Approval of warrants issued in urgent cases

Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:30 pm ar 12 Ebrill 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs) 5:30, 12 Ebrill 2016

I beg to move amendment 91, in clause 22, page 17, line 29, at end insert—

“(1A) A warrant under this section can only be issued in an emergency situation posing immediate danger of death or serious physical injury to a person.”

This amendment, and others to Clause 22, seek to require urgent warrants can only be issued where it is necessary in an emergency situation posing immediate danger of death or serious physical injury; require that a Judicial Commissioner must immediately be informed that such a warrant has been issued; and reduce the period within which a Judicial Commissioner must decide whether to authorise the warrant to 24 hours after issue.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 40, in clause 22, page 17, line 30, after “must”, insert “immediately”.

Amendment 41, in clause 22, page 17, line 35, leave out from “ending” to the end of line 36 and insert

“24 hours after the warrant was issued.”

Amendment 42, in clause 22, page 17, line 35, leave out from “ending” to the end of line 36 and insert

“48 hours after the warrant was issued.”

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs)

Bear with me a moment, Mr Owen, I have my notes in a bit of a schmozzle, as we say in Scotland—[Interruption.] Or as they say in Ireland, to be accurate. In Scotland they would say they were in a fankle. If you give me two minutes, I will sort myself out.

We do not have two minutes, but I will give you a bit of time.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs)

Thank you, Mr Owen, and apologies to Committee members. The purpose of the amendments is to—sorry, I have lost my train of thought completely.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I think we were dealing with urgent cases. I hope that is of some assistance.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs)

Yes, I am very grateful to the Solicitor General. I skipped ahead to modifications, so I will skip back to urgent. The purpose of the amendments is to specify that urgent warrants can be issued only when they are necessary, in an emergency situation that poses an immediate danger of death or serious physical injury, and that a judicial commissioner should be informed immediately that an urgent warrant has been issued. They also seek to reduce the period within which a judicial commissioner must decide whether to approve the issue of a warrant to 24 hours after its issue.

There were differing recommendations from the Joint Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee. I think I am correct in saying that the ISC recommended 24 hours and the Joint Committee 48. In terms of case law, recent decisions of the European Court of Human Rights suggest that 48 hours would be an absolute minimum, so I would insist on that as a fall-back position.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Ceidwadwyr, Louth and Horncastle

I sat with my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham and my hon. Friend and neighbour, the Member for Boston and Skegness, on the Joint Committee, where we debated this in great detail. It is right to say that it was not a unanimous decision of the Committee to change the time limit for the urgency provisions. Indeed, I said to the Committee that if that point was ever raised, I would make clear that the decision was not based on any evidence we heard. I will not say that members of the Committee drew the figure out of the air, but—[Interruption.]

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Ceidwadwyr, Louth and Horncastle

Okay, out of the air. The Joint Committee arrived at that figure on the basis of no evidence. That may assist the hon. and learned Lady.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for being so precise and clear about that. Essentially, the concern about clause 22 is that the scope of the urgent mechanism is extremely broad and ill defined. In my view, it could fatally undermine any safeguard provided by a mechanism for judicial authorisation or indeed judicial review in the double lock.

The Bill provides that an urgent warrant can be issued by the Secretary of State in a case where she considers there is an “urgent need”, which is not defined. We then have the three-day period. As the hon. Lady said, no specific reason has been given for the selection of three days. The Joint Committee took the view that it should be shortened significantly to provide for approval within 24 hours. I think the ISC suggested 48 hours—I apologise if I have got that the wrong way round.

The purpose of the amendments is to remove the urgent provision in the Bill altogether or to restrict it to very limited circumstances, with the urgent authorisation having to take place during a 24-hour period. The concern underlying the amendments is that in their absence, the provisions for urgent warrants in the Bill will drive a coach and horses through even the double lock provision, because they will enable the judicial authorisation part of the procedure to be bypassed in very loosely defined circumstances. That is the case as precisely as I can put it.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I will be brief. There is a real concern about the provision for urgent cases being three days. Although we need such a provision, that period allows warrants to be operable before the double lock can apply, and therefore the period should be as short as possible.

The problem is not only that three days is too much but that three days can, I think, be five days, because it is three working days, and therefore there is the potential for three days to morph into more than three. If I am wrong about that, I will happily be corrected. I have put my name to the amendments suggesting 24 and 48-hour periods, to give the Government the option to reduce the threshold to either of those and put it in terms of hours, which removes any possible confusion about the use of the word “days”.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General 5:45, 12 Ebrill 2016

This is, of course, an important issue that has already seen a good deal of consideration for the Government and a move away from the original proposal to three working days; the hon. and learned Gentleman is right about that.

