HL Deb 09 July 1984 vol 454 cc567-82

2.59 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Trumpington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 29 [Arrest elsewhere than at police station]:

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 92: Page 24, line 36, at end insert— (" (1A) Subject to subsections (1B) and (1C) below, the police station to which an arrested person is taken under subsection (1) above shall be a designated police station. (1B) A constable who is attached to a police station which is not a designated police station may take an arrested person to any police station unless it appears to the constable that it may be necessary to keep the arrested person in police detention for more than six hours. (1C) Any constable may take an arrested person to any police station if—

  1. (a) either of the following conditions is satisfied—
    1. (i) the constable has arrested him without the assistance of any other constable and no other constable is available to assist him;
    2. (ii) the constable has taken him into custody from a person other than a constable without the assistance of any other constable and no other constable is available to assist him; and
  2. (b) It appears to the constable that he will be unable to take the arrested person to a designated police station without the arrested person injuring himself, the constable or some other person.
(1D) If the first police station to which an arrested person is taken after his arrest is not a designated police station he shall be taken to a designated police station not more than six hours after his arrival at the first station unless he is released previously.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 92 I shall, with your Lordships' leave, speak also to Amendments Nos. 101 and 102, to the Motion, Whether Clause 34 shall stand part of the Bill?, and to Amendment No. 174. When, I set out what is in these amendments I expect the noble Lord, Lord Plant, will wish to speak to his Amendments Nos. 103 and 104, which seek to alter the provisions in one of the amendments. I hope that that reflects what the noble and learned Lord sees on the paper before him. Amendment No. 101: After Clause 33, insert the following new clause:

("Designated police stations.

.—(1) The chief officer of police for each police area shall designate the police stations in his area which, subject to section 29(1B) and (1C) above, are to be the stations in that area to be used for the purpose of detaining arrested persons.

(2) A chief officer's duty under subsection (1) above is to designate police stations appearing to him to provide enough accommodation for that purpose.

(3) In this Act "designated police station" means a police station designated under this section.").

Amendment No. 102: After Clause 33, insert the following new clause:

("Custody officers at police stations.

.—(1) one or more custody officers shall be appointed for each designated police station.

(2) A custody officer for a designated police station shall be appointed—

  1. (a) by the chief officer of police for the area in which the designated police station is situated; or
  2. (b) by such other police officer as the chief officer of police for that area may direct.

(3) No officer may be appointed a custody officer unless he is of at least the rank of sergeant.

(4) An officer of any rank may perform the functions of a custody officer at a designated police station if a custody officer is not readily available to perform them.

(5) Subject to the following provisions of this section and to section 37(2) below, none of the functions of a custody officer in relation to a person shall be performed by an officer who at the time when the function falls to be perfomed is involved in the investigation of an offence for which that person is in police detention at that time.

(6) Where an arrested person is taken to a police station which is not a designated police station, the functions in relation to him which at a designated police station would be the functions of a custody officer shall be performed—

  1. (a) by an officer who is not involved in the investigation of an offence for which he is in police detention, if such an officer is readily available; and
  2. (b) if no such officer is readily available, by the officer who took him to the station or any other officer.

(7) References to a custody officer in the following provisions of this Act include references to an officer other than a custody officer who is performing the functions of a custody officer by virtue of subsection (4) or (6) above.

(8) Where by virtue of subsection (6) above an officer who took an arrested person to a police station is to perform the functions of a custody officer in relation to him, the officer shall inform an officer who—

  1. (a) is attached to a designated police station; and
  2. (b) is of at least the rank of inspector.
that he is to do so.

(9) The duty imposed by subsection (8) above shall be performed as soon as it is practicable to perform it.").

Amendment No. 174: Clause 111, page 96, line 15, at end insert— ("designated police station" has the meaning assigned to it by section (Designated police stations) above;"). These amendments contain a substantial amount of material, but as they hang so closely together it would only be confusing if I tried to take them separately.

Clause 34 of the Bill, as printed, introduces the very important new role of custody officer. This post has been devised in order to place a new and important emphasis on the treatment of detained persons. It provides a new element of direct personal accountability for those people's welfare and for safeguarding their rights. In order to make sure that that responsibility is discharged by somebody with no conflicting interests in the way in which the detained person is handled, subsection (3) of Clause 34 provides that the custody officer cannot be involved in any way in the investigation of the offence for which that person is detained.

