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Archive for the ‘Criminal justice’ Category

Friday
Mar 16,2012

Just over a month ago the Government yet again snubbed the Mayor of London over his proposals for a pilot sobriety scheme, whereby the courts could impose on offenders, whose offences were alcohol-related, a requirement that they be compulsorily tested for alcohol daily for a three months period with a positive test meaning arrest and appearance again in court.

But now – either because they have finally listened to the overwhelming force of arguments coming from all corners of the House of Lords or because they want to provide a helpful headline to the Mayor prior to the Mayoral elections in seven weeks time – the Government has performed an 180° u-turn. They have now tabled an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill that will enable the courts to impose sobriety orders as part of a suspended or community sentence.

Offenders would have to wear ankle tags that continuously monitor alcohol levels, for up to four months.  The orders would allow alcohol levels to be monitored either by these tags which test sobriety every half hour, or by requiring offenders to attend a police station daily – or at other regular intervals – to be breathalysed.

Of course, the other advantage from the Government’s point of view is that it saves a lengthy debate on a Bill that is already taking much more time to progress through its various stages in the House than expected.  And what is more it avoids the certainty of another defeat for the Government to add to the nine they have already had on the Bill so far in the Lords.

It is really a case of Healey’s Law: when in a hole, stop digging.

Tuesday
Mar 13,2012

Along with peers from all parts of the House of Lords, I have been pursuing concerns about the loophole that the Government was creating in the Protection of Freedoms Bill that would have meant that those volunteering to work with children did not have to be subject to Criminal Records Bureau checks or checked against the lists of those barred from working with children provided their activities were subject to “day to day supervision”.

These issues were debated again in the House of Lords late yesterday afternoon.  In the end, the issues boiled down to whether an organisation with volunteers working with children could have an “enhanced” Criminal Records Bureau check on such volunteers and whether that check would include information as to whether that individual had been barred from working with children.

The legislation as originally envisaged would not automatically have given organisations the right to have enhanced CRB checks on volunteers.  In essence, the Government have now conceded that right.

They resisted, however, the suggestion that the check should reveal whether or not an individual had previously been barred from working with children – even those 20% of those barred do not have a criminal conviction that would show up on a CRB check.

In the end, the Minister offered a compromise: the “enhanced” check would not disclose whether an individual had been barred but the information that had led to a decision to bar an individual would be made available to the police and they would have discretion as to whether to pass it on as part of the enhanced checking process.

Essentially this ought then to mean that any relevant information could be obtained by an organisation about a volunteer, but it seems a very convoluted way round of doing it.  It would surely be much simpler to say whether that individual had or had not been barred.  It also places the onus and the discretion on the police to pass on the information – so any failure to do so will no doubt lead to criticism of the police service concerned.

For those who really want the details the debate is here and here.

Tuesday
Mar 13,2012

An exchange in the House of Lords this afternoon demonstrated that following the election of Police and Crime Commissioners public police accountability is to be done on the cheap.

Baroness Ruth Henig asked how much money was to be made available for Police and Crime Panels (these are the new bodies set up under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act to hold Police and Crime Commissioners to account and which will in effect be the only public forum in which policing decisions can be questioned).  The answer was £53,300 per panel.

When I pointed out that this would be insufficient to employ more than one or two people to support busy local councillors fulfil their scrutiny role, I was told that perhaps I didn’t understand how local authorities work.  This produced loud guffaws – not recorded in Hansard – as colleagues around the House seemed to think that my twenty-six years of experience in elected local and regional government might be rather more extensive than that of the Minister.

The full exchanges were as follows:

 

Police and Crime Panels

Question

2.44 pm

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how much money they will make available to each police and crime panel to cover start-up and first-year running costs.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley):My Lords, we are committed to funding police and crime panels to do the job set out for them in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act. We will be providing annual funding of £53,300 per panel as well as an additional £920 per panel member per annum for expenses.

Baroness Henig:I thank the Minister very much for his response. One of the few things we all agreed on when the police and social responsibility Bill was before the House was the need for these panels to be strong and to operate as effectively as possible under the new governance arrangements for the policing landscape. Does the Minister not agree that these panels will want to meet regularly, probably at least once every other month; that they will have extensive legal and financial needs; that they will need good financial and legal advice; that they will certainly have extensive training requirements in the first year to enable them to operate effectively and cohesively; and that, therefore, the sums he mentioned are totally inadequate to get these panels operating as we would like in the first year?

Lord Henley:My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Baroness at all. As the Bill went through, we made the function of the panels quite clear: it should be that of a light-touch approach. We then announced how much money would be available for them, which was £38,300 per year each. We have reviewed that figure in the light of various amendments made to the Bill, particularly some that originated this House. The figure, as I have just announced, has been increased to £53,300. We think that that is enough for the panels to do their job. The noble Baroness ought to remember that these panels are not replacing police authorities; their job is to review the actions of police and crime commissioners.

Lord Imbert:In the light of those who have said that they will now put themselves forward as police and crime commissioners, are the Minister and the Government content that they will not bring party politics to bear on policing operational decisions?

Lord Henley:My Lords, I am sure that politics will not come into this, but there will be some people who will stand under party colours. However, that does not mean they will necessarily bring politics into this matter. The noble Lord is going slightly wide of the Question, which is about the panels. The important point is to differentiate the job of the police and crime panels from that of the police and crime commissioner.

Baroness Hamwee:My Lords, even with a light touch, the panels will have to get to grips with a lot of paperwork and information, and undertake a lot of discussion in order to carry out their job of scrutiny properly. If the amount that is to be provided is insufficient, will members be expected to look to their own stretched local authorities for professional and technical back-up?

