Home Office to tighten the rules on surveillance by local councils

When the Government introduced the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 for the first time it placed a proper legal framework on the extent to which public bodies like local government could use certain surveillance techniques.  If I may remember correctly prior to this the only protections the citizens had were under Common Law.  The new Act codified and limited local council powers with a view to ensuring that Councils only used surveillance powers where there was criminal or potential criminal activity taking place.

In the last few years, however, a number of concerns have been raised that councils were using the powers inappropriately or too frequently.  Conservative Wandsworth Council used the powers nearly three hundred times in four years in some instance to identify people wrongly using a “Blue Badge” parking permit.  Conservative Northamptonshire County Council used the powers to go through people’s rubbish and Conservative Poole Borough Council tracked a woman’s movements to see whether her family properly lived in a primary school catchment area.

The Home Office has now tightened up the rules.  In a written statement, David Hanson MP, Minister of State for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism, has made it clear that:

“The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) marked a major step in the protection of privacy. Prior to RIPA, many of the more intrusive techniques which it regulates could be used by any public authority and authorised at any level, for any purpose. There was no comprehensive system of independent oversight, no independent judicial complaints mechanism available in relation to all these techniques, and no means by which Parliament could prescribe the ranks of authorising officers or limit the purposes for which the techniques could be used. …

Nevertheless, a small number of local authorities have authorised techniques under RIPA in circumstances when most of us would say it was not necessary or proportionate for them to do so.”

As a result of a review, the Government will now be introducing the necessary secondary legislation to stop this happening again which:

“will include measures to:

a) clarify the test of necessity and proportionality so techniques will not be used for trivial purposes such as investigating dog fouling or people putting bins out a day early;

b) raise the rank of authorising officer for RIPA techniques in local authorities to senior executive at a minimum of “Director” level;

c) give elected councillors a role in overseeing the way local authorities use covert investigatory techniques;”

This is sensible.  There will be occasions when it is right that public bodies should properly use limited surveillance powers, but such use must be proportionate and the use must be as rigorously controlled as the regime of limitations that apply to the use of such powers by the police and the security services.

The LibDems “I didn’t know she was trafficked” defence gets voted down – without a vote

The Liberal Democrats’ amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill creating a loophole in the proposed new laws on prostitution were finally reached at about 9.40pm last night.  (I think the LibDems had been hoping to spin out the debates on earlier amendments with a view to the debate on prostitution being held over until Thursday.)

The Bill would have made it an offence for someone to purchase sex from another person, if that person was trafficked or had been coerced into being a prostitute.  This would have been a “strict liability” offence – ie it would not be a defence to say that the person charged had not known that the prostitute had been trafficked or coerced.

The LibDems were proposing that such a defence should be possible.  The Conservatives were on a free vote (although their front-bench spokesperson spoke in support of the LibDems) and in practice they were split between those supporting the Government and those supporting the LibDems (mirroring the national – more generic – dispute within the Conservative Party between traditionalist Tories and the libertarians).

Despite the lateness of the hour, there was an excellent debate, which you can read here, with excellent speeches from John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, and from the Attorney General, Baroness Patricia Scotland.
As 11.00pm approached, the Chamber slowly filled up with Labour Peers and it became obvious that, despite a speech from the Conservative front-bench taking the libertarian line, the LibDem amendment would be defeated. When the LibDem spokesperson responded to the debate, she indicated that she would withdraw the amendment rather than have it defeated. (This would have given her the opportunity to reintroduce it next week at Third Reading.) She therefore sought ‘leave to withdraw’ – which is normally automatically given. However, when this was put to the House, a number of us growled ‘No’ which meant that the substantive amendment had to be put. A voice vote was taken with a handful saying ‘Content’ against a roar of ‘Not Content’. From the Woolsack it was suggested that the ‘I think the Not Contents have it’ and when – unusually – this did not produce a counter-shout of ‘Content’, it was declared that ‘The Not Contents have it’ and the amendment was defeated without a Division.

