purposes of this section by order made by the Secretary of State.The reason why paragraph (b) of the amendment is in its current form is that it is not possible in primary legislation to define all the classes of person who may from time to time be prosecutors acting on behalf of the public. At present, one can think of prosecutors who prosecute on behalf of Customs and Excise, the Inland Revenue, the Serious Fraud Office, the Department of Trade and Industry and many others. As Governments change over the years, those agencies may also change and it is, therefore, necessary to provide power by statutory instrument to prescribe who shall be a public prosecutor for the purposes of the Bill. That is covered by Lords amendment No. 7.
I have no difficulty in accepting the amendments, and I commend them both to the House.
§ Mr. Thomason
It would be helpful if the Minister could tell the House which bodies he would consider appropriate to be included within paragraph (b). For example, will that well-known body the Serious Fraud Office, which seems to command the headlines at the moment, be one of those which should properly be included? Will the income tax authorities also be appropriate, or does the Minister believe that, initially, inclusion should be restricted to the Director of Public Prosecutions as mentioned in paragraph (a) and perhaps the Crown Prosecution Service which, by implication, is presumably included in paragraph (a)?
I wish to make it clear that I in no way oppose the amendments, both of which appear to be entirely 1246 appropriate and reasonable. It is clearly essential that no vendetta should be pursued in terms of someone seeking to incarcerate an accused person unnecessarily by virtue of a private prosecution.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to confirm that, in a wider sphere, the Government will take action to discourage persons from reoffending while on bail. It would be helpful for us to know that the Government are examining various issues of similar nature and perhaps we could be given guidance to help us to determine our response to the amendments.
§ Lady Olga Maitland
I welcome the amendment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thompson) rightly said, it is extremely important that when a man's liberty is at stake he does not become the victim of a vendetta. It should be clearly specified that it is for the Crown Prosecution Service to pursue an appeal.
It must be said that in Committee the reference to the prosecution was rather woolly, and it is appropriate that it should be clarified.
The difficulty with private prosecutions is that a tremendous amount of emotion is involved. I am thinking of the people who come to my surgeries and who are outraged about a small car accident—two bumpers can cause more anguish than anything else. If people get to the stage where they feel that a custodial remand is appropriate, the matter could spin out of control, so it is proper that we should be clear in our own minds that it is the Crown Prosecution Service which controls this aspect.
I rather wish that the right of appeal by the Crown Prosecution Service already existed. I will tell the House of an incident which happened only on Monday. A juvenile offender, a member of my Sutton burglary posse, was put into a Glasgow secure unit, well away from his family and Friends. He managed to wriggle out of the unit by claiming that he had been sexually harassed. His lawyers pleaded that it was unfair for him to remain up there. With the assistance of social workers, he was transferred to another unit further south and nearer his home, and—surprise, surprise—he absconded en route. We must have strict controls of custody and we must ensure that they are safe.
It is, therefore, appropriate that the Crown Prosecution Service should follow the matter through. It should not be up to private individuals to bring prosecutions which could spin out of control and turn into a vendetta. I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Minister is coming to my constituency to meet the police and the community and to hear about their grave concerns at first hand.
§ Mr. Booth
I shall make a comparatively narrow point. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would address this point when he winds up. About £3 billion to £4 billion worth of property is lost annually through shoplifting. I do not know the exact proportion, but I know that a very substantial proportion of cases are handled through private prosecutions. It is not a question of private vendettas being pursued by rich individuals bringing private prosecutions. The prosecutions are brought by well-known stores such as Marks and Spencer and C and A in Oxford street. Many hon. Members know about such cases.
The stores pursue cases involving great values. The important point is that they remove a grave burden from the Crown Prosecution Service by bringing private 1247 prosecutions. Are those private prosecutors, who bring a series of cases to court, to be unable to benefit from the Bill? I hope that the use of statutory instruments under Lords amendment No. 7 will address that point. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell me that the issue will be addressed. Some £3 billion to £4 billion worth of property is involved. The cost of prosecuting is currently borne by the private sector. We do not want that burden to be shifted to the taxpayer as a result of lack of consideration of the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend will address that issue.
§ Mr. Luff
I am not used to catching the Chair's eye as rapidly as I did on the first occasion on which I spoke this morning and I should like to correct a discourteous omission. I did not pay a sufficiently fulsome tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) for introducing the Bill. My slightly churlish remarks about narrowing the scope of the Bill were not intended to be a criticism of him. I pay tribute to the way he has responded so pragmatically to the concerns expressed so that his Bill can make rapid progress. Casting my eye across the Chamber, I express the hope that that pragmatism may be mirrored later to enable us to make rapid progress on another important Bill.
I find it my duty, once again, to play the role of devil's advocate. I suspect that I shall not bring my devil's advocacy to its logical conclusion by voting against the amendments. However, I am once again concerned that we seem to be narrowing the scope of the Bill so that it can make progress. To summarise, here we go again.
I have two reservations about the amendments, which deal with the question of who can appeal against the granting of bail. I am concerned about whom the statutory instrument will define and the method by which we choose to define who may appeal against the granting of bail. I shall deal first with the question of the legal persons who will be able to make the appeal. We should go back to the fundamentals of the Bill.
I understand that those who are rightly concerned about civil liberties have four principle anxieties about granting anyone the right to appeal against bail. The first is the civil rights implication of holding an unconvicted person in custody by an order of the Executive against a judicial decision. We can all imagine people's worries about that. The amendment would confer almost exclusively on the Executive the right to appeal against a judicial decision, so the concern is not addressed in it.
The second matter, which the House should be sure it is incorporating into legislation, is the time limits for appeal. We have all agreed that the limits must be long enough to allow adequate time for a rehearing to be arranged and prepared, but that they must limit the time in which the defendant is held in custody. The amendment does not address that anxiety, so the House need not concern itself.
The third concern about the prosecution right of appeal, which is relevant to the amendment, is that the power might be used for offenders who do not represent a risk of serious harm to the public. I have heard what my hon. Friends have said about the nature of the offences that might be involved, such as neighbourly disputes, which led to the anxiety in another place that the right under the Bill could be used capriciously by individuals. I 1248 do not share that anxiety, because the offences covered by the Bill are so tightly drawn—too tightly drawn, I submit—that that concern is not relevant. The charges that could be brought capriciously against individuals for whom bail could be refused would relate to more modest offences which are not covered by the Bill.
§ Mr. Thomason
Does my hon. Friend agree that there may be cases where a neighbour discovers, for example, that the person living next door has a history of crime? He might make serious allegations that would be covered by the Bill. He might seek for reasons of retribution the incarceration of that person under the Bill by making an application. We all know how bitter neighbourly disputes can be. Someone could seek to use the provisions. Will my hon. Friend reconsider his point? It is surely appropriate that private prosecutions should be excluded from the Bill.
§ Mr. Luff
My hon. Friend anticipates my speech. I shall deal with the matter later and if my hon. Friend feels that I have not dealt with it sufficiently, he will, I am sure, intervene.