Lord Henley:My Lords, as I said in answer to the first supplementary question, we have increased by some 40 per cent the amount available to the panels in the light of discussions and thoughts we have had following the passage of the Bill. We believe that it will be sufficient. If individual local authorities wish to spend more, it will be for those authorities to make that decision themselves.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath:My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that the police and crime panels are the only check and balance on the potential politicisation of our police forces through elected police commissioners. This is not wide of the Question. Will he respond to reports that Mr Kit Malthouse sought to interfere in the Metropolitan Police’s actions in investigating phone hacking? That is but one example of the risk to this new system, in which the police and crime panels are the only defence but the Government are not going to fund them properly.

Lord Henley:My Lords, I have made it quite clear that we are going to fund the panels properly. I am not going to respond to the specific allegation made by the noble Lord, but if necessary—if I think it appropriate—I will write to him. What I am making clear is that we think we are providing appropriate funding for the panels to do the job that was set out in the police Bill last year. We think that they can do that because their job is to look at what the PCCs are doing.

Lord Harris of Haringey:My Lords, the experience in London is that so far the only information to have emerged from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, which is a surrogate police and crime commissioner, is a series of listed decisions on the website. How on earth is a police and crime panel outside London going to get to grips with the detail underlying that and the issues determined by the police and crime commissioner, with money that is insufficient to employ more than one or two people in support of busy local authority councillors who will have many other roles in addition to that on the panel?

Lord Henley:My Lords, I think that the noble Lord misunderstands—dare I say it?—how local authorities work. Obviously, the funding will be available to provide for some staffing to assist that panel, but within that local authority there will be other officers doing other jobs who will also be able to assist in that role. That does not require the extra funding that he described. However much money the Government offered, no doubt he and others would say that it was inadequate. We made an announcement on how much it would be. Having reviewed it, we have since increased it. We think that it will be sufficient.

Tuesday
Mar 6,2012

Dave Hill’s London Blog in The Guardian can usually be relied on for serious comment and analysis of London issues. And last week he posted two important posts on the issue of serious gang-related violence in London.

The first highlighted the post-code rivalries between gangs in North-West London:

“Page 81 of my London A-Z shows the streets, parks and stations at the intersections of north Westminster, north Kensington and Brent. But it offers no clues to the alternative cartography that shapes the lives of many people living there – an unofficial map of an urban landscape scarred by violence and divided by fear. …

Territories have been defined and the borders between them guarded and sometimes breached. Incursions resulting in chasings, beatings and robberies are frequent. …

Some who live in the area concerned, including some who are young, are barely touched by this wired, short-fused youthful world. They and it are largely invisible to each other: people move freely and routinely to and from work, local schools, community facilities and places of worship just like anywhere else. Yet an awareness of that other side of neighbourhood life has filtered down even to primary school children. And on the streets young people in particular, even if they have little or no direct connection with it, are acutely conscious of it: at worst, cowed, menaced and controlled. …

 In this increasingly less subterranean world the streets are an excitingly dangerous playground – a place that’s more available, more plausible and more rewarding than the alternatives of education, conformity and long-term, steadier rewards. Yet though that playground may be larger than those at primary school, it is both limited and limiting too. The horizons of those playing crazy, deadly games there don’t extend geographically, intellectually or emotionally even as far as A-Z pages 80 or 82.”
The second cited a report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at Kings College, “Young People, Knives and Guns”, which concluded that:
“focusing on weapons themselves can be a distraction from addressing the underlying causes of violence and that the most effective interventions engaged instead with “the big questions of disadvantage and social exclusion” along with addressing individual, family and neighbourhood problems. It also found that in the United States locally-based strategies where a variety of agencies work closely together to combine different prevention and suppression approaches have been more effective than “enforcement-led interventions by agencies operating in isolation.””
Later in the same post, Hill describes the experience of youth and community workers he had met:
“There was a strong consensus that every neighbourhood affected and individual involved is different, and that responses should be tailored accordingly. A unified view was also expressed that police officers with listening ears who know a neighbourhood well are an asset, but that vanloads of territorial support group members sent in from elsewhere to conduct stop-and-search blitzes can cause more problems than they solve. Far better that police energy was put into co-ordinating activities across borough lines and building trust with the communities they serve.

There was a general frustration that funding for anti-youth crime and violence projects is too often short-term and under threat, making the sustained action required far more difficult to implement. Outreach work, personal development and gang mediation schemes were all thought to have beneficial effects, so why couldn’t they be backed with more consistency and on a larger scale?”

Certainly my perception for what it is worth is that gang-related violence seems to have got significantly worse in London in the last couple of years or so.  This is not intended to be a political point because I am not sure that there is a simplistic cause and effect between political decisions or for that matter policing decisions and changes in the levels of violence or gang-related activity.
I am also told that at least one magistrates court in London checks through the lists of cases coming up so as to ensure that cases involving rival gangs are scheduled on different days to stop fights breaking out on court premises.
However, what is clear is that a number of things that are happening will clearly be making the situation worse – what the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies call “the big questions of disadvantage and social exclusion”.
Thus, a worsening economic situation with fewer opportunities for young people will create an increasing sense of hopelessness and futility fostering a breeding ground for both extremism and for gangs.  In this context, scrapping the Educational Maintenance Allowance seems a particular folly and which is why Ken Livingstone’s pledge to restore it in London makes sense.
Similarly, cutting local authority budgets will both increase local joblessness but is also likely to mean that specialist youth and community provision will be lost – again hardly helpful in this context.
Tackling the environment in which gangs flourish is the key.  Too often in too many parts of London for too many young people being part of a gang is the only way of having any security – both physical and emotional.  These are not easy issues to tackle, but it is obvious that some policies will make things worse.
Wednesday
Feb 15,2012

One of the difficulties in combatting terrorism is maintaining public support and vigilance over time as the memories of atrocities on mainland Britain fade.  The recent conviction of nine men who plotted to bomb the London Stock Exchange and build a terrorist training camp is a reminder that the threat has not gone away.  However, the Metropolitan Police campaign, “It’s probably nothing, but…“, will help reinforce the message that public vigilance is going to be essential – particularly in the run-up to the Olympics.