That separation between the custodial and the investigative powers of the police seems to us to be an important safeguard of the interests of people detained at police stations. I believe that noble Lords will agree with us in that view and that they will also agree that the role of the custody officer is of considerable importance. It follows, therefore, that we must ensure that the scheme laid down in the Bill makes it possible for police forces to develop a sufficient number of regular custody officers of sergeant rank who are deployed where they are needed. We must also make certain that the requirements of the Bill are not so rigidly drawn as to affect detained persons adversely in other ways or to reduce the efficiency of the police in their normal work.

It appears to us on reflection and in the light of criticisms made in another place that the scheme in the Bill as printed is less than perfect in both of these respects. It does not take sufficient note of the fact that, while some police stations are large and busy establishments, with numerous officers attached to them and with a fairly constant traffic through the cells, others are entirley different. Rural police forces would have serious difficulty if they had to operate out of stations like that. I expect very many of your Lordships are familiar with police stations run by only two constables, or even only one, whose proper job is not to sit all day in the station houses but to get out among the communities for which they are responsible.

Under the Bill as drafted, the police would have only two choices: either they would have to take every arrested person direct to one of the major stations, often a great many miles away, or they would have to appoint a very large proportion of their rural personnel as custody officers. It seems to us on reflection that the first course would be immensely inconvenient for people who are arrested in country districts, who would have to travel 20 or more miles to attend a station for as little as a quarter of an hour before travelling back again, and that the second would almost certainly dilute the status of the custody officer below what we would all wish it to be, which in itself is also an important safeguard for people who are detained by the police. It is to overcome these difficulties that I now ask your Lordships to agree to add to Clause 29 the subsections printed in Amendment No. 92 and to replace Clause 34 with the new clauses printed as Amendments Nos. 101 and 102 on the Marshalled List.

The scheme which we now propose is embodied in these amendments, and it recognises the existence of these different sorts of police stations. The full provisions of the custody officer system will be provided in the larger stations. These will be designated for the purpose by the chief officer under the first new clause. An appropriate reference to designated police stations is added to the definition clause under the consequential Amendment No. 174. It is still required in the new scheme that a person normally should be taken to a police station with a custody officer; that is to say, to a designated police station. The new provisions in Clause 29, proposed in Amendment No. 92, however, lay down the circumstances in which an arrested person may be taken to a non-designated station where there is no regular custody officer. It also lays down that under no circumstances may he be held there for more than a maximum of six hours. Your Lordships may already have seen in Clause 38 that six hours is the longest that the Bill will permit a person to be held in police detention without charge before the decision to detain him must be reviewed by a senior officer. That is why we have pitched on that length of time.

The circumstances under which a person may be taken to a non-designated police station are, broadly, when the arresting constable's home station is a non-designated station or where the constable cannot get into a designated station because he is single-handed, cannot get help and cannot count on getting him there without injury. Whatever the circumstances, if he is not going to be released within six hours he has to be transferred to a designated police station where a custody officer will at once become responsible for him. For minor offences, very often, however, it will be simply a matter of unlocking the station, charging the person immediately or asking a few questions to establish, for instance, the degree of criminal intent in order to decide whether or not to prefer a charge. It is with some confidence that I ask your Lordships to agree to the changes I have so far described. Noble Lords opposite, in particular, have always been most critical of us when we have departed from the letter of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. This represents a return to that letter.

Amendment No. 102, which is intended to replace Clause 34, is therefore the most important of this group of amendments. The first five subsections provide for the appointment of at least one custody officer who must be of the rank of sergeant, at least, for each designated police station. The important features of these subsections, which are different from Clause 34, are that custody officers are to be specifically appointed as such and that those so appointed must be of at least sergeant rank. Subsection (4) does, however, permit other officers, who will sometimes be of a rank lower than sergeant, to perform the functions of a custody officer if he is not readily available. Subsection (5) retains in designated stations the strict division of investigative and custodial responsibilities at present prescribed generally in Clause 34(3). We would wish that separation to be preserved as far as possible, even during the brief sojourn of a detained person in a non-designated station. This, as the Royal Commission pointed out, can pose a problem. Subsections (6) to (9) address that problem.