The fourth concern that the civil rights lobby might have about the prosecution right of appeal is that an extra hearing would increase delays in criminal proceedings. I understand that point, which reflects the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) expressed. As he said, people might be incarcerated unreasonably because the criminal proceedings are protracted. We must satisfy ourselves that the amendments are appropriate to address that concern.
I do not believe that we should be unduly concerned on two and half of those counts about who is given the right to appeal against the granting of bail, but we must be concerned on the fourth count, for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove has suggested. We should satisfy ourselves that we are granting the right people the right to appeal. The risk is that deliberate delays may be created by individuals who hold grudges against others. However, is that a real concern? I have already used the word "capricious" to describe the fears of their Lordships. I believe that there are two grounds on which we should consider the possibility of reintroducing private prosecutions into the Bill.
I have already given my first reason for such a reintroduction. It relates to the relatively narrow offences that would generally concern neighbourly disputes. The second is a rather broader concern, which has been expressed in the media recently, about the reduction in the number of prosecutions being brought by the police.
We have seen reports about the growing number of cautions which the police are issuing against alleged offenders. In those circumstances, private individuals may increasingly wish to bring serious prosecutions, on good public order and safety grounds, against people who have committed the kind of offences described by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland).
Because of the concern about the rising tide of cautions and the falling number of prosecutions, individuals may wish to bring more serious charges than has hitherto been the case and against people who may be in danger of causing serious harm to the general public if they are not held in custody. We must satisfy ourselves about the amendment to exclude the right of private appeal.
§ Mr. Thomason
Is not my hon. Friend making the point that I made earlier? If the number of private prosecutions increases, which he believes might occur in view of the difficulties to which he has referred, it follows that the opportunities for abuse are, therefore, that much greater. If more people seek private prosecutions, there is a greater possibility that the mechanisms available in the Bill will be abused by people seeking to pursue personal vendettas. Does not my hon. Friend believe that the limitations that the Bill imposes on private prosecutions are very appropriate?
§ Mr. Luff
My hon. Friend is right. Once again, he has anticipated the flow of my argument. If we are to grant the denial of the right of a private individual to pursue an appeal against the granting of bail, the general public must be satisfied that their safety is not being put at risk by that perceived increase in the number of cautions rather than prosecutions being brought by the police. The public must feel that they have no need to bring such prosecutions. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will assure me that we can feel comfortable with granting that right of appeal, in the light of that very understandable concern that the public are likely to have in the light of media reports.
With regard to who has the right of appeal, as opposed to how we define who has the right of appeal, how close does the amendment mirror practice in Scotland? Who is defined in Scottish law as having the right to appeal? I fully accept that there is no need for total convergence between Scottish and English law. Such a task is probably beyond the intellectual capacity of the House and the current position reflects traditions dating back many hundreds of years. However, it would be a perceived injustice if such a right for a private individual to appeal existed in Scottish law, but not in English or Welsh law.
With regard to amendment No. 7, I am concerned about the mechanism by which individuals or legal bodies, which are given the right to appeal, are defined. Must we proceed by way of a statutory instrument? Would it not be better to insert in the Bill a simple provision along the lines, "such persons as the Secretary of State may. from time to time, determine"?
Conservative Members believe very strongly in the principle of deregulation. Wherever possible, deregulation should apply to the law as much as to the business of government or commerce. Would it not be an easier and more flexible mechanism to allow the Secretary of State simply to determine, on a pragmatic and day-to-day basis, who should have the right to appeal? That would save parliamentary time, which is a precious commodity.
That idea may commend itself to the spirits on the Conservative Benches who do not favour the ever-encroaching jungle of regulation in matters of law and in business and commerce. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to reassure me on those points.
§ Mr. Matthew Banks
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff), I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) on introducing the Bill. I would particularly like to take this opportunity to congratulate him on his flexible approach. He was right to believe that he should be as flexible as he was in Committee to ensure that the Bill reached the statute book.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will respond to the latter part of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the 1250 Member for Worcester. We are discussing these amendments because far too many young offenders reoffend while on bail. It is significant that research undertaken by the Northumbrian police shows that an overwhelming number of offences of burglary and car theft have been carried out by a very high percentage of young offenders while on bail. It is, therefore, entirely right that powers should be available to appeal against the granting of bail.
However, that right should be strictly controlled and not abused. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) said, effectively to deprive someone of his liberty, contrary to the judgment of a magistrate, is a significant step. However, bearing in mind the current situation, such legislation and provision is absolutely essential.
Amendment No. 2 restricts the right of appeal to prosecutors acting on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I believe that that means the prosecutors of the Crown Prosecution Service. However, other people may prosecute serious cases in which a right of appeal against decisions to grant bail might be appropriate. For example, it might occur in cases brought by Customs and Excise or the Serious Fraud Office.
Amendment No. 7 will allow the Secretary of State to prescribe by statutory instrument which other prosecutors should have a right of appeal. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester referred to deregulation. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to make it quite clear that the means by which the amendment seeks to list such prosecutors will work satisfactorily and effectively. That list of prosecutors must be capable of being readily amended. I hope that the Minister will make it clear how, if he wants to amend that list, he proposes to do that. I hope that he will make it clear that such amendment could be scrutinised by Parliament.
It is vital that the amendments are incorporated in the Bill. As I said earlier, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to ensure, following on from the excellent pilot schemes—five of which I am aware of—in relation to investigations into the way in which decisions are taken on the granting of bail, that we can use the Bill to crack down on people who are granted bail too readily and, sadly, given the opportunity to reoffend very quickly.
§ Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)
I did not intend to speak on this matter, but, following the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) about amendment No. 7 and whether a statutory instrument is an appropriate way to define the list of prosecutors, I join my hon. Friends in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) on bringing this important Bill before the House.
Instinctively, I support any suggestion of moving towards deregulation—it is sensible and I am politically committed to it—but I recognise that many regulations represent the very fabric of a civilised society. They reflect the way in which an individual is taken care of and protected by the state. However, this important Bill takes liberties from the citizen. We have heard of the dreadful cases that caused the Bill to be brought forward, but there is another side to the matter where, an offender having been granted bail, the prosecution decides to appeal.
We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) some very persuasive reasons about why the list should not be available to 1251 everyone. The list is important, and we must guard it. If we have a duty, it is to protect the rights of the citizen. We should not allow the rights of the House to scrutinise who should be on the list to be given over lightly.
No matter how benign, good-natured, diligent or vigilant the Secretary of State is with regard to the protection of the rights of the citizen, the rights of the citizen should be protected by the House. We should have an opportunity to object to the kind of prosecutor who would be on the prescribed list. I hope that, no matter how persuasive and coherent the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove, the Minister will resist the suggestion that the House should not decide who should be on the list.
§ Mr. Maclean
This has been an important debate on a very important amendment. One of the concerns expressed about the prosecution right of appeal as contained in the Bill is that it offered no limitation on the sort of prosecutor able to launch the appeal or the circumstances in which the appeal might be brought. It has never been the Government's intention—nor has it been that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove—to see all sorts of petty offenders swept up under this right of appeal. I should, therefore, like to link the limitation on the type of prosecutor, which has been addressed by the amendment tabled by Lord Bethell in another place, with reassurances about the limits on the types and circumstance of offence that will see this right of appeal brought into action.