As the Met says:

“Everyone who works, lives and visits London has a role to play in helping to counter the terrorist threat which remains real and serious.”

The four week campaign consists of a 40 second radio advert to be aired on Kiss FM, Capital, LBC and GOLD, and press advertisements in local publications and minority media titles. The activity will also be supported by a digital presence on Spotify, and in excess of 1.4 million leaflets being delivered to households across London.

The radio advert recognises that some people may be reluctant to report suspicious activity or behaviour, such as someone paying for a car in cash but not taking it for a test drive, because ‘Chances are, it’s probably nothing’.

But it goes on to encourage people to think ‘But what if it isn’t’?

Just one piece of information could be vital in helping disrupt terrorist planning and, in turn, save lives.

The press advert seeks to reassure Londoners that if they see or hear something that could be terrorist related, they should trust their instincts and call the confidential Anti-Terrorist Hotline.

 

Tuesday
Feb 14,2012

I was rather disconcerted to come across a site on-line which makes the following promises:

“We offer only original high-quality fake passports, driver’s licenses, ID cards, stamps and other products for following countries: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, UK, USA and some others.”

It goes on to say:

“Our passports produced with high quality and have no difference from the original documents. We accept all security features like special paper, watermarks, security threads, intaglio printing, microprinting, fluorescent dyes, color-changing ink, document number laser perforation, latent image, laser image perforation while producing passports.

   There is also a possibility to affix almost all kind of stamps into the passports. The price for this service should be discussed with our operator and may be variable.

    Attention! There is a new option of document duplicates producing, i.e. cloning of the real existing document but with your photo. We select suitable document from our database considering on your age, sex, nationality, ect. This service is available for not all countries, pricing is not fixed too.”

Driving licenses are also available:

“All our driving licences are produced on high definition printers. They offer durability, exceptional print quality and an overall impression of quality and authenticity in our fake DL cards. We offer a range of features such as barcodes, magnetic stripes, smart chips and holographic overlays. We also offer holographic overlaminates, which lend added authenicity to the cards.”

The Frequently Asked Questions section is instructive:

Can I use your document instead of real one?

Answer : Yes, you can do it. To reduce risks we recommend you to use document duplicates service, i.e. cloning of the real existing document but with your photo.

Are my order details kept private?
Answer : Of course, customer details are kept confidential and never shared. All our documents come in plain white envelopes with no mark saying what’s inside.

Delivery questions

How long will shipping take?
Answer : Shipping takes from 2 to 5 days depending on country of destination. Some orders take up to a week.

Can you provide a tracking number for the package?

Answer : The orders that shipped by means of DHL (Worldwide Express), UPS Express and FedEX are provided with tracking number for the package.

Do any of our company details appear on the document or envelopes they are sent in?
Answer : All our document are sent in discrete packaging with no reference to our company on the packages contents or on the cards themselves.
Does the delivery name and address have to be the same as the name and address I want printed on my fake documents?
Answer : No. If you want your document to go to another address then just fill in the order form accordingly.

Payment questions

How much time will you need to send my document after the moment I paid?

Answer : It depends on the payment method you used . Wire transfer usually takes several days to arrive to our account. Webmoney, Western Union and MoneyGram methods are fast and we can check them at the same day.

Can I pay for my fake document using a credit card or Paypal?
Answer :
Unfortunately due to the nature of our business it has been difficult obtaining these facilities. We expect to take credit cards sometime in future time. As a result we can not at this time accept cards and Paypal as a method of payment.
I want to order lots of fake documents, can I get a discount?
Answer :
If you send us an email detailing how many documents you intend to order then we will contact you and arrange a discount on an individual basis.”

I trust by now the site has been closed down by the relevant authorities, but, if not, I will provide the link to suitably authenticated representatives of the Metropolitan Police or the Serious Organised Crime Agency ….

Saturday
Feb 11,2012

A Police Service with a sense of humour?

How would the Met shape up if their website was hacked?

Wednesday
Feb 8,2012

The Mayor of London and his policing surrogate, Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM, are keen to introduce a pilot scheme in London whereby the courts could impose on offenders, whose offences were alcohol-related, a requirement that they be compulsorily tested for alcohol daily for a three months period with a positive test meaning arrest and appearance again in court.

Data in the US, where such schemes have been in place for eight years, show that reoffending rates after alcohol monitoring more than halved when compared with traditional sentences of fines or custody – with 99 per cent of tests being negative, and two-thirds of those on an alcohol monitoring scheme having perfect compliance throughout the whole period of the scheme.

This evening in the Lords, the distinguished cross-bench peer, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, proposed a series of amendments that would permit such a pilot, saying:

“My Lords, this set of amendments concerns an alcohol monitoring requirement and is modified from those tabled in Committee on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. The alcohol monitoring requirement requires an offender to abstain from alcohol and be regularly tested to ensure compliance as part of any community or custodial sentence. It would provide an additional option—a new tool—for the courts.

These amendments would not stop responsible social drinking. They aim to deal with irresponsible, anti-social alcohol abuse and its devastating consequences. When I tabled these amendments previously, the Government’s response was that they would pilot the idea in October, using existing legislation for low-level crimes. October has come and gone. Where is the pilot? Anyway, this is needed for middle and high-level crimes, not just low-level crimes.

