HL Deb 03 May 1983 vol 442 cc68-70WA
The Earl of Onslow

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which areas will be participating in the field trials of tape recording police interviews with suspects.

Lord Elton

I welcome this opportunity to make a statement about the progress being made towards the establishment of the field trials.

Chief officers of the following police forces have agreed that their forces should participate in the field trials:

  • Metropolitan Police (Holborn and Croydon)
  • Merseyside (Wirral)
  • Leicestershire (Leicester Central)
  • Hampshire (Winchester)

The chief constable of Northumbria has agreed that a field trial should take place in the South Tyneside Division, provided that the costs of acoustic improvements are acceptable to his police committee My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is naturally grateful to the chief officers of these forces and their police authorities for the readiness they have shown to participate in the field trials. HM Customs and Excise also intend to mount field trials of tape recording. These will take place at the Headquarters of their Investigation Division in London and at Terminal 3, Heathrow Airport.

The Steering Committee established to devise and oversee the field trials held its second full meeting on 13th April and gave its general approval to draft procedural guidance. This guidance, copies of which will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses as soon as it is finalised, will take the form of operating instructions addressed to the police and other professional participants in the trials.

The main features of the guidance are as follows. All interviews in the police station with persons suspected of indictable offences, triable either way offences or a limited number of summary offences should be tape recorded. The only exception will be where it is not reasonably practicable to record the interview because of mechanical failure or the lack of suitable interview facilities, or where it is clear from the outset that a person will not be prosecuted (e.g. he will be cautioned). The authority of an independent senior officer will be needed before an interview is not recorded. Provision is also made for where a suspect is unwilling to be interviewed while being tape recorded.

Two cassette tapes will be recorded simultaneously. One will be treated as an exhibit and the other as a working copy. A police officer may use this copy to write up a note of the interview and a statement of evidence, which will confine themselves to giving an account of those parts of an interview which the officer considers directly relevant in evidential terms to the matters which will be before the court and reflect what the officer is likely to give as his evidence in chief. Provision will be made for access by the defence to the tape before the court hearing and it will be recommended that, notwithstanding the lack of formal arrangements for advance disclosure of the prosecution case, in certain circumstances the defence has served on it in advance the police officer's statement of evidence.

It is to be hoped that such procedures will enable defence and prosecution to have the opportunity to come to a measure of prior agreement on the substance of the interview and thus reduce to the minimum the need for transcription. As the Royal Commission's research showed, the frequency of transcription is crucial to the overall cost. Where, however, there is a need for a transcript, provision will be made for prior consideration by the courts and the legal aid committees of the justification for making a transcript so that the party ordering the transcript does not run the risk of having the considerable expense involved disallowed on taxation.

Progress has also been made on the identification of equipment and in devising research and monitoring proposals. The Steering Committee has approved a specification for a machine which records, on two cassette tapes simultaneously, which is unobtrusive, robust, reliable and capable of simple operation, and which incorporates a time coded security device. It is too early yet to say when this and other appropriate equipment will be available, but account will be taken in considering manufacturers' tenders of the date by which delivery can be achieved. Surveys are being made of the rooms to be used to advise participating forces of what measures will be necessary to achieve acoustically adequate conditions.

As to research, in two areas particular attention will be paid to the impact of tape recording on the courts. To establish comparative data, a pre-trial monitoring period of six months will be undertaken in these areas. It is hoped to begin this work in June. In the other areas the concentration will be on the impact of tape recording on the police, although some analysis of the impact on the courts will also be undertaken. Work is in hand in updating the operational research computer model developed by the Cranfield College of Technology for the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure. The Home Office Research and Planning Unit will also be undertaking a study of the experience of tape recording in other countries.

Since the successful introduction of tape recording will depend vitally on a good understanding and co-operation being achieved between the various practitioners involved, the Steering Committee has agreed that local steering arrangements should be established. The intention is that these committees should have a judicial chairman and embrace all the practitioners who will be involved in tape recording at a local level. They will serve essentially as a forum in which to resolve matters which arise locally. My right honourable friend is grateful to the presiding judges of the circuits in which field trials are to take place for their ready agreement to the establishment of such committees and to the members of HM Judiciary who have already been approached in some areas for their agreement to take on the chairmanship of these committees.

In conclusion, I should like to re-emphasise our gratitude to the members of the Steering Committee, and in particular to the representatives of the police service and other professions, for the commitment of time and experience to the development of these proposals for the field trials. The introduction of tape recording raises a great number of issues throughout the criminal justice process and the determination of the Steering Committee to tackle and resolve these matters gives us every confidence that the field trials will be mounted successfully and will achieve their objectives of putting us all in a position to judge the best basis for introducing a national scheme.