The amendment specifically addresses the limit on the type of prosecutor who has the power to bring those appeals. The point of the amendment addresses other concerns, in particular about the circumstances in which the appeal is brought and the time limits of the appeal. The amendment makes it clear on the face of the statute that the right of appeal against a decision by a magistrate to grant bail is limited, and rightly limited, to certain types of prosecutor, principally those of the Crown Prosecution Service. That will ensure control and supervision over the bringing of those appeals, which I am sure all hon. Members will welcome.
Not only will the launching of appeals be controlled but, because there exist in the Crown Prosecution Service degrees of experience and seniority, appeals will be vetted to ensure that those which are eventually brought before the courts are well founded. Any that are not well founded and yet still brought before the courts will very quickly become the object of the judicial displeasure of the circuit judge hearing the appeal. The high standards that the Crown prosecution sets itself will ensure that that is guarded against.
§ Mr. Thomason
Will my hon. Friend confirm that decisions about appeals will be made at a relatively senior although local level within the Crown Prosecution Service? I am concerned that there is a danger of delegation to relatively junior prosecutors who might not have the experience or the wisdom of some more senior members who might take a wider view.
§ Mr. Maclean
On the face of the Bill, the decision to appeal needs to be made orally on the spot. It is not possible to refer it upwards to a very senior prosecutor. But the Crown Prosecution Service has made it clear that it would want to look at that decision as soon as possible 1252 and, where practicable, make sure that, before the appeal is confirmed, it has been looked at by as senior a figure as possible.
However, I would not like any suggestion—I am sure that my hon. Friend did not mean this—that Crown prosecutors are not capable of making that important judgment. There is always a temptation to want such decisions to be made by the person at the very top. That is not administratively possible; nor is it necessary. I take the rather tough view that if someone is good enough to be a Crown prosecutor and if that person is good enough to decide to drop appeals, he or she should be good enough to decide to prosecute or proceed with an appeal. Of course, there will be guidance to help prosecutors to come to the right decision on making an appeal in the appropriate circumstances.
The amendment gives, on the face of the statute, the power of appeal to the day-to-day prosecutors of the Crown Prosecution Service. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove was concerned that other organisations might be included as well as the Crown Prosecution Service itself. We intend that there shall be some other organisations included, and I assure the House that we will carry out with the authorities concerned full consultation on which other bodies should be prescribed.
At present, the likely bodies are the ones that my hon. Friend suggested—for example, Customs and Excise. My hon. Friend will agree that it is terribly important for such an organisation to be included, because it prosecutes some of the most dangerous classes of criminal it is possible to imagine—for example, those involved in international drug-trafficking. Those who are brought before the courts often have links with other countries and often have resources salted away overseas and are a pretty nasty, violent bunch of people. Such people have a tendency to intimidate their associates, they have an attachment to violence, and the House would agree that, when Customs and Excise officers fear that a defendant might abscond or obstruct the course of justice, it would be right for them to have that right of appeal. Other organisations that could be considered are, of course, the Inland Revenue and the Serious Fraud Office, which deal with major fraud cases. Of course, we would want to consult on the list before coming to the House with it.
It is important that Parliament has the proper opportunity to scrutinise the list and examine all those potential prosecutors, and object if necessary. There is also the advantage that should the list of prosecutors need changing from time to time, primary legislation would not need to be changed; we would propose to do that by statutory instrument.
The powers contained in the Bill have brought some unease to some quarters. I do not consider that unease to be well founded, for the Bill offers a safeguard against the sort of decisions which, in the past, have brought tragic consequences and about which there is grave public concern. The amendment limits the prosecutors who will have the power of appeal against bail decisions to those whom I have described and over whom there is proper control. On that basis, I consider it an improvement in the Bill.
I am sorry that I have to disappoint my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff), who made a very 1253 well-argued speech and said that private prosecutors should be reinserted. The Bill does not allow appeal by any prosecutor, other than the CPS or those prosecutors who will be designated by the Secretary of State. That is an important safeguard to ensure that the power is not exercised lightly and is properly regulated.
I apologise unreservedly to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove for my appalling memory lapse—I could not remember his excellent constituency of Bromsgrove a few minutes ago. I said that we will have guidelines for the Crown Prosecution Service. My hon. Friend was worried that even the Crown prosecutors might not be senior enough to have the responsibility to deal with such matters.
§ Mr. Maclean
I shall give way in a moment. It is important, therefore, that we do not lightly extend the right of private prosecution to other individuals, even to the most respectable and best shops in the country.
§ Mr. Booth
Would my hon. Friend at least consider the nub of my point, which is not necessarily that private prosecutors—even those for grand stores such as Marks and Spencer—would have the right of appeal in the circumstances of the Bill? In the light of the gravity of the shoplifting situation in Britain, would private prosecutors be allowed, at the point at which the appeal has been refused, to be associated with the Crown prosecutor who is on duty in the magistrates court or to bring forward their own police evidence which is always associated with such private prosecutions? Would the Department consider whether the police could be associated with an application?
That matter needs some consideration. I have not formulated a solution in precise detail, but the issue needs to be addressed because it is important for a number of major stores. I remind the Minister that this often relates to a long series of offences, not simply the trivial theft of a packet of cigarettes.
§ Mr. Maclean
I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said. I am not clear about what he means when he asks whether I will allow the Crown prosecutor to be associated with the appeal. I assume that he means that we would permit a system whereby the private prosecutor could go to the Crown Prosecution Service and say, "Will you take up this case for us and will you use your right of appeal against a case where we think it should be done?" My hon. Friend rightly said that some consideration would be required before we could contemplate making that move.
We must also bear in mind that we want the right of appeal to be exercised in serious cases. The Crown prosecutor would need to be careful about over-exercising his right of appeal in shoplifting cases, regardless of how aggravating or annoying they may be or how much theft is involved. The magistrates courts and the Crown court need to consider carefully whether they wish to keep people in prison in shoplifting cases as opposed to more serious cases involving violence against the person. I am not suggesting that shoplifting is not serious.
Giving private prosecutors the right to appeal will not necessarily mean that more people who are charged with shoplifting will be kept in prison over night. I will certainly consider what my hon. Friend said. Perhaps he will agree 1254 to write to me, or the organisations involved will flesh out their concerns and ideas so that we can consider them properly.
It might be appropriate for the Secretary of State to designate prosecutors acting on behalf of bodies or organisations. Any proposals to extend the power to other bodies would need to be subject to close parliamentary scrutiny. The House would want and expect to scrutinise any list of alternative prosecutors.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester asked about the Scottish legal system—who the prosecutors were and whether private prosecutions were allowed. Of course, the Scottish legal system is different from our system south of the border. In Scotland, all prosecutions are conducted by the procurators fiscal and they alone have the right of appeal.