I should explain why we need primary legislation to undertake a proper pilot. London wants to do a pilot and will fund that pilot. The proposal has wide support. London Councils, which represents all 32 London boroughs, has written to Ken Clarke supporting the scheme. The chair of London Councils is Mayor Jules Pipe, the Labour elected mayor of Hackney. The scheme’s project board has representatives from Her Majesty’s Courts Service, London Probation, Public Health and the Crown Prosecution Service involved in developing the pilot. Consultation has involved domestic violence victims, Refuge, Women’s Aid, domestic violence offenders, health leads and those with an interest in the night-time economy from transport to addiction support services.

Today, I spoke to Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who is “fully supportive” of the proposal. He commented that alcohol is a precursor to crime in about 80 per cent of crimes in London and that after six o’clock at night you can smell the problem in the police cells. Violence against the person offences account for 64 per cent of Metropolitan Police alcohol flagged offences and criminal damage accounts for some 11 per cent of alcohol flagged crime. We should remember that only about 10 per cent of offences get flagged as alcohol-related even though, in recent British Crime Surveys, victims believe offenders to be under the influence of alcohol in about half of all violent incidents. The commissioner wants this to be a mandatory scheme. Voluntary schemes do not work because you need to support those who most need it and who are unlikely to recognise that need without compulsion. He wants this measure to act as a driver for better health as youth binge drinking is now a common cause of end-stage alcohol-induced liver failure in those aged under 25. We have a major social and health problem.

The Metropolitan Police view this measure as an additional tool against drink-driving and domestic violence. The proposed alcohol monitoring requirement has the potential to reduce reoffending for alcohol-related crime, particularly drink-driving and domestic violence, and contribute to long-term behavioural change of offenders. …

Courts need a different sentence to tackle alcohol-related crime because what we have is just not working. Custody tears families apart and single large fines damage the children in the home more than the offender. Neither custody nor fines address behavioural change. London wants to pilot this scheme in relation to offences of violence against the person, drink-driving and domestic violence. It is recognised that developing a scheme in relation to domestic violence would require particular care to ensure that the safety of the victim, including any dependants, is an integral part of the scheme.

These amendments will enable the court to take enforcement action on alcohol-related violence and to monitor compliance, particularly regarding middle-level offences such as common assault, offences against the person, threatening behaviour and domestic violence. How would it work? Pre-court screening aims to identify alcoholics whose needs are so great that the scheme would not be suitable for them. Alcohol monitoring as part of a suspended sentence, a community sentence or post-release licence would be an alternative to custody when the magistrate is satisfied that the offender understands the demands, which are no alcohol and daily testing.

Evidence suggests that the period needs to be 12 weeks to achieve real behavioural change. The court would order the offender to pay for each test—usually £1, which is less than such offenders are paying for their drinks. Let us get this in proportion: £2 a day is less than the cost of one pint of beer in a pub or two pints from many supermarkets. The cost of the monitoring to the offender is very low compared with the amount that they are normally spending on their huge alcohol intake—even when that is irregular. Testing would be done by either a private company or voluntary third-sector agency using paid staff, not volunteers. It will not tie up police constable time.

For the pilot, test centres would use existing court and probation premises near transport hubs. The initial alcohol test would be taken with a standard breathalyser. If it is positive, a second test would be taken with evidential standard equipment and mouthpiece. Breaches, which might be through a positive breath test, non-attendance or non-payment, would be dealt with using standard processes, with a swift and modest sanction such as an extension of the monitoring period in the first instance. Non-payment will need a flexible approach, particularly for those on benefits, and will be specified in the protocol. I have gone through the draft protocol but I shall not delay the debate by going through its minutiae.

The amendments are compatible with our human rights law—in particular, Articles 5 and 8, and habeas corpus. Let me be explicit: there is no compulsion on an officer to arrest a person for non-compliance and no compulsion to detain on arrest. An officer may arrest a person only when it satisfies the test of reasonableness and proportionality in Article 5.1(b).

In London alone, almost 9,000 cases would be suitable for the scheme. Between half and a quarter of these are people who are employed. The scheme would allow them to present for testing on the way to and from work, without any risk to their job. For offenders with anger and aggression issues, counselling and family support have the greatest chance of success when the participants are sober.

Existing orders that relate to offences for low-level crimes and have been used in cases of alcohol abuse do not have a success story attached to them. The alcohol-monitoring requirement would be appropriate for medium to high-level offences that require appearance at a court for sentencing. Existing orders were discussed with the Home Office and Ministry of Justice officials, but were considered inappropriate by those who want to pilot this scheme in London because, for example, drink banning orders keep people out of an area but do not halt the abuse, and are non-enforceable. Conditional cautions need to be voluntary, involve an admission of guilt and are managed by the police. The police do not want to use conditional cautions because they do not have the manpower and do not feel that such cautions are appropriate. Anti-social behaviour orders are civil orders to tackle harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not in the same household, and therefore do nothing to tackle domestic violence. Community sentencing could require attendance but not testing by breathalyser. Penalty notices for disorder do not require an admission of guilt, and do not count as convictions. The current fine of £80 is suitable only for minor offences.

I am sure that the Minister will say in response that the Government plan a pilot under community sentencing, just as they did previously for low-level offences, by using tagging for secure continuous remote alcohol monitoring—SCRAM devices that detect alcohol in sweat. These devices are not yet type-approved by the Home Office. They are bulky, are fixed around the ankle, and make a buzzing sound every 30 minutes as they sample the sweat. The offender cannot travel without prior permission because they have to be near the base station to download data daily. The wearer has to connect the device to the mains to recharge and cannot bath, use household cleaning or personal hygiene products that contain any alcohol at all, because that would give a false positive reading—and the device is in place for three months. As for the collection of the £1 test cost, the principle of hypothecation locally is already in place for asset seizures. The police can already hypothecate when the money is there.