Subsection (6) defines who is to perform the functions of the custody officer if an arrested person is taken to a non-designated station. If possible, it will be an officer not involved with the investigation; but if it is not, or if both officers were involved in the arrest, the distinction between custodial and investigative responsibilities may be suspended. This obviously carries risks. That is why the new subsections (8) and (9) provide new safeguards. Subsection (7) is a drafting convenience. Subsections (8) and (9) provide safeguards which apply when the officer who has taken an arrested person to a non-designated station has to perform the function of a custody officer. They require him to get in touch as soon as practicable with an officer who is of at least the rank of inspector and who is attached to a designated police station, and to inform him that it will be necessary for that constable to perform the functions of a custody officer. In practice, this will be done by telephone or radio. Your Lordships will note that the inspector must be informed before any action is taken to ensure that the senior officer is aware that a suspect is being detained at a non-designated station, and he can, if necessary, order the prisoner to be brought to the designated station, or send other officers to help. The requirement about immediate reporting goes beyond the safeguards recommended by the Royal Commission.

The institution of the custody officer is a major development in the ethos of policing. It is vital that the scheme is workable and practicable. As I have explained, Clause 34, as drafted, would cause difficulties. It would lead in a minority of cases to considerable inconvenience to the arrested person and to the depletion of local police cover. These amendments will meet this problem and at the same time introduce extra safeguards to counterbalance the increased discretion given to the police. The new scheme follows recommendations made by the Royal Commission, and I recommend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Lord Mishcon

I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister would have some sympathy with me if I said that the list of groupings has only just arrived on our Bench. If, therefore, we err at any time, I hope the noble Lord will be kind enough to put us right, and to do it with his usual jovial manner and not in anger.

It is my hope that we can abbreviate these long proceedings by everybody behaving sensibly, as we always do: and if we find that an amendment can be taken conveniently, even if it is outside a grouping, then we will speak to it so that there will be one debate and not many debates. In that context, I refer immediately to Amendment No. 95B, which is an amendment to Page 25, line 12, and states as follows: Where there is delay as provided in subsection (5) above"— and perhaps I may pause and remind the Committee of what subsection (5) says. It states: Nothing in subsection (1) above shall prevent a constable delaying taking a person who has been arrested to a police station if the presence of that person elsewhere is necessary in order to carry out such investigations as it is reasonable to carry out immediately". Amendment 95B goes on to say: then the relevant time for the purposes of section 39 below shall be the time of the person's arrest". In regard to Section 39., may I remind your Lordships that it deals with the question of the computation of the various times of detention which have to be authorised, first, by the police and, secondly, by the courts.

I am bringing that discussion in now because in general terms we on these Benches have no objection whatsoever to this amendment—provided it is clearly understood where and when the time starts for the computation I have just mentioned in regard to detention. Can the Minister concede now that Amendment No. 95B is one that he finds acceptable; namely, that where there is that delay in subsection (5)—and I repeat, that is only the delay necessary, in order to carry out such investigations as it is reasonable to carry out immediately"— then it will be agreed that time begins to run, since the police are being assisted in this connection, from the actual time of the arrest? Can he concede that it will not be from the time of the arrival at the police station—which may of course be long-delayed not only because of such investigations but also by virtue of a removal from one police station which is not a designated police station to a designated police station? If the Minister would clarify that matter it would save an awful lot of debate on Amendment No. 92 and would also save the Committee a debate on my later amendment. Therefore, I thought it only sensible to bring the discussion in now. If it helps the noble Lord the Minister for me to keep on talking then I can do so, even if it irritates your Lordships.

Lord Elton

I believe that I can save the noble Lord the embarrassment of irritation by sharing and sympathising with him over his difficulty regarding the groupings. We have a difficulty with the volume of amendments. I do see the relevance of what the noble Lord was saying. He was not addressing himself to this specific rubric of Amendment No. 95B but to the principle of when the detention clock starts. I can certainly say that we want to have a specific time for the detention clock to start and for that time to be clearly marked.

If I was to start debating whether that time should be the time of arrest or the time when the suspect's foot first crosses the threshold of a police station. I should be taking your Lordships away from the principal concept of the amendment, which is the concept of the custody officer being appointed as a specific position to be held by somebody of sergeant's rank and the equally important issue of there being a difference between those stations which can properly be the base of operations of a custody officer and those which could only so become at immense inconvenience not only to the police but also to suspected persons. I cannot therefore give the noble Lord the assurance that he wants in respect of the clock starting at point of arrest; but I should like to give my reasons—or for my noble friend to do so—when we reach that subject.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

It is obvious that I am not abbreviating the proceedings as I hoped to do, and therefore I will not elongate them by protesting at the way in which the mind of the noble Lord the Minister is working in this respect. But can he at least tell the Committee, from when the clock begins to tick, if there is a taking of the accused to a police station which is not a designated police station from which he must be removed to a designated police station within six hours—then are six hours added to the time? Does the clock begin to tick from the time of the arrest or from the time of the arrival at the police station?