My hon. Friends the Members for Worcester and for Southport (Mr. Banks) said that the Secretary of State should decide who should have the right to appeal. I have already covered that matter, but I emphasise that the power of appeal is a significant one which can result in a defendant being granted bail by magistrates and being held in custody at the instigation of the prosecution. It is a serious matter when someone who has been granted bail is then denied his right to liberty at the instigation of the Executive. Therefore, it is important that Parliament should have the opportunity to consider those to whom the power should be extended. We envisage an order subject to negative resolution. We all know that if Parliament is content with the Secretary of State's proposals, we do not need to waste parliamentary time. However, if any hon. Member is concerned, there is an opportunity for debate.
I wish to deal with the limitations that will be set on this power of appeal—the limitation on who will have the power to bring the appeal and the limitation on the circumstances in which it can be brought. We all agree that appeals against the grant of bail should be brought only in the most exceptional cases, not simply when the prosecutor disagrees with the magistrate's decision. Mere satisfaction should certainly not be enough. It is intended that this power will be used only in rare cases in which there is a serious public interest. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley may say that shoplifting is a matter of serious public interest.
There have been attempts to draft an amendment that sets a test higher than that in the Bail Act and yet is comprehensible to the courts. We have not found a satisfactory amendment to date and, if the Scottish experience is anything to go by, I do not think that we shall find one. For the Crown Prosecution Service, we plan to follow the formula that provides that the procurator fiscal must abide by guidelines giving detailed advice on the circumstances in which an appeal may be brought.
It is important for hon. Members to understand why the decision has been taken not to accept on the face of the statute a test of, say, serious risk to the public. That ground was debated in Committee between my predecessor—my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack)—and Labour Members. The same arguments apply now as then. We must have a right of appeal that will apply when a person has been charged with serious offences and the prosecutor believes that there is good reason to suppose that the defendant will abscond. We must have a right of appeal that will allow serious threats to property to be guarded against.
1255 The guidelines intended to be used by the Crown Prosecution Service will in the first place make it clear that the Crown Prosecution service foresees that the number of places in which it will exercise the right of appeal is small. The broad effect of the guidelines is that the right of appeal will be used only in cases of greatest concern where there are substantial grounds under the Bail Act on which the court could refuse bail.
Prosecutors will apply an over-arching test of whether there is a serious risk of harm to members of the public or other significant public interest grounds. The public interest grounds will not be used to justify appeals in minor cases. In making their assessment, prosecutors will take into account the seriousness of the offence. Examples of such cases might include offences of violence where weapons are used, serious sexual offences where there is an element of violence and serious arson cases.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove asked me what action will be taken to stop people from offending while on bail. That is a serious matter. The Government share the justified anxiety about offending on bail and they are committed to action. Our aim is both to prevent such behaviour and to punish those who disregard the law and abuse the trust placed in them by the courts by offending when they are let out on bail.
In addition to introducing legislation that will make offending on bail an aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing, in the past 18 months we have introduced a package of practical measures to combat the problem. An additional £8 million over the next three years has been provided to fund bail hostels and bail support schemes, the better to supervise those on bail and to improve the training given to magistrates on bail decisions. We will ensure that bail notices make clear the penalties that people will face if they offend on bail.
One of the most important of the recent initiatives is the establishment of five action research projects tasked with finding ways of improving the bail process. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) told me only two days ago that that was exactly what was needed. I have news for him. One of the projects set up last autumn operates in Newport.
Accurate and up-to-date information is crucial to every bail decision. Therefore, we have asked that the projects should focus on the quality and quantity of information. The action research is intended to result in best practice guidelines for those involved at every stage of the bail decision and in particular to highlight ways of helping the court to make the necessary risk assessment for each defendant.
My last point in response to the anxiety of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove about those who re-offend on bail is that a national bail issue steering group has been established to bring together senior representatives of justice agencies and other organisations with an interest, including the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, the Justices Clerks Society and the Magistrates Association to encourage inter-agency work. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend will be satisfied that a programme of action has been established to deal with those who offend on bail.
1256 I hope that I have satisfied my hon. Friends that the amendment is sensible and should be accepted.
§ Mr. Stephen
I am grateful for the constructive and positive speeches that have been made by hon. Members in the debate on this group of amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) was worried about private prosecutions. However, private prosecutions are not normally brought for the serious cases to which the Bill is intended to apply. I have never intended the Bill to apply to small thefts and other minor offences, even though they may come within the category of offences set out in clause 1(1).
Nevertheless, there may well be circumstances in which, by reason of the persistence of the shoplifting or other circumstances, it is inappropriate for the person to be released on bail. In those circumstances, I hope that, perhaps prior to the hearing, the retailer or other private prosecutor would speak to the Crown Prosecution Service to enlist its support, and that if necessary the CPS would take over the case and itself appeal against the granting of bail. I hope that that will satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) drew attention for the second time to the narrow scope of the Bill. I share his concern that the Bill had to be so narrowly drawn, and I hope that he will understand that in a private Member's Bill and especially a ten-minute Bill, if one seeks to achieve too much, one will achieve nothing.
I am particularly sorry that I had to drop clause 2 of my Bill which, while it did not shift the burden of proof in bail cases generally, would have focused on people who had previously committed offences while on bail. It would have let such people know that if, in future, bail, was considered, it would be for them to prove that they should have bail, rather than, as now, for the prosecution to prove that they should not have bail.
I give notice to my hon. Friend the Minister now that if those provisions or something similar are not included in the Government's Bill which I hope will be introduced in the autumn, I and other hon. Members will move amendments to ensure that the matter is taken into account. We want to make it more difficult for persistent bail offenders to obtain bail in the first place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester also mentioned civil rights. He was right to do so. But we must consider the civil rights not only of the person who is arrested but of all those people who are the victims of crime committed by people on bail. I have sought to strike a fair balance in the Bill between the civil rights of the arrested person and those of the public.
My hon. Friend was right to draw attention to the increasing use of cautioning instead of prosecution. That also causes me anxiety. If the reason for it is that it is thought that there is an insufficiency of prison places, that is not a good reason for proceeding by way of caution. There may well be good reasons for giving a caution, but that is not one of them. We could easily decrease the prison population by repealing the Theft Act 1968, but no one would wish to do that. I believe that it is the first duty of any Government to protect their citizens against internal as well as external attack, and if prison places have to be made available to accommodate those who are a danger to society, such places must be made available.
The cost to the taxpayer has been referred to. Of course it is costly to the taxpayer to keep someone in prison. I am 1257 appalled by some of the costs of keeping people in prison that we have read about recently. I understand that it can cost up to £2,000 per night to keep someone in prison or in police cells, whereas I understand one can stay in the Ritz hotel for £130 per night. I believe that the public is being ripped off, and that the Home Office should look seriously into the cost of accommodating people in prison.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester also mentioned his concern about whether the list of designated prosecutors should be drawn up by a Minister or subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I disagree with him on this point. We have a duty to consider any extension or proposed extension to the list of designated prosecutors for the purpose of the Bill, and I would ask him to support amendment No. 7.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) mentioned the report of the Northumbria police, which is a valuable piece of research into offending while on bail. It concluded that nearly 50 per cent. of detected crime was committed by persons while on bail. I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that that is a horrifying statistic.
