HL Deb 27 October 1976 vol 376 cc520-3

Defendants to whom Part I applies

1. Where the offence or one of the offences of which the defendant is accused or convicted in the proceedings is punishable with imprisonment the following provisions of this Part of this Schedule apply."

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 15. With the leave of the House, I will also speak to Amendments 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30. Perhaps I may add that I will deal with the specific point raised in the Amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foot—No. 22A—when he moves it. The main purpose of this Amendment is to amend the first Schedule so as to apply the presumption created by Clause 4 in favour of the granting of bail to a convicted person remanded in custody for inquiries before sentence, and to confine the provisions of the Schedule to those convicted of imprisonable offences.

When the Bill first went to another place, Schedule 1 related only to persons accused of offences and did not deal with persons who had been convicted but were awaiting sentence. Several noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, and the noble Lord, Lord Foot, criticised the Bill for not providing specifically for persons remanded for inquiries or a report. The Government were unable in the time available to carry out the necessary consultations and put down suitable Amendments. On behalf of the Government, I gave undertakings that we would hold these discussions and put down Amendments in another place, and for the most part the extensive Amendments introduced in another place, constituting Amendments Nos.17 to 30 on the Order Paper, represent the changes agreed in another place to meet the points raised in this House.

My Lords, the Schedule as recast is divided into three parts. Part I relates to a person accused or convicted of an offence punishable with imprisonment. Part II relates to defendants accused or convicted of offences which are not punishable with imprisonment, and, as noble Lords will expect, the grounds on which bail will be refused will get more limited in this case than where the offence is punishable with imprisonment. Part III contains definitions common to both the earlier parts. The introduction of these Amendments fulfils undertakings given during the Third Reading debate in this House, and I think they meet the points raised on that occasion. We went into this matter with some substantial degree of care, given the fact that we occupied quite a substantial amount of time on these issues. I hope that the noble Lords who participated in the debates on this occasion will feel we have fulfilled the undertakings which I then gave on behalf of the Government.

There is one other point I have to make. Amendment No. 22 adds to the Schedule a new paragraph (5A) based on Section 18(6) of the Criminal Justice Act 1967. This paragraph provides that where the defendant's case is adjourned for inquiries or report, the defendant need not be granted bail if it appears to the court that it would be impracticable to complete the inquiries or make the report without keeping the defendant in custody. The term "impracticable" in fact has been taken from the 1967 Act, as I have indicated, and has the support of the Magistrates' Association. There are some circumstances in which it is impracticable to obtain a report except by remanding the defendant in custody, and although these have diminished they do still occur and must be provided for.

First of all, there is the case of the defendant who cannot be relied on to turn up for the inquiries or for the report, either because he is too mentally disturbed, or because he is unwilling to have the inquiries carried out at all. Secondly, there is the group of people on whom a satisfactory report can only be prepared while the defendant is in custody. In 1973, the Prison Department, oil behalf of the Working Party on Bail Procedures in Magistrates' Courts, consulted governors and medical officers on this matter. The replies showed that although such people formed only part of the defendant's remanded in custody, nevertheless, they were a significant part. In general they were itinerants, often mentally disordered, often verminous, often drug-takers or alcoholics with no relatives or friends and unlikely to remain in any one place. That is what I showed here on this group of Amendments, although I realise, with regard to the point I have just been speaking on, that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, has an Amendment which we will discuss in a few moments.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said. Amendment.—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)


My Lords, although I am not opposing this Amendment at all, I think that in cases which arise in relation to persons convicted as to whose, general mental effectiveness and reliability there are serious questions—because this is what is really meant—there is a consider-able doubt as to whether the provisions of this Bill should apply to them in the same way as they apply to people awaiting trial and whose presumption of innocence, therefore comes to their aid. The great danger in all these cases—and I quote from the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich—is that those of mental in-stability, those who do not remain in one place, those who are verminous or drug-takers will go on committing offences while these reports are going on. The virtue of letting them out has to be set against the danger to the public involved. As I have said, I do not think it is worth while making a great issue of this, and I recognise, of course, the public policy point, which I think obsesses the Home Office, about clearing the gaols of unwanted inhabitants. But I myself rather doubt whether they are not going rather far with this.


My Lords, it would be ungracious of me not to acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has fulfilled the undertakings he gave. I should like to reserve what I have to say to my Amendment, but I did not want the occasion to pass with the noble Lord thinking that I was ungrateful.