Lord Elton

As I understand it, the clock begins to tick upon arrival at the non-designated police station. The only provision I recall in the Bill for the pushing back of the hands of the clock, as it were, is where people are arrested a long way from home and have to he transferred from one police force to another and are not questioned under the first.

Lord Plant

I am somewhat bewildered at the moment. There are a number of amendments down to these two clauses. I am not clear whether we are now taking Clauses 29 and 34. Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister can help me.

Lord Elton

The amendments to which I spoke were Amendment No. 92 (which is the substantive amendment), Amendments Nos. 101 and 102, Clause 34 stand part, and Amendment No. 174. I think that I can help the noble Lord by saying that his Amendments Nos. 103 and 104 strike at the amendments that I have put on the Marshalled List and therefore this would be a very suitable time for him to say why he prefers his scheme to mine.

Lord Plant

I thank the Minister for that help. I also have down an amendment to Clause 29, but I will deal now with the subject which the Minister has just raised; that is, my Amendments Nos. 103 and 104 as amendments to Amendment No. 102.

As amendments to Amendment No. 102: Amendment No. 103: Subsection (4), at end insert ("but that officer must be qualified for promotion to the rank of sergeant and acting as a sergeant under Police Regulatons."). Amendment No. 104: Subsection (5), at end insert ("The custody officer shall be so employed and shall have no other duties and responsibilities so long as detained persons are at the station, save in any dire emergency."). In addition to the Bill, codes of practice will place an enormous burden on the custody officer, who is bound by the constant threat of disciplinary proceedings where he is said to have made omissions arising from the operation of the new procedures. There may be occasions arising from the arrest and detention of just one person where no fewer than 50 entries are required on the custody record. The Police Federation and the other organisations of the police are not against the keeping of the records, and they are firmly of the opinion that when people are arrested and searched they should have a record from the police authority. But how anyone could contemplate that the task of making the various entries can be incidental to an officer's other responsibilities baffles the police. The Royal Commission, in Paragraph 3.112 recognised the scope of this problem by stating that where it is warranted, there should be an officer whose sole responsiblity should be for receiving, booking in, supervising and charging suspects". If Parliament requires that these procedures are carried out, the police service must have the resources to do that task correctly. This means manpower, premises and finance. The subsections which need attention are those which state that each chief police officer shall designate certain police stations in his area for the reception and detention of arrested persons and that all persons arrested shall be taken to such stations.

That point has already been conceded by the noble Lord: but in the country areas, admittedly, it may not be practicable to take such persons to a designated station. At each station there shall be a police officer of the rank of sergeant, designated as custody officer, to perform the function directed by this Act to be performed by a custody officer for each period of police duty performed at that station. The Government have to a large extent admitted or agreed in their amendment that the custody officer should be of the rank of sergeant, but the police want some clarification on this point. The police say that no officer below the rank of sergeant shall be employed as custody officer unless qualified for promotion to that rank and acting as a sergeant under Police Regulations.

If we just accept the Minister's amendment one could have a probationer acting as a custody officer. I think that that would be wrong. In this important new area, I believe we ought to say to the Government that no custody officer shall be below the rank of sergeant, and that where no sergeant is available it should be a man who has qualified for promotion to sergeant under the Police Regulations. That would prevent a probationary officer doing this job.

The Minister says that we may have a station where there is no one qualified for promotion to sergeant. I would doubt that very much. In any case there would be senior officers in that police station who could act as custody officer until a man of sergeant's rank, or a man qualified to be sergeant, is in attendance. In addition, none of the functions of a custody officer in relation to a person who has been arrested for an offence shall be performed by an officer who is involved in the investigation of that offence at the time when the function falls to be performed.

I think that these amendments are justified. Such a system has obtained since 1967, when designated stations were set up to deal with "breathalyser procedures"—now "Lion Intoximeter" procedures. The codes of practice which I have already mentioned are obviously intended to modernise and improve the lot of a detained person. Not every station, more especially in the rural areas, possesses the staff or facilities to deal with prisoners in the ways outlined. It therefore seems logical to designate certain stations as "custody stations" to make the best use of resources. Many chief officers have already planned such designations.

The proposals already set out in another place recognise this, but seek to utilise lower ranks on occasions. In our view, this is grossly irresponsible on the part of the legislators. As I have said, the duties plus the responsibilities of the custody officer dictate that the position must be allied to a supervisory capacity. If there are within current police establishments not enough sergeants to carry out the tasks to be given by the legislation, the answer lies not within the police service but somewhere else.