The Home Office has published its own report and its figures suggest that the problem is less serious. However, I doubt whether that is the case, because the Home Office figures do not include those persons who were cautioned rather than prosecuted, or those offences to which persons have admitted while in prison for other offences.
My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned that only circuit judges would hear the appeals. Notwithstanding Lords amendment No. 1, to which we have already agreed, I do not think that such will be the case. As I understand it, every person who is appointed a justice of the High Court is, ex officio, a judge of the Crown court. Therefore, the same individual could be made available, if necessary, to serve in the Crown court to hear appeals of this kind. Lords amendment No. 1 would not reduce the number of judicial personnel available to deal with those cases; all it means is that, under the Bill, one would not be able to appeal to a justice of the High Court sitting as such.
I was glad to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister said about the Government's commitment to bail research projects, bail information schemes and the like. We can all agree that it is far better that magistrates should get the bail decison right in the first place than that there should be an appeal under my Bill.
Having listened carefully to all the contributions that hon. Members have made, I consider nevertheless that it is right to restrict the right of appeal under the Bill to a public prosecutor, and I would therefore invite the House to accept amendments Nos. 2 and 7.
§ Question put and agreed to.
Lords amendment: No. 3, in page 1, line 15, leave out from ("prosecution") to ("granted") and insert
("made representations that bail should not be")
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendment No. 4.
§ Mr. Stephen
I can deal with this amendment briefly: it is purely a matter of semantics. In all my years at the Bar, I have always heard of the prosecution "objecting" to bail, and I have never heard anyone object to the use of the 1258 word "object". However, one of their lordships felt that that was unduly confrontational and, as it makes no difference to the substance of the Bill, I am happy to accept the amendment that he wished to press.
§ Mr. Thomason
My hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) said that this was a matter of semantics. I am always wary of semantics because sometimes an issue that is considered to be merely superficial covers something more significant. I wish briefly to seek an assurance on those matters.
My constituents, like those of many other hon. Members, are worried about law and order. They are alarmed at persistent offenders and anxious about juvenile offenders. We want to know that changes in the Bill will not weaken its provisions, that the Government are firmly behind law and order and that those issues are being dealt with. They are the worries of the people whom we represent, so it is right that we give them proper attention. It is, therefore, essential that we do not simply nod through a change in this important legislation which, it may subsequently transpire, weakens it significantly. I do not see that it is likely to be so weakened, but I seek an assurance on that.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister also assure me that police bail will not be used more than at present as a result of the Bill's introduction? How does he see the role of police bail developing?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that the Minister will not go down that road because it would be out of order.
§ Mr. Luff
I wish to echo some of the thoughts of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) and to be absolutely clear that that change of words, which their lordships describe as "more felicitous", will not be some kind of lawyers' paradise and open up the loopholes that concern my hon. Friends. I am worried about it. Superficially, it seems plausible and acceptable. It verges on political correctness rather than anything else. Will the Minister assure me that there is no diminution in the effectiveness of the Bill as a result of the amendment?
§ Mr. Matthew Banks
I take issue with a couple of comments made by my hon. Friends. The word "objected" would have created no ambiguity whatever. I seek clarification from the Minister that he is happy with the amendment. The word "objected" would be far better thanmade representations that bail should not begranted.
There is a precedent for using the word "representations" in paragraph 9(a) of schedule 1 to the Bail Act 1976. My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned that Act. Without wishing to move too far away from the amendments, may I contrast them with what my hon. Friend referred to? The word "objected" is far better because it is not ambiguous. Although this is a matter of semantics, it is important.
It was suggested earlier that powers to object to the granting of bail and the right of appeal may not necessarily be used in many cases. If so, that also worries me. Allowing the prosecution right of appeal against granting bail was originally put forward as a response to tragedies such as the Hagan's case where, despite the prosecution's objections, a defendant was granted bail with serious and fatal consequences.
The provision would effectively give the prosecution a second opinion on bail in a higher court where it was felt 1259 that bail had been granted without satisfactory regard to exceptions to the right to bail—that is, that the defendant was likely to abscond or commit further offences.
My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned, under previous amendments, the Scottish legal system. North of the border, the prosecution already has a right of appeal against bail decisions. The possibility of introducing a similar provision in England and Wales was under consideration before my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) introduced his Bill in November 1992. The measure for north of the border had considerable support and it is entirely right that there should be similar legislation south of the border. I appreciate that there are civil liberty implications, but my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham was entirely right when he suggested that we should remember the victims of crime and their rights, rather than concentrating far too much on defendants.
The amendments and the Bill strike the right balance. Of course I want to see time limits for such an appeal, because it is vital to allow sufficient time for an adequate rehearing to be prepared, but it is also vital to minimise the time that a defendant is held in custody.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I advise the House and the hon. Gentleman that the amendment's only effect is to substitute the word "representations" for "objected" and the debate is limited to that. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind.
§ Mr. Banks
I am grateful for your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I hope that when the Minister responds he will make it quite clear to the House that, in view of his comments on earlier amendments, he will take action to amend the Bail Act 1976 to reverse the presumption in favour of bail for certain categories of defendants. I hope that he will satisfy me and my hon. Friends that the wording of the amendments will ensure that there is no ambiguity whatever. If the Crown Prosecution Service, on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions, wishes to object to the granting of bail the objection must be quite clear and there should be no mealy-mouthed, wishy-washy wording.
§ Lady Olga Maitland
I support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) about semantics as to whether the word "representations" or "objected" is used. The public do not want wishy-washy words. [Interruption.] They certainly do not get them from me. People will not be reassured if words such as "representations" are slipped into the Bill, because it will look as if our resolve is weakening. I trust that the Minister will make sure that our resolve is not weakened and will reassure the House about that. After so much work, public representations and the initiative and enterprise of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen), it would be devastating if the legislation were derailed by semantics in the other place.
§ Mr. Maclean
I assure my hon. Friends that I would never be associated with mealy-mouthed or wishy-washy words. I expected them to know that. I have been exonerated from that potential crime and I have positive proof, because, after I replied to an Adjournment debate 1260 initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), he congratulated me and was completely satisfied with all my responses to his robust speech. My hon. Friends will appreciate that, as I was able to satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield on the Government's law and order policy, I could not have been using mealy-mouthed, wishy-washy words.
The Government do not oppose the removal of the word "objected". That does not alter the original meaning of the Bill, but renders it more consistent with the terms of the Bail Act 1976. The use of the phraserepresentations that bail should not be grantedmakes it clear that the prosecution is exercising no more than its right in law to influence the decision of the court about whether bail should be granted.
The phrase "objected to bail" is in common usage and is not in itself open to ambiguity, but I suggest that it has been improved on. Notwithstanding the fact that the Bill is about the possibility of the prosecution appealing against the bail decision, the fact remains that the decision to grant bail is a judicial one. Any review of bail decisions belongs to the court.
