HC Deb 18 June 1981 vol 6 cc401-2W
Mr. Lawrence

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will seek to amend the present law on the production of prisoners at remand hearings; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Whitelaw

The present law gives an unconvicted defendant remanded in custody the safeguard of a regular appearance before the magistrates' court, and provides a weekly occasion for the court to consider bail and to observe progress of the case towards trial. However, I consider that the mandatory production of prisoners as frequently as the present law requires places an unnecessarily heavy burden on the prison service and the police. Section 2 of the Imprisonment (Temporary Provisions) Act 1980 preserved the cycle of remand hearings but allowed remands to take place in the defendant's absence. I believe that this provision generally worked well when the Act was brought into force, and that this experience shows how the demands of the present arrangements could be eased without damaging the defendant's interests. I therefore intend to bring legislative proposals on this matter before the House at an early opportunity.

The essence of my proposals would be to enable remand hearings in magistrates' courts to take place in the defendant's absence provided that the court was satisfied that the defendant consented to this course and that he was legally represented—though the legal representative would not necessarily need to be present at every remand hearing. If a court were to remand a defendant in his absence when these criteria were not met, he would become entitled to an expedited appearance before the court. In addition, the court itself should have power to direct production at any remand hearing.

These proposals are directed at the defendant's presence, and would not disturb the existing eight day remand cycle. Given the importance of the decisions taken at the first remand hearings, I shall propose that the hearing at the end of the first period of remand should be in the defendant's presence and that the option of not attending court should be available only for later hearings. It is for consideration, however, whether the option should be available for all subsequent remands or whether the defendant's appearance should be required periodically, for example at monthly intervals.

I should particularly welcome views on this point, and would be glad to receive comments on any other aspect of these proposals.