Ex-Commissioner Sir Ian Blair demonstrates “unreliable witness” tendencies in his memoirs

Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, is publishing his memoirs which are designed to get his own back on all his enemies “set the record straight” on his Commissionership.  The first instalment is serialised in today’s Mail on Sunday.

This is an interesting choice of vehicle for him, given the strained relations he had with the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday when he was Commissioner.  No doubt he has had to compromise  under the strain of getting by on – according to the Daily Mail – an index-linked pension of £126,000 per annum plus a lump sum of lump-sum payment of £672,000, a golden handshake of £295,000 plus compensation of £100,000 (he earned between £580,000 and £590,000 in his final months at the Met according to Note 4 of last year’s MPA accounts).

I supported Sir Ian Blair during his Commissionership and believe that the Metropolitan Police achieved much during his time as Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, so it was with considerable interest that I looked at the extracts from his memoirs this morning.

I was more than a little angry therefore to read Sir Ian’s description of the “cash for honours” probe and, in particular, these comments:

“Another difficulty was that this was to be a case fought out in the media.

Part of the investigation involved pre-interview disclosure of evidence, which passed through many hands on its way to those who were to be interviewed. The timing of a number of revelations appeared to be linked with this process.

It was obvious to us that, as in the case of David Kelly, the formidable briefing machine of central Government – and indeed Labour interests on the Metropolitan Police Authority and at City Hall – was at work, rubbishing the inquiry.”

The implication seems to be that Labour members of the MPA (and I assume he is including me amongst their number) were privy to details of the inquiry, were leaking them to the media and to key protagonists, and were busy rubbishing the inquiry.

I am not a libel lawyer, but I suspect such inferences are defamatory.

Sir Ian Blair acknowledges that even he was only kept informed of progress on the inquiry on a “need to know” basis.

I would not have dreamed of asking to be informed about any of the details of an inquiry such as this and indeed had I done so would have expected – quite rightly – to be told that it would not be appropriate to provide them.

However, I did go out of my way to defend the inquiry to anyone – including Labour colleagues in Parliament – who asked me about it.  This was not always a popular viewpoint.  Nonetheless, I took the position that the allegations at the centre of the inquiry were extremely serious and that the Metropolitan Police had no option but to investigate them robustly.  I was happy therefore to defend the inquiry, led by John Yates, and the tactics pursued as part of it.

Len Duvall, who was then the Chair of the MPA followed a similar line and I am sure he was subjected to even more pressure than I was on the subject.  His view – like mine – was that the Police had no alternative but to follow the evidence.  Indeed, it was the duty of the Police to do so, even if that meant interrogating the hard drives of computers in Downing Street or in the homes of officials, or arresting such officials early in the morning at their homes.  Not a popular position in the Labour Party at the time, but the correct one.

It would be seriously damaging to British politics if it was believed that such allegations would not be investigated simply because of the seniority of the those accused.  (The same principle incidentally applied in the Damian Green case more recently and for that matter to allegations thirty-odd years ago that the Leader of the Liberal Party had tried to have his boy-friend murdered.)

Thus, Sir Ian’s inferences against myself and Len Duvall are not only grotesquely unfounded, but also display a failure to recognise who was actually defending the Metropolitan Police (and for that matter Sir Ian himself) during his Commissionership.

If he is an “unreliable witness” on this, I wonder how much store we can set by the rest of his memoirs.

Fifth day of the Committee Stage of the Policing and Crime Bill – predicting when my amendment on airport policing will come up

Today is the fifth full day of the Committee discussion of the Policing and Crime Bill.  This is the stage when Bills are debated clause by clause with many hundreds of amendments put forward and considered.  There are rarely votes, but it is the opportunity to explore issues and get statements from Ministers on the objectives of particular clauses and how they are expected to work.

I have three amendments down: amendment numbers 152AV; 152AW; and 152AZ.  These deal with the arcane subject of which Secretary of State should arbitrate in the case of disputes between airport operators and the police about how much the former should pay the latter for providing airport policing for security purposes (ie is it the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Transport?) and, in the event of arbitration, how quickly the arbitration should be carried out.

