§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 1:
After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—
§ POWER TO ISSUE WARRANT FOR ARREST OF ACCUSED AFTER CONVICTION
WHERE DISQUALIFICATION PROPOSED
§ (".—(1) In subsection (1) of section 13 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 (non-appearance of accused: issue of warrant) the words "if the information has been substantiated on oath" are hereby repealed.
§ (2) For subsection (3) of that section there is substituted—
§ "(3) A warrant for the arrest of any person who has attained the age of 18 shall not be issued under this section unless—
- (a) the information has been substantiated on oath and the offence to which the warrant relates is punishable with imprisonment, or
- (b) the court, having convicted the accused, proposes to impose a disqualification on him.
§ (3A) A warrant for the arrest of any person who has not attained the age of 18 shall not be issued under this section unless—
- (a) the information has been substantiated on oath, or
- (b) the court, having convicted the accused, proposes to impose a disqualification on him." ").
The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment follows a suggestion made during the Recess by several agencies in the criminal justice system to eliminate a further problem which arises frequently for magistrates' courts dealing with summary motoring offences. Although the courts may disqualify a defendant from driving in his absence following certain procedural steps, the Bench may wish to compel the defendant to attend for disqualification. The power for that is contained in Section 13 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980. It provides that:
The court may",
and I emphasise the following words,
if the information has been substantiated on oath, issue a warrant for his arrest".
§ In cases where the defendant has been convicted following sworn oral evidence from witnesses, the information will have been substantiated on oath, so a warrant can be issued if wanted. But in practice these cases are increasingly decided on the basis of written statements under Section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967. These are served on the defendant prior to trial. They are mostly admissible to the same extent as oral evidence. But obviously they do not satisfy the Section 13 requirement for the information to be substantiated on oath.
§ Courts must at present ensure the attendance of a police officer to substantiate the information either singly or in batches. That wastes police and court time. It is often meaningless because the officer in court will very probably have no personal knowledge of the facts behind the information. Similar difficulties arise where the defendant has pleaded guilty in person on a previous occasion and was convicted without consideration of the evidence, or where the court has accepted a written guilty plea under Section 12 of the Magistrates' Courts Act.
§ This amendment itself amends Section 13 of the Act so that, in the case of a convicted person, the court can issue a warrant for a disqualification hearing without the need to substantiate the information on oath. It does not affect the existing clauses of the Bill, but relates to the same procedural area which these address. The Justices' Clerks' Society and Magistrates' Association favour this change. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mishcon
I do not intend to oppose this amendment, the reasons for it having been given so lucidly by my noble and learned friend to the Committee and in a letter which he very courteously sent to me on the subject. I have merely one caveat which is inspired by what the Automobile Association said to me. At present a procedural step has to be taken before a warrant is issued. As the noble and learned Lord explained, once information has been rendered it must be sworn to in court by a police officer. We are changing that situation by way of this amendment so that it will be processed by an administrative machine. We all know that computers can do extraordinary things. It is not very pleasant to receive a warrant at one's home. Moreover, if it happens to be a mistake it is a very grievous suffering that the recipient of that warrant unnecessarily sustains.
I am authorised by the Automobile Association to confirm that that is its view. While the association does not oppose the amendment or the spirit of it—nor indeed do I—it feels that we ought to keep a careful watch on the situation. As the process before such a warrant is issued will now become merely an administrative matter, we should ensure that mistakes do not occur. If they do, we ought to be ready and able to do something about the situation.
§ The Lord Chancellor
I appreciate what the noble Lord has said and indeed his reasons. I certainly would be discomforted if I were to be the victim of an administrative mishap of the kind that he outlined. However, as the noble Lord acknowledged, we must 399 remember that we are removing a procedure of so-called "substantiation" on oath by officers who are very often not in a position to substantiate. I am grateful to the noble Lord for accepting the principle of the amendment. I certainly recognise his reservations about administration. I can assure the noble Lord that my department will certainly attend to how these new arrangements work in practice, should they find favour with Members of the Committee.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to.
§ In the Title:
The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 2:
Line 1, leave out ("section 12") insert ("sections 12 and 13").
§ The noble Lord and learned Lord said: This amendment is consequential upon Amendment No. 1. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.