We have an epidemic of alcohol abuse in this country. We cannot carry on doing what we are doing. It just is not working. These amendments would allow a full pilot to take place in a small area. London wants to do that to discover how well it works or not, and to iron out any problems. These amendments are essential to allow that pilot to happen. I beg to move.”

The amendments were supported by speeches from all parts of the House: Liberal Democrats, Lord Avebury and Lord Carlile of Berriew; Conservatives, Baroness Jenkin of Kennington and Baroness Newlove (whose husband was kicked to death in an alcohol-fuelled murder); Labour, Baroness Dianne Hayter, Lord Willie Bach (from the front-bench) and myself; and Cross-bencher, Baroness Howe of Idlicote.

Unanimity had broken out, until the Government spokesperson, Baroness Northover (a Liberal Democrat, but no doubt a Conservative Minister would have said the same as they did when the same proposal was raised a few months ago) rose to respond.

She offered supportive phrases:

“we very much support the principle of the intention of the noble Baroness and other noble Lords who have contributed to this debate.”

Supporting “the principle of the intention” is a bit like those non-apology letters you get saying “we are sorry you found it necessary to complain”.

And promised two non-statutory pilots (which would be unlikely to reach the most serious offenders) – in due course = when the Government has published its alcohol strategy and gone throughout the approval process for the technology it wants to use.

And, of course, the Government wants

“to hear the views of the judiciary, professionals within the criminal justice system and the public on the proposals. We will therefore be consulting in parallel with the pilot schemes to ensure that we give full consideration to the purpose, effect and benefit of sobriety schemes as we develop work further.”

A long grass job.
She was not keen to apply the pilots in domestic violence cases either because as she rather strangely put it:
“We have reservations about sobriety schemes being applied to domestic violence offenders because, if you like, alcohol does not cause domestic violence although, of course, it may very well increase its severity and/or frequency.”
Apparently, it is not a priority to reduce the severity or frequency of domestic violence.
In any event, she made it clear she expected the amendments to be withdrawn and this is eventually what happened, although Baroness Finlay did warn:

“I will not press my amendment tonight, but I look forward to further discussions, and I must warn the Government that if I do not get satisfactory answers I intend to bring this back on Report.”

On a previous occasion the Mayor’s Office thought they had got agreement from the Government to go ahead.  They will not be pleased to be rebuffed again.

 

Tuesday
Feb 7,2012

On BBC London News today, I was asked about the terrorist threat, following the recent RUSI report.  I think RUSI are right to highlight the concerns about so-called “lone wolf” terrorists, but I also thought it was worth putting in context that over the last decade a citizen’s chance of being killed in any one year on mainland Britain as a result of a terrorist atrocity is about ten million to one.

uk-england-london-16937713

Let’s keep these things in proportion.

Tuesday
Feb 7,2012

The last hour of business in the House of Lords last night was given over to a – by Lords’ standards – bad-tempered debate on an amendment to the Protection of Freedoms Bill.

The Government is proposing that certain categories of people who work closely with children need not be checked to see if they are on the barred list that says whether they are known to be a danger to children.  In particular, they will not be checked if they are subject to “supervision”.

The amendment was moved by Lord Bichard, who led the inquiry into the Soham murders, who said:

“Everyone in this House understands that one of the most difficult responsibilities for any Government is to manage risk, whether that risk is the security of our nation or the safety of the most vulnerable members of our society. It is one of the most difficult responsibilities because very few risks of any significance can be entirely eliminated, and decisions must therefore be made about what is an acceptable-sometimes an unavoidable-level of risk, and what action is proportionate in seeking to minimise that risk.

That is why I emphasised two things when I published my report on the deaths of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman at the hands of Ian Huntley in Soham: first, that we cannot create a risk-free society; secondly, that the steps we take to minimise risk should be proportionate. For those reasons, I very much sympathise with and support the Government in seeking to strike the right balance in this very difficult area. Some reduction in the level of bureaucracy associated with vetting and barring is necessary and achievable, and I welcome the Government’s attempts to do so. However, I cannot agree that these clauses strike the right balance, even with the amendments tabled by the Minister or by other noble Lords in this House. That is why I am moving this amendment.

To be clear, these clauses relate to those who train, supervise, teach or instruct children outside a specified place, such as a school or a children’s home, or to those who are unpaid volunteers in whatever setting. In such circumstances, a person will not in future need to be CRB checked if they are under the supervision of another person who is engaging in a regulated activity and is therefore subject to CRB checks. We can, and probably will, debate how close or intensive that supervision should be. My contention, inconvenient though it may be for those of us who want to reduce the level of bureaucracy, is that no amount or quality of supervision can be sufficient to prevent someone developing a bond of trust with a child that he or she can then exploit at a time when they are free of that supervision. That is how grooming takes place.

The internet provides enhanced opportunities for the bond of trust, once established, to be inappropriately exploited. Therefore, the focus of our concerns should be not on the quality, intensity or nature of the supervision but on whether the person involved in training, instruction, teaching or supervision presents a risk to the child. They should therefore continue to be subject to checks that can help establish whether
they are a risk to children. This will hold out some hope that we can prevent them gaining privileged access to children.

We know that checks cannot be foolproof, but surely we owe it to our children to take reasonable and quite simple steps to prevent those whom we know are a risk from gaining privileged access to children, even if they are subject to supervision. They must do that because children assume that adults who are trusted to offer guidance or instruction to them can be trusted-not just in limited circumstances such as the youth centre or playing field but wherever they are encountered. That is why supervision can never be enough, and why sometimes we have to place the safety of our children before our desire to minimise regulation and bureaucracy. I hope that that is what we will do this evening. If we do not, I fear that we will very quickly find that dangerous adults will realise that there are some settings and some ways in which it will be easier in future for them to gain access to vulnerable children. The people we are talking about are manipulative and clever. They will take advantage of those opportunities.”