The House sat at 2.30pm and business began with questions, followed by a statement from Lord Peter Mandelson on the industrial dispute in the Royal Mail.  The Committee stage debates on the Policing and Crime Bill then started at about 4pm.

My problem is that there around fifty groups of amendments to be considered and my amendments are about two-thirds of the way through.  I am chairing a meeting of the All-Party Group on Policing with Sir Hugh Orde, the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, that is scheduled to take place at 7.30pm until 9.30pm.  When will my amendments be reached?

My initial calculations suggest that the business will be completed around midnight and that my amendments should be reached at around 9.30pm or 10pm.  This suits me fine.

However, the first two hours of debate are much quicker than expected – so that by 6pm, I have revised my estimates and am expecting my amendments to be reached about 6.30pm.  Again that suits me fine and I take my place in the Chamber ready to move my amendments.

At this point, the progress of debate starts to get slower and the two preceding groups of amendments take fifty minutes as other issues around airport policing are debated.  The House is concerned that the costs of security may be such a burden on some of the smaller airports that they will go out of business.  So much so, that I am forced to intervene:

“Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I hope when my noble friend responds to this short debate that he will give a categorical assurance that he will not allow the security of airline passengers and those working at airports to be compromised because of what the airport operators say is their financial situation. I trust that we will be given an assurance that, as my noble friend Lord Berkeley said, security and safety will remain paramount.”

In the event, my amendments are reached at 7.20pm and concluded about fifteen minutes later – so I am just able to chair my meeting – albeit arriving a litle breathless and a little late.  All part of the unpredictability of trying to fit other activities around duties in the Chamber.

For those with an interest in the arcane.  This was the discussion on my amendments:

“Amendment 152AV

Moved by Lord Harris of Haringey

152AV: Clause 77, page 102, line 25, leave out “Secretary of State” and insert “Home Secretary”

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 152AW and 152AZ. I begin by repeating the declaration that I made at Second Reading, of being a vice-president of the Association of Police Authorities and a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. In that latter capacity, I have been involved in the oversight of the discussions about policing with Heathrow Airport as well as with the non-designated London City Airport, which have been protracted and so far unsatisfactory in their outcome.

The amendments deal essentially with two issues; first, to establish which Secretary of State will arbitrate disputes about airport security plans. I acknowledge at once that it is of course the convention that Secretaries of State are indivisible and that the Government are absolutely seamless and work wonderfully together, but the purpose of the amendment is to clarify who will have the lead on these matters. I also want to establish what time limits should apply to settling arbitration disputes.

The first issue is who will arbitrate in practice. This section of the Bill comprises amendments to the Aviation Security Act 1982, which is obviously a Department for Transport Act, and would imply that the Secretary of State for Transport is the relevant Secretary of State. However, the Bill is also a Home Office Bill, dealing with matters of security and policing at airports, which would imply that the Home Secretary is intended. This is made worse by Schedule 6, which deals specifically with policing plans at airports. It contains similar provisions about arbitrating disputes where policing plans are not agreed. Again, the same doubts apply in relation to which Secretary of State is intended to be the arbiter.

Aside from these technical points, there may be a difference in the way in which the two Secretaries of State might view disputes. The Home Secretary, being familiar with national security threats, might place more emphasis on that side of the equation, whereas the Department for Transport, being more familiar with the concerns of airport operators, might place more emphasis on commercial considerations, which is precisely the issue that we have been discussing in the past couple of groups of amendments.

This has raised some concern that profitability might be put before security—I note the assurance that my noble friend has already given on that point. When it comes to arbitrating disagreements about airport security plans and airport policing plans, I trust that what we will see is the very closest working together between the two government departments. It is in no one’s interest to drive airports into bankruptcy, but it is particularly important to ensure that security is not compromised or suffers in difficult financial times. That means that there should be clarity about what airport operators are paying for, and that should relate to those national security matters.

I hope that my noble friend will offer some reassurance that the statutory guidance to be issued following Royal Assent will include clear mention of the Secretary of State for Home Affairs being involved. I would also hope for my noble friend’s confirmation that such reassurance will be within the guidance issued, that, if the Secretary of State for Transport has the lead, they should be obliged to act in accordance with it in all applicable cases, and that the paramount importance of security in such cases will be uppermost in their mind.

