Clause 35

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:00 am ar 22 Tachwedd 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Investigation of deaths

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to move amendment No. 153, in clause 35, page 25, line 4, at end insert

‘, including an offence under the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007,’.

May I say what a total and unalloyed pleasure it is to see you back in the Chair, Sir Nicholas. You are quite right: we made good progress under the chairmanship of Mr. Frank Cook and we are grateful to him for stepping in to assist you and Mr. O’Hara.

I do not wish to add to the gloom of today, but I want to talk a bit about corporate manslaughter and investigation into deaths. We are discussing the remit, the powers and the role of Her Majesty’s commissioner for offender management and prisons. We have debated his accountability to the Secretary of State. We would prefer him to be accountable directly to Parliament, but for one reason or another, even if I did not lose the argument, I certainly did not persuade the Committee of that.

However, I want to tease out from the Government what the commissioner will be able to do. In relation to the investigation of deaths, it is important that we understand from the Government precisely what their policy is with regard to deaths in custody. Hon. Members will remember that we had some vigorous debates on the Floor of the House earlier this year when we discussed the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 about whether deaths in police custody or prisons might attract investigations and possibly prosecutions under the Act’s regime. As I remember, the compromise that was reached eventually  was that, while accepting that corporate manslaughter should bind upon the Prison Service and the police, the Government acknowledged that there would be a delay of about three years.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

Between three and five years, is it? Well, there we are. Even compromises get compromised. The process would take that time before it bit upon the Prison Service and the police. It is not a matter of interest for a debating society, but a fundamental matter about the powers of the state and its powers over individuals in involuntary custody. We know from the clause that the commissioner will carry out investigations into deaths falling within what is delightfully called the “deaths remit”. The clause states:

“A death falls within the deaths remit if it is of a description specified in Schedule 8.”

I shall not take the Committee through every paragraph of schedule 8, but it is interesting that paragraph 2 refers to

“A death of a person while in the custody, or under the control or escort, of prison officers or prisoner custody officers anywhere in the world.”

That is a description of a set of circumstances that comes within the commissioner’s deaths remit. “Anywhere in the world” includes within this jurisdiction, but I submit that we need clarification, hence my tabling the amendment, of how precisely a death in custody or of the sort described under paragraph 2 of the schedule fits.

We are not complaining. Indeed, we welcome the fact that, under clause 35(3), the commissioner must aim

“to establish the circumstances surrounding the death; identify steps that should be taken for the purpose of eliminating or reducing the risk of deaths occurring under the same or similar circumstances.”

It is suggested that the commissioner should

“determine the scope of, and the procedure to be applied” in any investigation. However, clause 35(6), which is where the amendment would bite, does not specifically refer to deaths that might attract an investigation under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act. Clause 35(6) reads:

“In subsection (5) “criminal investigation” means an investigation conducted by police officers or other persons with a view to ascertaining whether an offence has been committed or whether a person should be charged with an offence.”

I dare say that the Government may say that a death that might attract an investigation under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act is implied within clause 35(6). If that is true, I would like to hear the Minister say so; if not, I would like the Minister to explain why it is not implied and why corporate manslaughter is, by implication at least, expressly not included in the Bill. That is the short point that I wish to draw to the attention of the Committee and I invite the Minister to respond.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

It is good to see you back in the Chair, Sir Nicholas. Although it seems to you like a long time since you have been here, I hope that I speak for the entire Committee when I say that it does not seem like that to us. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Time passes so swiftly.

I should like to reassure the hon. and learned Member for Harborough with respect to the point he has made and his amendment. The commissioner will defer, where necessary, to a criminal investigation of any offence, including any that is being investigated under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act. Obviously, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has already said, while that legislation comes into force generally next April, it is not being applied immediately to custody, but will apply in the not too distant future, within the next three to five years.

Work is under way with the Prison Service and other custody providers to identify what steps must be taken to ensure that they are ready to deal with the application of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act to the settings that they control. I think that everybody remembers the passage of that legislation through Parliament, with the ping-pong at the end of the previous Session. In fact, it was a carry-over Bill from the Session before that, so it was ping-pong out of time or early ping-pong, if I might call it that. As was said at that time by the Secretary of State, we will be reporting to Parliament annually on progress made in respect of applying that legislation to the custody setting, where it is accepted that there are greater difficulties in applying it, although those are not insurmountable.

I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough is reassured that there is no attempt to exclude from the remit of the commissioner any offence that might be investigated under that legislation when it applies to the custody setting. [Interruption.] The hon. and learned Gentleman is obviously getting instructions about whether to withdraw his amendment, but I should have thought that he is perfectly capable of making up his own mind. I shall clearly continue talking for a while, but not for too long. I hope that with those reassurances, the hon. and learned Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

I do not wish to sound in any way schoolmasterly, but I hope that members on both sides of the Committee will switch electronic devices on to silent or vibration, so that there is no disturbance to upset our deliberations and calm scrutiny of the legislation.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

I am between a rock and a hard place. I thought that I had put my telephone on silent as I came into the Committee Room, but I was faced with a dilemma when the telephone rang because, while I was enjoying listening to the Minister and was anticipating listening to other contributions during our debate, I noticed on my telephone screen that the call was from my wife, so the question was who I should obey. I obeyed you, Sir Nicholas. I do not know whether you have met my wife. That was a difficult decision.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

Of course, every morning I present her with copy and say “Watch my lips”. However, I am getting diverted, and I may be in for some other form of manslaughter unless I revert to the issue under discussion in clause 35.

I am grateful to the Minister for having explained the corporate manslaughter provisions. When they are  finally implemented they will bind upon, or not hinder, the commissioner in his investigatory work. Despite pressure from various interest groups, the Government have at last agreed to allow the corporate manslaughter regime to cover what the Minister delicately called “the custody setting”. It is hugely important that the commissioner is permitted to deal with matters that might lead to investigations and prosecutions under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act. On that basis, I am satisfied that clause 35 does not need to be amended in the way that I suggested, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.