HL Deb 20 May 1985 vol 464 cc81-2

28 Schedule 1, page 29, line 36, at end insert—

("Contempt of Court Act 1981 (c. 49)

3A. In paragraph 7 of Schedule 1 to the Contempt of Court Act 1981 (meaning of "discontinuance" in relation to criminal proceedings), the following sub-paragraph shall be inserted after sub-paragraph (a)— (aa) in England and Wales, if they are discontinued by virtue of section 23 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985;".

3B. After paragraph 9 of Schedule 1 to that Act there shall be inserted the following paragraph— 9A. Where proceedings in England and Wales have been discontinued by virtue of section 23 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, but notice is given by the accused under subsection (6) of that section to the effect that he wants the proceedings to continue, they become active again with the giving of that notice.".").

As your Lordships will know, Clause 23 of the Bill was introduced in this House at Report stage. It was always likely that a number of tidying up amendments would be required at some subsequent stage. That is the purpose of these amendments. Perhaps it may be helpful if I outline their collective effect.

First, as the clause left your Lordships' House it was not precisely clear as to what actually happens when the Director issues his notice of discontinuance. It seems to us that for a number of reasons proceedings should be discontinued with immediate effect from the issue by the Director of his notice. If discontinuance was not effective from the issue of his notice, then the provisions of Clause 22 might continue to apply. If the relevant time limit ran out before the expiry of the period within which the case would come to court following the issue by the defendant of his counter notice, the effect would be to deprive the defendant of his opportunity to have the matter dealt with in court.

Secondly, if proceedings were not discontinued upon issue of the Director's notice, those cases listed for hearing during the period from the issue of the Director's notice to the expiry of the period within which the defendant might issue his counter notice would have to come to court. That would run counter to the underlying purpose of the clause, which is to avoid unnecessary court appearances. It would surely not be welcome to the majority of defendants, who will simply be relieved to have cases dropped. The prescribed period within which the defendant might issue his counter notice is to be established by rules made under Section 144 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980. There will of course be consultation in the normal way on what the period should be before the rules are made. Proceeding in this way will give flexibility to ensure that the period set is fair to the defendant and will work in practice.

7.30 p.m.

The new subsection (3A) is aimed at a different aspect of the discontinuance scheme. It is designed to deal with those very rare cases where the police have charged someone and the new service has the conduct of the case but the charge sheet has not been presented to the court, and therefore it cannot be said that any information has been laid. In these circumstances the court will not be seized of the case and consequently the provisions of Clause 23, crucial to which is the idea that the court should be informed when cases within its purview are dropped, are not quite appropriate. To take account of this, an additional provision is needed to avoid wasting the time of the courts, the defendants and the prosecutors in coming to court unnecessarily.

Finally, the amendment to Schedule 1 ensures that the provisions of Clause 23 of this Bill sit properly with those of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 on the "strict liability rule" for contempt of court. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House do agree with the Commons in the said amendments.—(Lord Glenarthur.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.