We have to recognise the actual operational police situation where, due to sickness, leave, training and other commitments, a constable may be performing temporary duty as a sergeant. It is equally apparent that where no prisoners are at a station it would be most wasteful of resources for a police sergeant to be sitting twiddling his thumbs, and he must and should be employed usefully on other duties. However, the importance which legislation is to place on the care and custody of detained persons demands that, while that is necessary, the custody officer should have no other constraints save in the most dire emergency.

I think these are very important issues for the police service. More than that, they are important for the public, and I think that the Government should give further consideration to the points that I have brought out in relation to the amendment which has now been brought forward by the noble Lord. Perhaps if he replies I would then reserve what I have to say on Clause 29 until after that reply.

Lord Elton

Perhaps I can help the noble Lord, Lord Plant, further by pointing out that his Amendments No. 107 and 108 appear to be directed to achieve the same ends as his Amendments Nos. 103 and 104 to the amendment on the Order Paper, so we can expedite matters by taking all these issues on board at once. They are in fact the same issues.

I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Plant and the advice that he gets. I accept the importance of the issues, but I should like to look first at his second amendment, which assumes that a custody officer cannot be expected to perform any other duties except in an emergency. In certain police stations it will indeed be necessary for the post of custody officer to be a full-time post. It is already the case that in the main police stations in cities and large towns there is an officer of sergeant rank employed pretty much, if not wholly, full time in supervising the detention in police custody of suspects.

The Bill will formalise and extend those responsibilities but in other cases it will continue to be quite possible, as it is now, for an officer to combine them with more general administrative and supervisory duties. In some stations it is wholly reasonable to expect a sergeant to be the appointed custody officer for the station but also to go out of the station to assist patrol officers as necessary. This does not need to involve an emergency, whether dire or not. It may simply be a matter of routine.

In contrast, this amendment would, by interfering with the freedom of chief police officers to deploy manpower to the most effective and efficient extent, either involve a very large and wasteful increase in the establishment of police forces, the additional numbers comprising sergeants acting as full-time custody officers where there were not enough people in custody to justify a full-time post; or it would force the chief officer to designate relatively few police stations, and vastly increase the distance people would have to go to be charged or questioned.

I understand the noble Lord's concern that officers shall not be asked to take on more onerous duties than can be reasonably expected of them, especially bearing in mind the responsibility involved and the disciplinary sanctions which attach to the codes of practice. On a number of occasions we have given an undertaking to the police service that we should be willing to consider applications for increases in establishment on their individual merits in cases where clear difficulties arose in practice. But we are not at all persuaded that any blanket increase in establishment is necessary.

To a large extent the duties of the custody officer represent a formalisation of current good practice; and a study of the requirements to record certain actions and events which are imposed by the Bill, and of the draft codes, reveals few which are not already part of good practice. We have now revised the codes of practice and put them into a form which will be easier to use, and there is to be a national form of custody record which will simplify the sometimes complex recording procedures which are now in effect in different forces. I cannot advise the Committee to accept the second amendment.

The first amendment is intended to debar a police officer of constable rank from acting as a custody officer unless he was qualified for promotion to sergeant and acting as such under the Police Regulations. We realise that this would be an inflexible requirement and would cause practical difficulties for the police.

It is right, and we accept it, that the custody officer at a designated station should he a sergeant, and the new clause ensures that this is so. But account has to be taken of the case where the custody officer is unavoidably absent. As I have already explained, he may be called out to deal with an incident or to assist the patrol officers under his supervision. In those circumstances, a constable may have to act as custody officer when the sergeant is away from the station. There can be no guarantee that that constable will be qualified by examination for sergeant rank. If no such qualified sergeant were available, the effect of the noble Lord's amendment would be to require the detachment of an officer to escort the arrested person to another designated station, which might well be some distance away, because he could not be kept without a custody officer. The waste of police resources in this way would be substantial and so would the inconvenience to the arrested person himself.

It is important to remember that there are some very experienced officers who, sometimes at their own wish, remain constables throughout their careers, but may well be qualified by that experience and by their personal qualities to stand in for the custody officer for a short period as needed, even though they have not passed the sergeant's examination.