The second issue in this group of amendments is whether time limits should apply in relation to determining arbitration decisions. We heard much in the Committee’s debates on earlier groupings about who has an incentive to put costs up and who has an incentive to reduce them. Equally, there is an incentive for some to allow these decisions to spin out for as long as possible. If you are currently not paying something, then not doing so until 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014 seems much better than having to pay it now. So the issue of time limits is critical. The concern here is that a decision could, as the Bill’s wording stands, be allowed to drift indefinitely. That would mean that police authorities and forces could effectively be out of pocket for some months or even years before being reimbursed for delivery of policing services. Although this would be alleviated by interim payments where agreements already exist, it could prove problematic where they do not. In difficult economic times, this might in extreme situations threaten the policing presence at airports, if money cannot be found elsewhere in the police budget to tide them over until agreement is reached.

Perhaps more serious, because it is probably more likely, is a situation where the dispute is about who should contribute which services to the security plan. This could lead to prolonged uncertainty and incomplete security cover in some respects. It is clear that that a prolonged arbitration process in these circumstances would add to an already significant risk. Any absence of clarity in these matters could lead to confusion and potentially very serious consequences. It also makes forward planning and budgeting resources almost impossible if a dispute continues indefinitely.

I appreciate the difficulty in setting a single timescale for all possible disputes and I am not sure that three months is necessarily the right length of time—I am willing to be persuaded that it might be, let us say, four months as opposed to three—but I have included it for the sake of debate. I should be interested in my noble friend’s views on what would be an acceptable length of time and how decision-making within a sensible time limit can be guaranteed. I beg to move.

Baroness Neville-Jones: Amendment 152AX is probing. It seeks to clarify the meaning and practical effect of the powers of the Secretary of State in relation to disputes. If the Secretary of State decides not to exercise his power, or exercises that power but the dispute is not resolved, the amendment would allow him to determine the dispute; in other words, if the consultation mechanism does not work properly between the parties, the Secretary of State may step in and take a decision. Under what circumstances is it envisaged that the Secretary of State would not exercise his power to require relevant persons to take steps to resolve a dispute? Can the Minister assure the Committee that it does not affect the obligation of the Secretary of State—a point which arises later in the Bill—to consult those who have an interest in the dispute? In what circumstances would the Secretary of State simply decide that he was going to decide, rather than trying to resolve a dispute with the parties?

Lord Bradshaw: The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, made reference to security as if it were some curtain to be drawn so that nobody could probe the situation once security was mentioned. One has to be very careful: there are plenty of people who will raise various obstacles to the proper appraisal of things that are put forward. Security can be one; safety can be one; and we all know how many of these things can be exaggerated.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, Amendments 152AV, 152AW, 152AX and 152BG seek to ensure that disputes about airport security plans and police services agreements are referred specifically to the Home Secretary for resolution.

Given the legislative convention, to which my noble friend Lord Harris in anger referred, of referring to a Secretary of State generically rather than specifically, I assume the amendments seek reassurance that disputes will be referred to the most appropriate Secretary of State, who will make a fair and proportionate determination. This indeed is how we want the dispute mechanism to work.

The provisions amend the Aviation Security Act 1982. Disputes are likely to cover a whole range of matters, of which policing is only one element. All airports within the national aviation security programme will be subject to these provisions, but not all will have a dedicated policing presence. As the regulator for airport security, the Secretary of State for Transport has contact with the full range of security stakeholders operating at the airport, including the police. The Secretary of State for Transport’s remit for aviation security extends to the United Kingdom as a whole, mirroring the application of these provisions. The Home Secretary’s remit for general policing does not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland. Given these factors, we believe the Secretary of State with responsibility for aviation security as a whole is the most appropriate person to refer disputes to, rather than a Secretary of State who has a more narrow focus in this context.