I hope that I have satisfied my hon. Friends the Members for Worcester (Mr. Luff) and for Southport (Mr. Banks) that there is no ambiguity. I can also assure my hon. Friend the Member for Southport that I want to look at the Bail Act 1976, but I am sure that he would not expect me to give the firm promise that he demanded of me. I hope, therefore, that he will not consider me wishy-washy if I do not instantly accept his suggestions.
I agree so much with the short but passionate speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason)—that this amendment is part of the Government's package for cracking down hard on crime. I am sure that he was here for yesterday's debate on law and order, though he was not called to speak in it. I hope that he realises from yesterdary's debate that the Government announced tough measures.
Furthermore, it was in this chamber only on Tuesday that we took immediate steps to replace the unit fines system and restore the full power of magistrates to impose the sentences that they think just, in order to take into account the previous convicions of offenders, including those who have offended while on bail. In their case, we took the opportunity to make it an aggravated offence. We shall include other tough measures in the next Criminal Justice Bill to ensure that what this amendment seeks to do is done: that we have a proper crackdown on those who deserve to be cracked down against.
§ Mr. Stephen
I have listened carefully to what has been said about this amendment. I could not agree more that the House and the Government must act, and be seen to act, resolutely against those who offend against our laws. Nevertheless, I remain of the opinion that Lords amendments Nos. 3 and 4 make no substantial difference to the Bill and will have no adverse effect on it. Therefore, I invite the House to accept them.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Lords amendment No. 4 agreed to.
§ Lords amendment: No. 5, in page 1, line 23, leave out ("one hour") and insert ("two hours").1261
§ Mr. Stephen
In dealing with this final group of amendments, may I crave the indulgence of the House for one moment to pay tribute to the spirit of co-operation in both this House and another place which has made it possible for my Bill to reach this stage. It is a great honour for me, as a new Member, that both Houses of the United Kingdom Parliament have seen fit to approve this, my first private Member's Bill, particularly since it was only a ten-minute Bill. In particular, I offer my thanks to the Minister of State, Home Office, and his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), the Home Office officials, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) and the 116 right hon. and hon. Members who supported my Bill by signing early-day motion 1134. Support came from positions as far apart in the political spectrum as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman).
Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 relate to an issue which we debated in Committee: whether the written notice of appeal which has to be served by the prosecutor should be confirmatory only, or whether failure to serve that notice would bring the appeal process to an end. We took the view in Committee that it should be confirmatory only, but, after further debate and discussion in another place, I am persuaded that it should be an integral part of the appeal process.
I have, therefore, been prepared to accept that if the written notice is not served within the prescribed time limit, that should in effect bring the appeal to an end. In agreeing to that, I was concerned that there should be sufficient time for busy members of the Crown Prosecution Service to prepare and to serve the written notice of appeal on the magistrates court and on the person concerned. I therefore insisted that the original one-hour time limit should be extended to two hours, and I shall be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister will confirm that that limit is considered by the Crown Prosecution Service to be practicable. If the written notice of appeal is not served within the extended two-hour period, the appeal would be deemed to be disposed of and, by virtue of clause 1(5), the person concerned would be released from custody.
§ Mr. Luff
In view of my earlier remarks about the way in which an admirably robust Bill that was not wishy washy in any way has been weakened by its progress through bath Houses, it would be churlish of me not to welcome the one group of amendments that reverses that process and redresses the balance between the victim and the alleged perpetrator in the way that the whole Bill sought to do.
It is entirely right that we should agree with their lordships in these amendments, which strengthen the Bill and make the clause more robust. I welcome them unreservedly for that reason. However, I emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) that where the Bill has been weakened in order that it may reach the statute book speedily, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will examine the possibility of Government legislation in Government time in the next Session, to restore all the Bill's original intentions. Otherwise, I have no hesitation in supporting the amendments.
§ Mr. Booth
Earlier, I was permitted to intervene on minor matters on several occasions, and until now I have refrained from congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen). I do so now, and having heard him address the House this morning, I appreciate his skill and acumen—as I am sure other hon. Members do—in presenting his Bill. I am proud to be associated with it as a sponsor, because it addresses an issue which is long overdue for reform. It is only sad that it is not a Government Bill but comes from the Back Benches—but it is not in any way diluted for that. At least the Government have given it a fair wind.
From my little experience, of many years ago, as a prosecutor, I may say that the amendment is at the nub of the balance between the exercise of liberty and the practicalities of the workings of magistrates courts. The question whether the time allowed for an appeal should be two hours or longer should be addressed. I am fearful that the practicalities of magistrates courts may mean that two hours is not quite long enough—but only by a short while. I shall explain why.
The Bill is admirable, though it should be noted that such legislation was not necessary in the past. I recall being able, as a prosecutor, to call police witnesses who had to say only that they objected to bail on the ground of the gravity of the series of offences, that the defendant had previous convictions, or whatever, for bail to be invariably refused. That is not the case today. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) spoke of the revolving door—the vast number of defendants who leave the docks of magistrates courts and immediately commit further offences.
The chief superintendent who is responsible for my constituency tells me that a vast number of offences in my part of London are committed by people who are on bail. So, on the one hand, the Bill's provisions to tackle that problem are thoroughly welcome but, on the other, I am concerned about the amendment. Those who have practised in the magistrates courts know that a trial may last two or three hours during a morning or afternoon and that the court clerk may be loth to interrupt it. If bail is refused, the prosecution may decide within minutes of the court adjourning that it wishes to appeal. However, a new case may have been called and the court clerk may not want to interrupt it—nor may it be in the best interests of the subsequent defendant to do so. If a case were adjourned for example just before half-past ten o'clock, the resumed application for bail might not be heard until one o'clock. I do not believe that two hours is long enough. Similarly, a typical afternoon sitting of a magistrates court is two and a half hours. I contend, therefore, that the amendment should provide for two and a half hours. Concern for the victim, which all hon. Members have expressed, demands that we reconsider the amendment and provide for two and a half hours rather than two hours.
§ Lady Olga Maitland
I do not want to hold up the business because I know that there are more matters to consider today, so may I briefly say that I accept the amendment, but with some reservations? I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) said about the period being two and a half hours.
1263 I have an awful feeling that there may be a loophole, whereby an appeal may fail on purely administrative grounds. As I understand it, an appeal is valid only if it is confirmed in writing within the time specified. It is academic whether it is two hours, two and a half hours or four hours. What worries me is that it somehow or other invalidates the first application for an appeal, which is made orally in court. That is the moment from which the appeal should be valid, and its confirmation in writing should be merely an administrative factor. If, however, it is the judgment of the House and of the Minister that this is the way to proceed, I trust that the two-hour limit will be sufficient.
I trust also that we shall understand the problems that are experienced by the Crown Prosecution Service, which works extremely hard and is responsible for many cases each day. It would be most unfortunate if, because of a slip up, someone who should be detained in custody were released.