I have to say to the noble Lord that his amendment would make the custody officer scheme unnecessarily and unacceptably rigid and expensive and would cause operational difficulties for the police. I hope that when he reads what I have said in tomorrow's Hansard he will, on reflection, see that we are well seized of the anxieties of the people with whom he has discussed this, and I hope that what I have said will suffice to reassure them.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Plant

I am somewhat satisfied with what the Minister has said. I want to make this part of the Bill as efficient as possible. I do not wish to see chief police officers using probationers on this type of work. I hope that the Government will look at this problem. I do not want unnecessarily to increase the sergeants' complement hut I do want to urge on—

Lord Elton

Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to say, to expedite matters, that the question of a probationer constable seems to be slightly different. I will undertake to look at that although, of course. I cannot say what I shall come back with. The noble Lord wanted to exclude probationers as opposed to constables as a complete rank. That is a different matter which I shall look at.

Lord Plant

I am grateful for that intervention. I will very carefully read what the noble Lord the Minister said. I am sure that this is an issue which will be discussed on the police negotiating board or the advisory board, because I do not believe that the police service will be satisfied with some of the difficulties that certainly will arise with the police stations that are designated.

Lord Mishcon

I have one quick comment only to make, which I am sure the noble Lord the Minister has appreciated. The whole question of the custody officer depends, if it is to be effective, upon his independence and, if I may put this with all respect, his intelligence. One cannot provide for that in an Act of Parliament. However, one hopes that the Home Office will make it abundantly clear that it expects custody officers not only to be of the rank of sergeant but to be independent in the decisions and recommendations they make as custody officers, and, furthermore, that it is incumbent upon the police force to see that a person of some considerable intelligence is given this very responsible position. I repeat, one cannot provide for this in an Act of Parliament but the Committee may well be assured, in allowing this amendment to go forward, to a rather greater degree if the noble Lord the Minister would indicate that it is the intention of the Home Office to make this abundantly clear to the police forces.

Lord Elton

I have to say two things. First, the Home Office is always interested in good practice and it is clear that it is our intention that the role of the custody officer should be exercised by someone of independent mind and intelligence. Secondly, on the face of the Bill the requirements made on the custody officer make it very difficult for him to be overborne. If at any stage someone senior to him takes a decision which he feels needs to be called into question or which is contrary to what, in his judgment, he believes appropriate, he is required to take that concern to a person who is senior in rank to that senior person; so we are very much aware of the noble Lord's concern.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs moved Amendment No. 92A: Page 24, line 36, at end insert— ("() Where the person to be arrested is a child or young person, a constable may not arrest him at school or other educational establishment or institution other than in exceptional circumstances where the constable reasonably believes that the arrest will be seriously obstructed if it is not executed at the school or other educational establishment or institution.").

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this amendment is very clear: namely, to provide a greater safeguard than exists within the code of practice against police constables entering schools to interrogate or arrest children or young people. I cannot imagine there being many circumstances which make it essential for the police to invade the sanctity of a school to pursue young offenders. Indeed, our amendment has provided for any such exceptional circumstances where a young person is out of the control of the school authorities and the teachers—for instance, where he has run amok, become violent or is in possession of a knife or a weapon—which makes it impossible for the school itself to deal with the crisis.

However, we want to ensure that the police do not use the school premises just for convenience in pursuing a young suspect simply because they know he is at the school and, therefore, it is very much simpler to carry out their duties there. I can think of no factor which would be more disturbing for the staff and pupils of a school than the intrusion of a police constable. Indeed, there has been growing concern among education authorities that schools are being increasingly used for crime investigation. Surely, again, it must be agreed that teachers are already finding it difficult in some schools in some inner city areas and in some deprived areas to establish a relationship of trust and confidentiality with their pupils. Therefore, does it not seem of the utmost importance that that already rather fragile relationship between teachers and children in some schools should not be exacerbated by the intrusion of police into the schools.

Finally, not only do we feel that this safeguard is of such great importance to the interests of pupils, young people, teachers and parents that it should be taken from the code of practice and brought into the Bill itself, but we also feel that our amendment provides a greater safeguard since the code only refers to the presence of a head teacher as necessary for the investigation of a child. The presence of parents is not mentioned. The child or young person would thus be confronted by two figures of authority and would find the experience that much more intimidating. Therefore, in the interests of the school, the children and teachers we believe this is an important amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Gaitskell

I think this is a very important amendment and I hope the Minister will agree. That is all I wish to say about it. It would be terrible if anyone voted against it.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

What exactly is "exceptional"? Is the pushing of drugs by children in a school "exceptional" or not "exceptional"? I am very worried that it may not be the exception now.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My view is that "exceptional" is what the school feels it cannot deal with. I should have thought that a school would like to deal with all crises occurring among its children in order to keep that relationship of trust and confidentiality between them and their pupils. I would say that a decision about drugs would be up to the school authorities themselves.