Although we are considering the matter carefully, at this stage the right balance is being struck between the interests of the security services and the other agencies in ensuring that crime is detected and prevented at the earliest possibly opportunity, and the interests of preserving the balance between the rights of the individual and the need to deal with crime and threats to national security. I am happy to consider amending the relevant draft codes to deal with the question about the notification to judicial commissioners, so that it is made clear on the face of the code that that should happen as soon as reasonably practicable. That wording is more appropriate than “immediately”, given that it may take a small period of time to draw together the materials that the commissioner will wish to review when considering whether to approve the warrant.

The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West made a point about decision making in a vacuum. The commissioner will have the decision of the Secretary of State and all the materials upon which that Minister has made the decision, as well as access to further material. I think it is clear that the decision maker will have everything they need and more to come to an informed and reasoned decision based upon the principles of judicial review. On the basis of my undertaking to consider amending the draft code of practice, I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras feels able to withdraw the amendment proposing the word “immediately”.

Let me deal with the central points about the decision and the length of time within which the warrant should be approved. The effect of the amendments would be to reduce that, and I recognise that the Joint Committee that undertook the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill made a similar recommendation. We have therefore responded in an appropriate way by shortening the window within which urgent action can be taken. That has been widely welcomed. It is an important consideration and an example of how, throughout this procedure, the Government have taken note of reports, listened and acted accordingly on those recommendations.

It is not in anybody’s interests to create so tight a statutory framework that decisions end up being rushed. I therefore consider that the three working days now provided for in the Bill should give sufficient time for the judicial commissioner to be presented with and to consider the grounds upon which the Secretary of State decided to issue the urgent warrant. My worry is that by reducing the time period even further, we would give the commissioner even less time, which would lead to the sort of decision making that would perhaps not be in anybody’s interests, let alone those of the state.

Amendment 91 seeks to define urgency on the face of the Bill and to replace the definition currently provided for in the draft statutory codes of practice with a narrower definition. As the Committee will appreciate, we must provide law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies with an operationally workable framework. We will have failed with this Bill if we provide the agencies with the powers that they need, but with ones that cannot keep up with the pace and scale of the threats that we face. I know that it is always a challenge for legislators to try and—to use the modern phrase—“future-proof” legislation, but it is important that we create a framework that is not only clear and simple to understand, but sufficiently flexible to take into account the fact that, from month to month, the nature of the threat changes.

I am afraid that the effect of the amendment would be to curtail that ability because the definition would be too narrow. The draft statutory codes of practice, which we have all been considering, define urgency, which is determined by whether it would be reasonably practicable to seek the judicial commissioner’s approval to issue the warrant in the requisite time. That time period would reflect when the authorisation needs to be in place to meet an operational or investigative need.

The code sets out the three categories with which we are familiar: first, where there is the imminent threat to life or serious harm, and I gave the example of a kidnap case earlier. The second is where there is an valuable intelligence-gathering opportunity, where the opportunity to do so is rare or fleeting—that might involve, for example, a group of terrorists who are just about to make that trip overseas and are making the final preparations to do so. The third is where there is a time-limited significant investigative opportunity—here I speak with years of experience of dealing with drugs cases—such as the imminent arrival of a major consignment of drugs or firearms, when timing is of the essence.

I am afraid that narrowing the definition of urgency so that it only relates to an immediate danger of death or serious physical injury to a person would mean significant lost opportunities when it comes to investigation and gathering of intelligence. It would have an impact on the ability to act in a way that would allow interception at a time, for example, that would be apposite to capture a particular drugs seizure.

Another example would be the terrorist cases that I deal with week in, week out—in terms of the function of the Law Officers granting consent to prosecution. If, for example, a group was making final preparations to travel out to Syria to join Daesh, it would cause a problem for the security and intelligence agencies if they were not able to seek urgent authorisation to intercept telephones because there was no immediate danger of death or serious physical injuries.

In my considered opinion, I am afraid that the amendment would allow a significant gap in the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ ability to keep us safe. I do not think that any hon. Member in this House wants that to happen. I know that it not their intention but it is my genuine concern. On that basis, I invite hon. Members to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs)

I have listened carefully to the Solicitor General. The difficulty for him and the Government is this: according to recent case law from Strasbourg, a 48-hour timeframe for authorisation would be the maximum to harmonise the process with that recent case law. The case of Zakharov v. Russia included that a complaint for urgent interception could occur without judicial authorisation for up to 48 hours. There really is no reason why the UK should allow a longer period for approved surveillance than Russia. The difficult with three working days is that if they fall over a weekend, it can mean five days or, indeed, if it is a bank holiday weekend, six days. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 23