However, it is important to clarify—I am happy to answer the noble Baroness’s point—that the Home Secretary may well have significant interests in security at the airport, particularly with regards to policing or the functions, for example, of the UK Border Agency. When this is the case, we fully expect that the Home Secretary would be consulted. The dispute resolution provisions already enable this by providing broad powers for the Secretary of State to decide procedures based on the nature and complexity of the matter. Similarly, if it were ever the case that the dispute was to be determined by the Home Secretary, we would expect the Secretary of State responsible for aviation security to be consulted, when appropriate. We have considered this dispute process in consultation with others, and both the Association of Chief Police Officers and industry support the approach taken in the Bill. I hope this provides the Committee with some reassurance.

7.30 pm

Amendment 152AX would require disputes about the content of a police services agreement or the costs of policing to be referred to the Home Secretary before the requirement to produce a police services agreement had been established. Clause 77 prescribes the requirement for an airport security plan, containing a holistic range of security measures. If dedicated policing services are identified in an airport security plan, only then is there a requirement to draw up a police services agreement as set out in Schedule 6. The amendment pre-empts disputes over policing and police services agreements in a clause which is essentially about the preceding stages of the security planning process.

Amendments 152AZ and 152BA raise the importance of ensuring that disputes, whether about the contents of an airport security plan or a police services agreement, do not drag on unnecessarily. We agree that there is very little to be gained from allowing such a situation to develop. Disputes need to be handled in a timely and effective manner. What we would question, however, is the inclusion of a mandatory cut-off period for the handling of disputes, which are likely to vary considerably in length, depending on the nature of the issue itself and the complexity of operations at the airport concerned. On the one hand, it may be that a determination need only resolve a dispute about a single security measure. At the other end of the scale, although it is unlikely, a determination could, require a full consideration of final policing levels at an airport, needing a complete reassessment of the airport security plan and police services agreement. This process could also involve, for example, an inspection carried out by an external party, such as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. At one end of the scale, three months might actually represent too long a period to determine a dispute, while, at the other, it could well be insufficient.

It is precisely because of the fact that disputes are likely to be very different that the Bill provides the Secretary of State with broad powers to determine a dispute in a manner he considers to be most suitable. Although the Secretary of State’s primary concern will be to ensure that an effective and fair determination is provided, the importance of ensuring that a determination is provided within a reasonable timeframe is also something of which he may be mindful. The Secretary of State may be able to provide an indicative timetable to parties at the start of a dispute once an assessment of the complexity of the dispute is made, to provide the parties with some level of certainty so as to assist budgetary considerations, for example. However, I caution that this will be dependent on the individual facts of each dispute.

It is worth noting that, when parties have been unable to agree a police services agreement and may be in breach of a requirement to have one in place, the airport operator will still be required to make payments in respect of the interim policing services being provided at the airport. The Secretary of State’s determination, once made, can require repayment to the airport operator by the police if that is judged to be fair in light of payments made to the police during this interim period. Thus the Bill ensures that there is no financial incentive for an operator to seek to prolong disputes indefinitely.

In light of the assurances I have offered I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for those responses. I was less clear at the end of the first part of his response than I was at the beginning as to how exactly he envisaged the arrangements working between the various Secretaries of State. What I hope is that, in whatever guidance emerges, there can be clarity about the important nature of security within all this. I would not want to see a position in which commercial issues overrode the situation. However, I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and others highlighted about the importance of clarity on what security means and enabling that to be assessed independently by those able to take a step back from it. That is what I envisage the Secretary of State’s role will be. I am grateful that we may be able to look at these matters. Any indication that my noble friend can give before Report as to the nature of the guidance to be issued would be extremely welcome.

As for time limits, I understand that there will be different sorts of circumstances and welcome the fact that there will be circumstances in which an airport operator may be required to pay money from the period from which arbitration takes place. However, I was slightly confused by the language that my noble friend used. He said that the Secretary of State may consider whether the time limit would be reasonable. I may have misheard what he said, but the implication was that it would be up to the Secretary of State to decide whether to operate within a reasonable timescale. I am sure that that is not what he intended, but could there be clarity in the guidance to make it explicit that the Secretary of State is required to act in a timely manner and that, potentially, if it were felt that he was operating too slowly, it would be a matter subject to judicial review. On the basis that that is what my noble friend meant, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 152AV withdrawn.