Baroness Trumpington

I am sure we are all very sympathetic to the idea underlying this amendment. As the noble Baroness pointed out, the administrative directions to the police appended to the Judges' Rules make it clear that a juvenile should not be arrested at school if this can possibly be avoided. There has been no change of policy in that regard. The point is now covered in the code of practice on detention. I refer your Lordships to page 23 of the code where paragraph 13(c) states: Officers are reminded that a juvenile should not be arrested at school unless this is unavoidable. In this case the head teacher or his nominee must be informed". Having said that, your Lordships will wish to know why we put this in the code and not the Bill. We are talking here essentially about a question of operational judgment. I think it would be going too far to provide that the effects of an error of judgment would be to render the arrest unlawful and, hence, resistance to the officer lawful. The fact that the amendment clearly will not do as it stands shows that it would be very difficult to regulate this matter in statutory form. It will not do because there may well he circumstances in which there is no particular reason to believe that it will be difficult to arrest a juvenile at home but in which there is a pressing need to arrest him at once—which brings in the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton.

Such a situation might conceivably arise where serious assaults were in progress and the police were called. I remind the Committee of a recent incident in which schoolchildren, on their way to attack another school, were found to have a frightening armoury of weapons. Let us suppose that they had reached that school: under the terms of the amendment, it might not have been possible for the police lawfully to arrest them. We do not want, in effect, to deter the police from responding to appeals for help from the school authorities because of fear about their legal powers. It seems to me pre-eminently a question that can be dealt with as a matter of guidance to the police, rather than as a matter of law. That is achieved by the passage that I have quoted from the codes. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

This touches a matter of grave importance involving children and their relationship to schools and school staff. Perhaps we may further consider the matter, in view of its great importance. Sometimes a question of principle which is of fundamental importance must take precedence over even operational requirements. We shall think again about the proposal, and, if my noble friend agrees, in the meantime I shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.41 p.m.

Lord Plant moved Amendment No. 93: Page 24, line 37, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: At first reading this clause seems to be reasonable. However, your Lordships may be concerned about many inherent dangers that may arise from Clause 29(3). That subsection authorises a constable to release an arrested person after arrest, before he reaches the police station.

Baroness Trumpington

In the list of amendments that are to be taken together it states that the noble Lord w ill be speaking to Amendments Nos. 93, 94 and 95 together. I hope that he agrees.

Lord Plant

Yes, with this amendment I am speaking also to Amendments Nos. 94 and 95. Amendment No. 94: Page 25, line 1, leave out subsection (3). Amendment No. 95: Page 25, line 3, leave out subsection (4). Subsection (3) authorises a constable to release a person after arrest before he reaches the police station. I am strongly of the view that once a person has been arrested, the grounds for that arrest need to be inquired into by a supervisory police officer. The only satisfactory way for that to be done is by an examination of the facts by the custody officer at a police station, as specified in Clause 34, which is to be amended. If the arrest is considered by the custody officer to have been unlawful or ill-advised, an apology can be made to the person concerned there and then by the custody officer.

Let me quote an example of our anxiety about this clause. A suspect may be arrested by a police officer who releases his prisoner without taking him to a police station. Some days later the man who was arrested may complain to the police that he was assaulted by the officer while he was in his custody. There may be no corroboration of the allegation because of the passage of time. That would leave the police officer and the complainant in a most unsatisfactory position.

We appreciate that the procedure of taking every arrested person to a police station as soon as practicable after arrest may in some cases add to the inconvenience of a person who is going to be released from custody, but we believe that that should be done in all cases. It is necessary for the protection of the police and the public alike. It is hard to understand why the Bill, after prescribing so many rigid safeguards in relatively minor matters, should appear to ignore that elementary safeguard in the most important of all police functions—the power of arrest.

When those arguments were considered in another place mention was also made of the possibility of corruption. It was sought to cover that and many other possibilities by requiring a note to be made by the arresting officer. As I have already said, the police organisations are anxious that in every case there should be a note made by the arresting officer, or someone else, at a police station. That is a naïve view in relation to corruption. If an officer realises that he has made a monumental error, or if he has accepted a bribe, he is hardly likely to record the fact.

I seek to protect the integrity of the police service and the confidence of the public in that service. Everybody should be aware that, if a constable exercises his power of arrest, that fact is inquired into as soon as possible at a police station. I therefore think that we should delete subsections (2), (3) and (4), which will be slightly amended by the noble Lord's amendment.