It is in general, however, an excellent Bill. I support the spirit behind it and very much appreciate the support given by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) because, without it, I doubt whether we should have been able to proceed as satisfactorily. I also appreciate the Government's enormous interest in the increasing concern about crime and their backing for my right hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen).
There is, however, one matter with which the Minister still needs to deal—the tricky and difficult problem of persistent juvenile offenders under the age of 15. He is well aware of public concern, and it would be reassuring to hear his thoughts. Many persistent juvenile offenders get off scot free and are not held in custody when they should be, but society has a right to be protected from them.
§ Mr. Matthew Banks
I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) and, although I applauded his flexible approach in Committee in ensuring that the Bill was dealt with expeditiously and will become law, I am very worried about this amendment.
Following the remarks made by my hon. Friends the Members for Finchley (Mr. Booth) and for Worcester (Mr. Luff), I must say that the amendment, which seeks to increase one hour to two hours, is not as acceptable as it should be. I think that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester who said that it is one of the amendments that seek to redress the balance.
The fact is that nearly 500,000 people are granted bail each year by the courts. I do not have the figures for 1992 or 1993, but in 1991 about 52,000 people were remanded in custody. Research suggests that 10 per cent. of those granted bail are convicted of an offence while on bail or that they reoffend while on bail. That proportion has stayed the same since 1978. If we are to give the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service the opportunity to take advantage of the Bill's provisions, it is vital that we give those responsible at the magistrates court the maximum possible, sensible time to ensure that written notice of appeal can be served. I am not entirely satisfied that increasing one hour to two hours is the right way to proceed.
I urge the Minister to take on board my concerns and those of my other hon. Friends. Many of those who are, or 1264 will be, involved in serving written notice of appeal are busy people with heavy work loads and, like conscientious Back Benchers, working under a great deal of stress. They might find that increasing one hour to two hours is not appropriate.
It would be cold comfort if one of my constituents—for example, a widow living on her own in Southport—suffered a burglary or other aggravation when a crime was committed, simply because someone had been released on bail because those involved in serving written notice of appeal had had insufficient time to serve that notice.
§ Mr. Thomason
Earlier, the Minister said that, of necessity, decisions about appeals would have to be made by prosecutors on the ground, the people who are handling the files for the day and who are engaged in a series of cases. It may be difficult, if they are going straight on to another hearing, for them to deal with an appeal notice within the time limit. Does my hon. Friend agree that that adds to his point?
§ Mr. Banks
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He makes a pertinent point about the difficulties of work load that may mean that somebody who should be the subject of an appeal may not become the subject because there is insufficient time for officials to serve a written notice of appeal at the magistrates court. I am concerned about that and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will address that concern. I am not satisfied that increasing the time limit from one to two hours, as the amendment proposes, is satisfactory.
§ Mr. Maclean
This is an important amendment and my hon. Friends have rightly touched on some crucial points. The amendment will ensure that if written notice of appeal is not served within the period specified, the appeal will fail. The written notice serves the purpose of recording for all concerned the fact that an appeal has been launched and the grounds of the appeal, which the defence will want to be confirmed, so that work on the arguments that will be presented to the judge can begin straight away at the appeal hearing. If the notes have been arranged, they will contain the time and place of the appeal hearing. It is, therefore, a document of record that the defence may wish to have to consider how to respond to the appeal.
The Government accept the importance of ensuring that such a written record is provided as quickly as possible. Although we accept that a two-hour time limit is more realistic than one hour, we realise that prosecutors may often go straight from one case to another, which might make it difficult to meet a one-hour target. Those hon. Members who have experienced a busy magistrates court room, in whatever capacity, will agree that, in a two-hour period, it is realistic to expect some break in the proceedings, allowing the prosecutor to wrote out and lodge a notice.
I shall give a little more detail to my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) on how we envisage that that method might work in practice. The Crown prosecutor arrives in court to face a mountain of case papers, some of which will have been perused already. Other papers that relate to defendants who have been arrested by the police and detained in custody overnight will be known to the prosecutor.
Where the prosecutor, having argued against bail being granted to a defendant, then sees it granted by the magistrates, as is their judicial right, and wants to launch 1265 an appeal, he must immediately inform the court by way of an oral announcement. The written notice will take him a little time to prepare—not long, but he will need to gather his thoughts. After one hour, the courts will still be working through their case load. Two hours, I am assured by the CPS, will provide an opportunity for the prosecutor to break off from his duties to fill in the form.
I must say to my hon. Friends the Members for Finchley and for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) that we considered the issue carefully. The judgment had to be based largely on what the Crown Prosecution Service saw as the minimum amount of time that it will find not just convenient, but practical in most circumstances, to complete the form. Of course, it will also give attention to how to make the form simple and easy to complete. One does not envisage that prosecutors will have to spend hours writing reams of notes on the reasons why they believe the appeal ought not to be granted. I anticipate that they will use a rather simplistic form in which they will record reasons why they object—the reasons why they wish to make representations that bail ought not to be granted. We envisage that being a relatively simple procedure.
§ Mr. Matthew Banks
My hon. Friend has just said that he was advised that one hour or two hours is the minimum time. If that is the case, does he recognise that that is why my colleagues and I are so concerned about this matter?
§ Mr. Maclean
I would not want to mislead the House. Perhaps I did not use the best choice of words. When I discussed this matter with CPS representatives, they said that a two-hour limit would be satisfactory and would not cause them difficulties. Having explored all the options and time limits, I believe that it would be inappropriate for me, with my inexpert judgment on the matter, to suggest a different time limit. If the CPS believes that it can operate in the two-hour period, I advise my hon. Friends, who have considerable experience of these matters—and I note the plea for a two-and-a-half hour period—to accept the judgment of the CPS in this case.
§ Mr. Booth
Does my hon. Friend accept that the basis on which he has explained his point is very different from the point that I was trying to make? I was not making a point about a prosecutor who was in charge of his own pile of briefs or about an able prosecutor who can juggle five minutes here and there. I was proposing a different situation which I hope my hon. Friend the Minister has considered in the advice that he has taken. What if a prosecutor cannot get back into court because another case is going on in that court?
§ Mr. Maclean
I understand my hon. Friend's point. However, the CPS does not see any great difficulty.
My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley also suggested that the court might have to adjourn its other business to receive the written notice, but the notice can simply be passed to the clerk of the court.
The CPS envisages, and their lordships with whom this was also discussed expected, anticipated—I do not wish to put words in their mouths—and I believe would accept the concept, that the written notice should be in a very simple, tick-the-box form for the reasons of appeal. In those circumstances, I do not envisage a great deal of time having to be spent on the written notice itself.
1266 I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam has been reassured by my advice to her and to the House that the two-and-a-half hour time limit which she suggested is not necessary in view of the opinion of the CPS.
The wording in the amendment is consistent with the wording of subsection (6). It avoids any suggestion that might be capable of being read into other forms of words, such as the appeal being "null and void", that the original decision to appeal was in some way "unlawful". That aspect of the time within which the appeal is confirmed in writing is linked with the assurances that were sought during the Bill's passage in another place about the level of prosecutor allowed to launch an appeal against a bail decision.