Amendments 152AW and 152AX not moved.”

It is now 11.10pm and the House is still sitting and still debating amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill.

Watching the body language at the Metropolitan Police Authority

There is a high state of alert at the Metropolitan Police Authority meeting that is now in session.  Mayor Boris Johnson is in the Chair with the Uber Vice Chairman Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM at his side and two seats away from Sir Paul Stephenson, the Met Commissioner.

And everyone is on their best behaviour: no inadvertent body language to suggest anything other than perfect harmony between them all.

Everyone is also being careful to minimise references to ships, tillers, captains on the bridge, or anything remotely nautical.

The result is that there is even more of a degree of formality about the Commissioner’s report than usual.  However, the Commissioner has clearly been working on his hand gestures while speaking.  The preferred style is now: left hand placed on hip; right elbow on table; and the right hand used to emphasise points with small karate-style chops.  The UVCDMKMAM – whilst avoiding eye contact with the Commissioner – tried to coordinate his nods with the Commissioner’s chops.  However, his hands remained clasped firmly across his stomach throughout, unless he and the Mayor were exchanging terse written notes. 

An hour and a half into the meeting – still on questions to the Commissioner slightly to the irritation of some members who were waiting to get on to the rest of the agenda – the elephant in the room was finally mentioned.  The member who raised it (which apparently meant that the UVCDMKMAM had won the Mayoral Office sweepstake on who would do it) was – of course (so perhaps it was a rigged sweepstake) – John Biggs AM, who elegantly said he welcomed these question and answer sessions as it demonstrated to the public who was in operational control of the Metropolitan Police and how the MPA’s role was to ensure that the Commissioner was accountable and to set the overall priorities for London’s police. 

Damian Green claims a DNA victory, but the Tories should be careful what they wish for

Damian Green MP has successfully persuaded the Metropolitan Police to remove his details from the database of DNA profiles.   He calls this “a significant victory for freedom”.  Elsewhere, Shami Chakrabati, Director of Liberty, points out you shouldn’t need to be in “Who’s Who” to get your details cancelled.

At present, the law – passed by Parliament – says that those arrested by the police are required to give a sample of their DNA and that the profile thus obtained is normally retained whether or not the individual concerned is subsequently charged or convicted.  Damian Green was famously arrested in relation to police inquiries following the leaking of official documents from the Home Office.  He was not in the event charged when the Crown Prosecution Service ruled that there was insufficient evidence to proceed.

Incidentally, I don’t remember the Conservatives kicking up much of a fuss when the legislation was originally passed – now, of course, they believe it to be an appalling affront to civil liberties.

Following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (an institution about which most Tories are normally distinctly luke-warm), the Government is now consulting about how long such profiles should be retained. 

The profiles are not, of course, the full DNA profile but simply a series of ten or twenty two-digit numbers giving sufficient data to identify an individual uniquely.

Many serious crimes – some of them quite old – have been solved using the information on the database.  If Damian Green’s DNA were now found at a crime scene (I hasten to emphasise that I am NOT suggesting that it will be), he would escape detection.  Likewise, if advances in DNA technology made it possible to extract his DNA from an historic murder or rape scene (repeat disclaimer), again he would escape detection.

And that is the dilemma: a large database is helping to catch serious criminals, but people are concerned that the data of people who have never been charged of a crime are being stored along with the data of the most heinous of offenders.  One way of resolving this would, of course, be to retain data on every individual resident in or visiting the country, the presence of data on the database would not then be discriminatory and it would be a substantial help in identifying criminals.  Those who do not commit crimes would have nothing to fear and those that do would be deterred knowing that the risk of detection would be higher.

More likely, however, is that the database will be restricted and that as a result crimes will rise as more criminals remain undetected.

It would be a delicious irony, although it is no doubt a very remote prospect, that in a few years time Damian Green will be a Home Office Minister (that is the remote bit) and will have to stand up in the House of Commons to defend the failures of the police to catch someone at long last convicted of a series of revolting and violent crimes, who would have been caught much earlier had the DNA taken, when he was arrested (but not charged) some years before for an unrelated issue, been retained.  No doubt, he will reiterate that the destruction of that individual’s DNA data was also  “a significant victory for freedom”.