Baroness Trumpington

Subsections (2) to (4) require an officer who makes an arrest, but who then becomes satisfied that the arrested person is in fact innocent of any crime, to release him at once. This is by way of an exception to the general rule in subsection (1) that on arrest a person must be taken to a police station as soon as practicable.

We are well aware that there is concern among the police that the provisions of subsections (2) to (4) may lead to the possibility of corrupt practices, or at any rate allegations of corruption. We sympathise with those concerns: but we must balance this small risk—and I believe that it is small—against the undoubted interference with the liberty of the innocent citizen which would arise if the subsections were deleted, as the noble Lord, Lord Plant, has proposed.

Cases are bound to occur from time to time in which an officer makes an arrest quite properly on the basis of the information then before him, but it quickly becomes apparent—perhaps as a result of a radio message—that the person must be innocent. It could clearly cause considerable additional inconvenience to an innocent person if he were required to be taken to a police station before being released, and it might harm relations between the police and the community in general and that person's willingness to assist the police again in particular. We take the view that it would be wrong to oblige a police officer who had arrested someone to take him to the station before he could be released, no matter how certain was the officer that he had the wrong man, or how distant was the station.

While it would be wrong wholly to dismiss the noble Lord's worry about corruption, I must point out to your Lordships' Committee that in a number of police forces officers are already authorised to release an arrested person on their own authority, without having to bring him before the station sergeant. We are not aware of any problems that have arisen in practice, and we believe that the recording requirements set out in subsections (3) and (4) will minimise such risk as exists. Not only are we not aware of problems which have arisen in practice as a result of the operation of subsection (2) in certain forces; we are aware of problems which have arisen in other forces. The Police Complaints Board has had to consider a number of complaints from wholly innocent members of the public who very much resented having to go to the police station, and one can readily imagine the unnecessary embarrassment that they would feel.

I must point out to the noble Lord that on, I think, 2nd March of this year there was an article in the Police Review which cited certain examples rather based on what I have just been talking about. It said that it hoped the clause that we are talking about survives. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I find the Minister's reply to the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Plant, in support of the amendment a little unconvincing. I wonder whether she could elaborate on the circumstances in which it would be thought desirable for an officer who had exercised in the street this, his most important function, to change his mind and admit his mistake. What is the situation, too, in the event of the arrest being wrongful, which would give the arrested citizen a right to pursue an action for damages? Would this not leave a very unsatisfactory situation so far as any future action was concerned? Is the noble Lord, Lord Plant, not indeed right in saying that his amendments would protect the interests of both the police and the public?

Baroness Trumpington

In answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, if he reads Hansard I think he will see that in my original answer I have already answered the first point he made. In answer to his second point, I think I would he right in saying that the person concerned could bring a complaint against the officer.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Surely there is one circumstance, at least, which will occur to the Committee, in which the subsection is necessary. When a notorious crime is committed or an escape takes place, a description of the person sought is broadcast. It is always possible that a police officer may he mistaken in identification and arrest someone in the belief that he is the fugitive. If five minutes later, the police officer hears on his radio that the person concerned has been apprehended, he will obviously realise at once that he has made a mistake and he ought therefore immediately to release the person whom he has arrested. In those circumstances, to insist that the person arrested be dragged to a police station, perhaps some distance away, and then solemnly taken before a senior officer, would surely not only waste everybody's time, but could be derogatory to the person concerned. That person will have been seen to be under arrest for a longer period; he will have been seen, possibly by acquaintances, being taken into a police station, with all the embarrassing awkwardness that that causes. In those circumstances to insist that because an arrest has been made the whole procedure must be gone though, seems grossly unfair to the arrested person and a waste of everybody else's time. I hope my noble friend will resist the amendment.

Lord Mishcon

If I may say so, I agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has said. I rise only to try to delete one subsection, but for a very different reason. I do so in the lamentable absence of the noble Lord. Lord Renton, who might—I have no authority to say that he would—have raised the same point. We are always anxious to economise in language in our statutes and to be as concise as possible. I ask the Committee to look at subsections (3) and (4), with which we are dealing. I cannot for the life of me see any reason why, instead of two subsections, there should not be one, which would read: A constable who releases a person under subsection (2) above shall record the fact that he has done so", and which would then go on, and shall make such record as soon as is practicable". There could then be added, if wished, the words, "after the release". To have two subsections for a matter of this kind is not very good draftsmanship.

Baroness Trumpington

I take the point. We shall study it in depth.

Lord Plant

Clearly, I am on a sticky wicket, and so I shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Trumpington

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

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