Finally, I hope that the Minister will at least be able to confirm this evening that the Act will do nothing to prevent organisations, with their local knowledge, making checks where they think they are required. For example, a school with its local knowledge will be able to carry on checking volunteers if it believes that that is necessary and good practice.”

In support, I said:

“It is unfortunate that we are debating these amendments at this time of night in a fairly sparse Chamber. I fear that in a few years time people will look back on this debate and say, “Why did Parliament not do more? Why was Parliament so happy to allow those changes to go through without further checks and cautions?”. I am therefore grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, for his amendments. He is quite right to say that a balance has to be struck and that no system will necessarily protect all children against abuse and against predators. However, the omission that is being created by this Bill is enormous. It is saying that if a volunteer, or someone working with children, is subject to supervision, they do not have to be checked at all. The reality is that parents send their child to a school or a club because they assume that it is a safe place. They assume, therefore, that the people who will be in contact with their child at that school, that club or that activity are also safe. I suspect that unless they pore over the details of our debate, which I am sure is not the case, they will assume that all those people are being checked against these registers and lists. Of course they will not be. They are volunteers or they are under the day-to-day supervision that is envisaged.


The reality is that children coming into contact with those adults will again assume that they are safe. The bond of trust, and it does not have to be a very strong bond, will be built up and created. When they see that individual elsewhere, perhaps in the town centre, loitering near their school or wherever it may be, they will assume that that person is as safe for them there as in the supervised context. That is why such an important gap is being created by this legislation. I know that the Government have moved significantly in terms of the amendment they have tabled about supervision being,

“as is reasonable in all the circumstances for the purpose of protecting any children concerned”.

I wonder whether that is really going to be sufficient. Is it really going to provide the protection that is needed? Is it, for example, going to ensure that the individuals concerned never offer their e-mail address, their Facebook page or their BlackBerry messenger identity to children? How can it do that if that offer is made not on the premises of the school or the club or outside the activity concerned? There will be no way of knowing whether that happens. However good the supervision may be inside that school, that club, or during the activities concerned, there will be no way of preventing that bond of trust being created and therefore the vulnerability of that child meeting that individual again outside that school, that club, or that activity. That is where the danger is going to be created.

As I said, most parents will assume that that school, that club or that activity is safe. They will assume that the people there, whom their child will encounter, will be safe, but the Government in this legislation are removing that security in saying, “We’re not guaranteeing that. All we’re guaranteeing is that physically while your child is in that environment, those people are supervised and therefore no abuse can take place”. The real, persistent danger of people who are extremely clever and extremely manipulative in getting access to children is not that they are going to do whatever they do in front of other adults or in the school or club or during the activity time. They will want to do it away from those settings, and they will do it because they have built up that bond of trust. I appeal to the Minister. It may be that he can give us enough reassurances about what,”

    “all the circumstances for the purpose of protecting any children concerned”,

will amount to, but I doubt whether those assurances can ever protect that trust. The only way that that can be achieved is by not drawing this distinction in this way but by accepting the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard.”

It was also supported by Baroness Howarth of Breckland, former Chief Executive of ChildLine, who said:

“I want to concentrate on the people who are likely to abuse. I declare an interest as the vice-chair of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, of which I have been a trustee for some 20 years. It is the organisation that pioneered the work in grooming and understanding the nature of abusers.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said, there is no doubt that these individuals will see this as open season on children-and I choose my words carefully. I have probably been involved with more of these men than most-some women, but mostly men-and so I know just how deceitful, clever, manipulative and strategic they are. They have a long view. These individuals do not just move in, see a child and think they are going to abuse them; they plan their moves carefully. There has been talk about building trust, but when a teacher can systematically abuse a child in a classroom, as in a recent case, noble Lords should take that as an example of what these kind of individuals can do, and then recognise that there are others right across the country who are thinking at this moment, “Will there be another opening for me to reach a child?”.

I have also worked with victims of that abuse. Imagine it was your son or daughter who had been buggered or raped by one of these people, who had gained their trust. The child or young person involved believes that they are implicated-the trust means that they carry the guilt. This is why often these youngsters will not come forward early, but if you talk to rape crisis lines or the people who deal with adult abusers, time after time they will tell you how the guilt kept them from telling. Research may show that if you talk to young people there is less of it, but many youngsters will not say that it is happening to them because they have that guilt.

As far as supervised access is concerned, anyone who has recently been to any of the youth provision that is around will know how hectic it is-properly so, for young people enjoying themselves-and that “supervision” is a strange word. In fact, you are just about maintaining the peace in some of these organisations. It is very easy for these individuals to make contact with the young people. As has already been said, modern technology makes it even easier.

I can see the Minister sitting there thinking, “We have heard all this before; we have our position”. But I would say to him that if you really care about our nation’s children and what happens to them in their adulthood after these incidents have happened, when they are unable to make relationships, when their marriages break down, when they have problems with their own children, when they end up in mental hospitals or in prison-if you look at any of those cohorts you will find that a lot of these youngsters have been abused-then you will find a way to absolutely ensure that it is not as loose as this. Anyone who is likely to abuse a child must be able to be checked so that certainty can be held by a parent and indeed by the child-and in some ways by the individual themselves because the abuser’s life is destroyed as well if they are not helped to not go through all of this. I hope the Minister will do so.”