Deaths in Custody Panel’s initial work programme now on MoJ website

The Ministry of Justice website has finally put up the update report from the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody that I chair.  This has taken quite a while to appear, but in fact the Panel has been in operation since April, has had two full meetings, and has reported its initial work programme to the Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody.  This work programme has now been agreed and the various strands of work are being taken forward.

A little bit of balance on the Gary McKinnon case – at last

My attention has been drawn to Kevin Anderson’s very sensible and balanced analysis of the Gary McKinnon extradition case.  It is far more measured than Mayor (and part-time Telegraph columnist) Boris Johnson’s rant.  I wonder who earns the most from his journalism – the one who provides analysis or the one who rants with cavalier regard for fact?

I find it difficult to be sympathetic to the British man whose genitals were fried in Crete

Normally, I would be quite squeamish about the idea of someone having his genitals drenched in Sambuca and then having them set on fire and I would be cringing with sympathy for the man concerned.  However, the story of  Stuart Feltham leaves me singularly unmoved.

His version of events is that he was having a quiet night out with a few friends at the end of his holiday in Crete when a women suddenly appeared, poured something over him and set it alight.

Her version of events – and the women in question is being feted as a national heroine in Greece for the defence of her honour – is that he was drunkenly propositioning her, grabbed her breasts and buttocks, and then exposed himself to her.  She threw her drink at him and walked away, only discovering later that he had (stray cigarette?) caught alight.

Obviously, I don’t know what happened, but I know which version sounds more plausible.

I also know that too many British people behave atrociously when they go away on holiday and that many European resorts are trying to restrict the heavy-boozing and boorish behaviour of their UK visitors.  Frying the worst offenders’ genitalia may seem a little harsh, but I suspect it would make them pause for thought ….

It is right to review the rules on contempt of court

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s “The World This Weekend” Peter Clarke who was the National Coordinator for Terrorist Investigations until about 18 months ago has suggested that the current rules on contempt of court may hinder counter-terrorist work and certainly make it harder for the public to understand what is going on.  (I am not sure what was gained in public understanding by recording the first part of the interview in the street outside the Old Bailey, but then I’m just a listener, so what do I know … )

Peter Clarke was supported by former Attorney-General, Lord Peter Goldsmith, who said reviewing the legislation would be timely, while recognising the importance of ensuring that those arrested could get a fair trial.

There are real issues at the moment in terms of how public confidence in police actions in addressing terrorism may be maintained, if no public explanation of why a high-profile raid has taken place until all relevant Court proceedings have concluded possibly as much as three or for years later.

This was one of the issues that emerged in the major consultation exercise that I led on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Authority three years ago and which culminated in the publication of  “Counter Terrorism: The London Debate“.

The report concluded:


“It is critically important that the MPS continues

in relation to its counter-terrorist work to find

innovative ways to communicate important

factual information to the public before an

incident, as an incident unfolds, and afterwards.

In the absence of official information, rumour

will always thrive. Maximum safe information

must therefore be communicated by the police

to scotch such rumour, and thereby to limit

misunderstanding. Only in possession of the key

facts can the public make up its own mind in an

informed way as to whether a particular police

action is appropriate and proportionate.

Improved arrangements for the disclosure of

information on counter-terrorism matters by the

police to the public through the press are

urgently required. Current legal constraints

around pre-trial reporting prevent the police

from issuing information at their disposal,

thereby creating an information vacuum, which

is invariably filled by unsubstantiated public

accounts, resulting in damaging scepticism of

counter-terrorism operations within

communities. It is therefore time to revisit the

law on sub judice (matters under trial or being

considered by a judge or court). Whilst the legal

system must protect the rights of all individuals

to a fair trial, the police need to command

public confidence in order to do their difficult

counter-terrorist work, and this is made much

more difficult by restrictions imposed upon their

ability to share information with the public

about that work.”