It could be argued that if prosecutors are entrusted with all the other responsibilities of prosecuting a case, they should be trusted as the people on the spot—and this is the point that I made earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr.Thomason)—
§ Mr. Maclean
I eventually managed to get my hon. Friend's constituency right.
As I was saying, as the people on the spot, prosecutors should be trusted to use their discretion whether they should launch an appeal. I believe that the prosecutors in the court, who are appraised of the facts, will be best placed to make a decision on whether to appeal. They will be aware of the risks that a defendant might pose if released on appeal and of the arguments put by the defence in support of bail.
The alternative of requiring senior lawyers to be available to take through all decisions to launch prosecution appeals, would vastly and unacceptably increase the costs of the CPS because it would be impossible to ensure that a prosecutor of such rank was present at all magistrates courts or contactable by telephone at any time to give authority to appeal.
In discussions about this part of the Bill and this amendment, the Government have recognised concerns implicit in the desire to see authorisation given at a senior level. In order to meet those concerns, the Government propose to ensure that there are proper procedures within the Crown Prosecution Service by which senior prosecutors will be able to vet and, if necessary, discontinue appeals.
I shall go into a little more detail on the important point—which was raised earlier and is relevant to this amendment—about senior prosecutors being able to vet appeals. The guidance that will be issued by the Crown Prosecution Service will indicate that appeals should not be made by junior prosecutors without seeking approval from more senior lawyers. In any case where Crown prosecutors consider that it might be appropriate to use the right of appeal, they will, wherever possible, obtain prior authority to do so. If, at the hearing when they have heard all that the defence has to say, that view is confirmed, they will have authority to launch the appeal. If, in exceptional circumstances, it is not possible to obtain prior authority, Crown prosecutors will seek a subsequent review of the decision to appeal by a more senior lawyer. That will be done within the time limit for giving written notice of appeal if possible, but, if not, within 24 hours at the latest.
1267 My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam raised a very important point on powers to deal with persistent juvenile offenders. Of course, it is important that when juvenile offenders appear before a court, and if the prosecutor wishes to exercise the right of appeal, the minimum time should elapse before alleged young offenders remain in custody. The whole House will agree that that is important and that it is of particular relevance, therefore, in consideration of the two-hour time limit, that we look at the situation in regard to persistent juvenile offenders.
To answer my hon. Friend's point briefly, the Criminal Justice Act 1991 reformed and strengthened juvenile remand arrangements. It gave courts a new power to attach conditions when juveniles are remanded in local authority accommodation, and it placed the decision to remand 15 and 16-year-old boys squarely with the courts. We are all concerned about persistent offenders. The trend towards that small hard core of offenders committing a disproportionate amount of crime which destroys the quality of life for the law-abiding majority of our citizens cannot be tolerated.
We must be particularly concerned that, as studies consistently show, repeat offenders are often young men and boys who have the potential to carry on offending for years to come. We believe that their habit of offending must be broken. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam rightly pointed out, some persistent offenders seem to have become either careless of the consequences of their actions or arrogant when they appear before the courts. As my hon. Friend said, they make a gesture towards the courts' authority. That is why we are considering ways of tackling offending at its roots—by influencing individual attitudes and behaviour, particularly among the young; and persistent offenders must be made, while in custody, to confront their offending behaviour and its consequences.
Juveniles who persist in anti-social criminal behaviour must, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made clear in the House last night, be brought to fear the strength of the law. We attach a high priority to the matter and shall soon introduce legislation to establish secure training orders to deal with the hard core of persistent juvenile offenders aged under 15—exactly what my hon. Friend asked me.
§ Lady Olga Maitland
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his remarks. I welcome them, and they will be a great reassurance to the public at large. Will he clarify that the area that I—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must inform the hon. Lady that that point must not be pursued any further under these amendments.
§ Mr. Maclean
I cannot go further, because I would be outside the relevance of the two-hour limit in this amendment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) was also very concerned about the two-hour limit in the amendment and the conditions attached to bail. Courts already have the power to attach tough conditions to bail where they are appropriate. They can and do require defendants to keep off the streets at certain times, to keep away from certain places, and to keep away from 1268 certain people. The availability of bail conditions is very important in increasing the range of options available to the court in considering how best to deal with a defendant before trial. Those conditions must be effectively policed and enforced, and magistrates must be fully aware of the possibilities open to them.
The work of the local projects has highlighted the importance of bail conditions at the remand stage. We will be examining carefully how to make the best use of the option of conditional bail to prevent offending while on bail. In those circumstances, the court might feel that it is appropriate to grant bail and not allow a prosecution right of appeal if the person can be kept in reasonably sensible conditions, but short of being remanded in custody.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southport was concerned about whether there would be increased pressure on prison places if we reduced the number of people who are remanded on bail. The Bail Act makes clear a general presumption in favour of bail in line with the fundamental principle of our criminal justice system—presumed innocent until found guilty. Therefore, it is not our intention—I am afraid that I must disappoint my hon. Friend—that bail shall be refused in the majority of cases. The emphasis must be targeting to improve the chances that those who are most likely to offend on bail or abscond will be identified by the courts and to increase the likelihood of identifying some who are currently remanded in custody who could safely be released on bail.
Evidence suggests that the majority of defendants do not offend while on bail and, therefore, locking them up in those circumstances would serve no purpose. That is why the Bill makes such a sensible contribution to improving the range of powers to deal with bail. Of course, the amendment is also appropriate to those purposes.
My hon. Friend referred to the extent of the problem of people offending while on bail. In 1991, 480,000 people were granted bail by the courts and 52,000 were remanded in custody. Research suggests that 10 per cent. of those who are granted bail are convicted of an offence while on bail and that the proportion has stayed the same since 1978. Many of the offences are not ones that would result in a custodial sentence. Undoubtedly, there is a hard core of offenders—burglars, car thieves and the Sutton posse—who do not respect the courts. Those offenders must be taught a lesson.
Some hon. Members will be aware that police research shows that the figure of those offending while on bail is much higher—17 per cent. in one study and a third in another. I welcome those police studies as shedding more light on the problem. We are trying to ensure that there is an agreed method of measuring offending on bail. Whatever the figures—let us not disagree about them—clearly there is too much offending while on bail.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) on the progress that the Bill has made. I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House who have made thoughtful and valuable contributions to the Bill's progress. I especially thank my hon. Friends who are present today who have made such excellent speeches—my hon. Friends the Members for Worcester (Mr. Luff), for Sutton and Cheam, for Bromsgrove, for Southport, for Finchley, and others. I have been told that the Bill has the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman). I studied the Bill carefully. I was surprised 1269 that she supported it because I could see nothing dealing with castration. Nevertheless, I am glad that she supports it.
The amendment is important and sensible. I commend it to the House, together with the Bill, which the Government treat with sympathy. We believe that it is broadly in line with the need to provide some safeguard against the sort of bail decisions that have resulted in tragic consequences in the past. The principle has been welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House and I hope that the Bill passes through all stages today.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Lords amendments Nos. 6 and 7 agreed to.