HL Deb 08 July 2003 vol 651 cc218-9

8.10 p.m.

Lord Bach rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 28th April be approved [19th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the draft order will be made under the Armed Forces Act 2001, which requires that it will follow the affirmative procedure, needing approval by both Houses. The draft was approved in another place on 2nd July.

Part 2 of the 2001 Act provides a statutory regime for powers of entry, search and seizure in connection with the investigations of offences under the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957. It does not affect commanding officers' powers to authorise searches within their units for purposes other than the investigation of offences, or to search service premises that are not living accommodation. That is spelt out in Section 16 of the Act.

By and large, Part 2 reflects the procedures that have to be followed by the civil police under the Police: and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Thus, the usual procedure for entering and searching premises will be by warrant granted by a judicial officer under Section 5 of the Act.

However, Part 2 is also designed to cater for the realities of service life. It is recognised that it will not always be practicable in the Armed Forces to obtain a warrant in advance of an entry and search of premises. Section 7 of the Act therefore provides commanding officers with a limited power to authorise a search without a warrant of the living accommodation of persons under their command.

Following a search under Section 7, in which property has been seized and retained, Section 8 provides that the commanding officer must request a judicial officer to undertake a review of the search and of the seizure and retention of the property. That is to provide appropriate retrospective safeguards in the absence of a warrant. Section 8 also enables the Secretary of State to make orders prescribing the powers and duties of judicial officers in respect of these reviews. This draft order sets out those powers and duties, particularly the criteria for decisions on the retention or return of property that has been seized. The judicial officer shall adopt such procedures at the review as he sees fit, although he shall take into account representations made by certain people, including the officer who authorised the search and the occupier of the premises that were searched.

The draft order details the circumstances when seized property should be returned. Special provision is made for when the judicial officer is satisfied that it would be in the interests of justice to permit the retention of property. The legal services in the Armed Forces are content with this section of the Bill. They were obviously consulted when the Bill went through the House and of course they have been consulted on this draft order.

Part 2 of the 2001 Act responds to the need for the services to remove uncertainty and to have a clear structure and definition for their powers of search and the seizure of property. It is planned that it will be commenced in its entirety on 30th September this year. The provisions of this order have to be in place before Part 2 as a whole can take effect. I commend the draft order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 28th April be approved [19th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Bach.)

Lord Vivian

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I have nothing further to add to my original statement.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.37 p.m.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.14 p.m. to 8.37 p.m.]