 The Government Minister, Lord Henley, had a difficult time in replying to the debate, but resisted accepting the points made:
“9.45 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked that I should take particular note of what the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said in moving his amendment. I can give him, the House and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, an assurance that I will do that. Our time goes back a long way to when I served with the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, in the former Department for Education and Employment and I hope that we both have a great deal of respect for each other.

I echo the introductory words of the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, when he said-this is important-that we cannot completely eliminate risk. We understand that. He also made the point that we must be proportionate in how we manage these matters and accept that we must try to reduce bureaucracy as and where we can. I was grateful for the wise words of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, when she referred to the need to reduce the unnecessary CRB checks that were taking place.

It is important for us to remember that it is a question of balance. It is one that we can never get absolutely and completely right and we will probably have to go on arguing almost until the cows come home before we can resolve these matters. We should try to get it right, but the balance will be perceived differently between one individual and another.

By way of background, I reiterate that the Government believe, as do many outside bodies, that by scaling back the scope of regulated activity, and thus disclosure and the barring scheme, we can strike a better balance between the role of the state and that of employers or other organisations in protecting the vulnerable. Both have a role to play.

Clause 64 and the amendments to it provide that certain activity, which would be within the scope of regulated activity in relation to children when unsupervised, will not constitute regulated activity when it is subject to day-to-day supervision. An example was given to me-I think by my noble friend Lady Walmsley-of a technician in a school. He certainly would be covered. The amendments take us back to the wider scope of regulated activity as it existed under the previous Administration.

Baroness Walmsley: In a letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, of 1 February, the noble Lord suggested that an IT technician would not be regulated.

Lord Henley: The noble Baroness has caught me out and has got the letter that I wrote. I shall have to look again at the letter I sent to my noble friend and check that. I take back what I said but my understanding is that that is not the case. However, obviously I have got that wrong.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: Would the technician be covered?

Lord Henley: My Lords, if my letter-written with the great authority of myself-said that he would not, obviously he would not. However, my understanding-I have obviously got it wrong and I will have to look very carefully at that letter-is that he would be covered in a school. Perhaps I may look at the letter and then get back to my noble friend.

Baroness Randerson: To clarify the situation, my recollection of the Minister’s letter is that he would be covered in a school but not in a college.

Lord Henley: I am grateful to my noble friend for that correction. My noble friend Lady Stowell has just reminded me that there is a strong distinction between schools and FE colleges. For that reason I think it is very important. Oh, dear, I have to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Harris. Can he wait and let me finish my remarks? Calm down, as they say. I shall look very carefully at what I said. Obviously there is an important distinction between the two. I now give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Harris of Haringey: All I would ask is that when the noble Lord is looking very carefully to clarify that distinction he also looks at the situation of the large numbers of volunteer assistants in schools and volunteers used for out-of-school activities linked to the school-for example, to interest children in science, since we have been talking about technicians, but it could also be in art or other activities-to see whether they would be covered.

Lord Henley: Of course I will look at those matters and respond to my noble friends Lady Randerson and Lady Walmsley. I will even send a copy of that letter to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, in due course.

Let us return to the amendments because that is the important thing to do. I suspect this might now have to be the last amendment that we can deal with. In putting forward the amendment, the noble Lord has questioned whether we are confident that any supervision would be adequate to protect these children. In making the case for these amendments, reference has been made to the concept of secondary access. Some commentators imply a unique causal link between initial contact with the child and later contact elsewhere if the first is the place where most work is regulated activity. We do not accept that premise. Initial contact may happen where regulated activity takes place or it may happen in some other setting, such as a leisure centre, library, church or wherever. In our view, one type of setting does not offer significantly more help than any other for seeking contact with the same child later and elsewhere. Whatever the setting, we believe that parents have the primary responsibility for educating their child in how to react to an approach from any adult if it goes beyond that adult’s normal role. I give way to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: Is the Minister seriously suggesting that, if there was a CRB check showing that an individual was dangerous to children, it would not be noted because this was supervised contact? That person could then contact a child through all the known mechanisms, which parents are totally unable to deal with, and abuse that child. Do the Government believe that it is acceptable that that should happen?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I accept the noble Baroness’s great experience in these matters. She is pointing to an occasion where a CRB check has been taken out on an individual and it becomes clear that they are not suitable to be employed in the school or wherever. In that case they are not going to be. So I do not quite see the point that she is making. Do I give way to the noble Baroness again? We must get this right.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I was saying that the Government do not take responsibility for secondary contact. The problem is that we are not necessarily talking about a school; we are talking about youth facilities where trust is built up between a young person and a child and where supervision may take place but not the kind of supervision that can have oversight at every moment. A CRB check might well show that one of the volunteers in that setting is dangerous. At the moment those CRB checks would be taken up. But the person concerned might make contact outside the primary setting. That at the moment is covered and children and young people are safe. Under the new situation it seems to me that they will not be safe.

Lord Henley: I do not accept that. Let me see if I can get this right. I think what the noble Baroness is trying to imply is that any number of checks will provide the safeguard. I do not think that safeguard would be provided by a CRB check in the particular case that she outlines because we have now moved on to some secondary setting. Does the noble Baroness follow me?

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: To clarify the point, if a CRB check has not been taken out because this is a supervised setting and the volunteers are supposed to be supervised, and the person is actually an abuser who could have been identified by a CRB check, under the new provisions will that person no longer be checked and therefore be able to build up a position of trust with a child which, in a secondary setting, they could abuse?

Lord Henley: Will the noble Baroness accept that there is also a role for the parents in terms of the guidance that they offer their children in that role as well? That was the point that I was trying to get over. I shall give way again.

