HC Deb 15 November 1982 vol 32 cc16-7W
Mr. Edward Gardner

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how he intends to take forward the recommendations of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure on the tape recording of police interviews with suspects.

Mr. Whitelaw

The Royal Commission recommended the gradual introduction of tape recording, to be used in indictable cases for the making and reading back of the summary of the interview or of a written statement. During the debate on the Royal Commission's report on 20 November 1981 I accepted the principle of tape recording, while making it clear that problems of a practical nature and of resources had to be overcome.

To enable a better assessment of these difficulties to be made I now intend that field trails should be established in about six areas of police divisional size. These trials will begin in the financial year 1983–84 and last for at least two years. To this end a steering committee under Home Office chairmanship will be established. It will consist of representatives of Government departments, and in addition outside bodies which represent those with an interest in the working of the trials will be invited to serve on it. The steering committee will have the following terms of reference: To devise and oversee field trials for the tape recording of police interviews with suspects; to assess the effects on practice and procedure in the criminal justice process, the improvements which would result and the likely costs and savings; to determine how far the field trials show that an effective and economic basis can be found for a national scheme; and to recommend how, subject to the availability of resources, such a scheme might be introduced.

Many of those who commented on the Royal Commission's proposals expressed dissatisfaction with the recommendation that tape recording should be limited to the summarising of interviews and the taking of statements, and preferred the recording of entire interviews. I accept these views and propose therefore that the field trials should proceed on the basis of the recording of entire interviews, but, as the Royal Commission recognised would be necessary, only those interviews which take place in properly equipped rooms in police stations. I intend to use the opportunity of the forthcoming Police and Criminal Evidence Bill to seek powers which would enble me to make regulations governing the circumstances in which tape recordings should be made, but without contemplating the exercise of such powers during the course of the field trials.

The Royal Commission's research demonstrated that the running costs of tape recording are critically dependent on the extent of transcription. I therefore intend that the field trials be conducted so far as possible on the basis that tape recorded evidence should not be used routinely as evidence of first instance, but should be available chiefly in support of existing procedures, for example to enhance the quality of written records and to resolve dispute. The capital costs of establishing the field trials are estimated to be in the order of £130,000, £30,000 of which can be provided from central Home Office funds as a contribution to the cost of recording equipment. The remaining costs, principally for the acoustic upgrading of interview rooms, would fall to police authorities whose areas participate in the trials and would rank for police grant.

I am confident that the establishment of field trials offers the best way of determining whether the practical difficulties can be resolved and whether an economic and effective basis can be found on which tape recording might be introduced nationally. The Steering Committee has an important task in establishing the field trials, and its work in monitoring and evaluating the field trials will be crucial in informing future decisions about tape recording. I am particularly grateful that the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, and the Association of County Councils have given their support to the principle of the field trials and have indicated their readiness to participate in the work of the steering committee.