The Archbishop of York: I go back to the Soham murders. Huntley happened to be a caretaker and these girls trusted him because he was the caretaker and they had seen him in school. On that day, there was no supervision. What happened to those girls? I would rather be on the side of stricter rules and in time try to water them down a bit than assume that, because someone is in a supervised role, they cannot do something worse when they are in an unsupervised role. The word “supervision” is very loose. Unless it is tightened up, people like me will still be left worrying about what happened to those girls. The caretaker was not in a supervised role at that particular point and that is when he did it.

Lord Henley: My Lords, on the contrary, it would be covered now, and following the changes that we are going to make it would still be covered. He was not covered by what was in place before and that is how he slipped through the net. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, was asked to set up his review into these matters and why the changes were made. The point that we are trying to make is that the changes have gone too far-this was the point also made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss-in terms of the bureaucracy involved. As the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, put it, one can never totally eliminate risk and there has to be a degree of balance in how one deals with these matters. One must be proportionate. Merely to think that any number of checks imposed by the state is going to eliminate all risk is, I suspect, a wish too far. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. He said a few moments ago that there is a responsibility for parents in this. The difficulty is that the normal assumption of parents will be that every person whom their child comes into contact with in a club or other activity is safe. So presumably what the noble Lord is saying is that, in the guidance that will explain what all this means, parents will be provided with a list. It will say, “The following people whom your child comes into contact with have been checked and the others on the list have not been checked. Please advise your children not to have any contact outside this activity”. That is the implication of what the Minister is saying. Of course parents have a responsibility, but what the Government are doing is creating a situation in which parents will think that an environment is safe, but it is not because some individuals will not have been checked and those individuals may build up a relationship of trust with a child that they could choose to abuse at secondary contact.

Lord Henley: The noble Lord may say what he wishes, but he should not try to put words into my mouth, which is what he is trying to do. He is trying to suggest that we could tell all parents exactly who is safe and who is unsafe. Obviously we cannot do that. What we are trying to do is create a system that will provide the necessary safeguards but does not make parents feel that their children are automatically safe. Parents must still have the duty of looking after their children by warning them of potential dangers. They should not assume that merely because someone has been CRB-checked, merely because the process has been gone through and merely because every box has been ticked, which is what the noble Lord seems to suggest, all is safe.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords-

Lord Henley: I am not going to give way to the noble Lord. I am going to get on with my speech. If the noble Lord will allow me to do so, I will continue.

These amendments seek to preserve what we believe is a disproportionate disclosure and barring scheme that covers the employees and volunteers far more than is actually necessary on this occasion for safeguarding purposes. In so doing, it subjects all the businesses, organisations and whatever to unnecessary red tape and discourages volunteering. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, also made the important point of whether it would still be open to schools, organisations and businesses to continue to check volunteers and others. Of course they can, and we will ensure that they are still able to request the enhanced CRB certificate when necessary. We want to emphasise the importance of good sense and judgment by the managers on the ground when they look at this issue. That is at the heart of our proposal and it is why we think we have got the balance right. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, is now looking somewhat quizzical but no doubt we can have further discussion about this between now and another stage.

The right thing is to get the correct balance in how one looks at these things. The noble Lord asked about schools and what they could do. This gives local managers the ability to determine these things flexibly and make extra checks. With the various interruptions I have had, I appreciate the slight muddle I got into earlier over the letter to my noble friend Lady Walmsley. There has been a degree of confusion here.

Baroness Walmsley: Will my noble friend give way?

Lord Henley: Can I just continue these matters? I hope that I have answered most of the points that the noble Lord put forward and that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Walmsley: I am grateful to my noble friend. Could he just clarify one point? The volunteers we are talking about here are the volunteers who see children on a regular basis. That is correct, is it not?

Lord Henley: Correct.

Baroness Walmsley: I have one second point before my noble friend rises to answer. I accept that people who are not regulated can still be CRB-checked but the employer cannot get barring information. Unless the person has committed a crime and got on the police records in that way, the employer who voluntarily carries out a CRB check still does not know if that person has been barred. I understand that Sir Roger Singleton claims that 20 per cent of the people on the barred list have never been in contact with the police. Could my noble friend clarify that?

Lord Henley: May I write to my noble friend on that final point to make sure that I get it right? I will make sure that I look at my letter with the greatest care before sending it off to make sure that I have got it right. No doubt we will come back to this at a later stage. Meanwhile, I hope that I have satisfied the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and that he is able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: Could I just put one question to the Minister? I preface it with the fact that I congratulated the Government-and still do-on the laudable effort to cut through a great deal of this red tape. I said that I share the concern right round the House about secondary access. I urge the Minister to go away and look at what we have said. It may be that some areas of secondary access could be differentiated from others-I do not know. He said that he might talk about it later. I urge him to do so.

Lord Henley: My Lords, if the noble and learned Baroness asks me to do that, then of course I will. It is obviously very important to get these things right-I want to get them right. Again, it is always a question of getting the balance right. That is what we are trying to do this evening. As I said, I suspect that the noble Lord may want to come back to this at a later stage. We will see. In the mean time, I hope that he is prepared to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, at the risk of straining my noble friend’s patience-he has been very patient-he offered to come back on points that have arisen today. It is obvious that we are going to continue this subject with the next group of amendments, which we will come to next week. It would be extremely helpful if the noble Lord responded, as he has offered to do, not just before Third Reading but before we return to this next week. He may not wish to give an undertaking to that effect but I leave him with that thought. As the debate has gone on, I have made more and more notes on his Amendment 50A, which will be the first amendment next Wednesday.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not know whether it will be next Wednesday when we come back to this. I remind the House again that we are on Report not in Committee, and I think I have been interrupted and intervened upon more than one would expect. I will try to write to my noble friend before the next day on Report on this Bill. Whether it will be next week, I do not know.”

I hope we will be able to return to the issue at Third Reading, although for procedural reasons it is not clear whether this will be possible.