Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill (Sixth sitting)
At the Bill’s sixth sitting amendments were raised on the non-suspicion part of the new powers as well as on the right to access to a lawyer. The Law Society’s evidence was referenced nine times during the session including on three occasions by the Minister of State for Security.
The transcript of the session can be found here and a summary is included below:
• Nick Thomas- Symonds MP tabled amendment 44 to the Bill. This new clause would implement the recommendations of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights and would require an officer to have reasonable grounds for suspecting an individual is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism before her or she could detain an individual for up to 6 hours under Schedule 7.
• Nick Thomas- Symonds MP discussed how an examining officer may exercise the powers under schedule 3 whether or not there are grounds for suspecting that a person is or has been engaged in hostile activity. He pressed the Minister on the requirement that an officer have reasonable grounds for suspecting an individual. The Minister of State for Security, Ben Wallace MP argued the Law Society’s witness, Richard Atkinson, had said in his evidence that he had no concern about the suspicion part of the power. Mr Wallace said he thought it would be a setback for our national security and counter-terrorism work if the no-suspicion stop powers were removed.
Access to a lawyer
• Gavin Newland MP moved amendment 21. This amendment would delete provisions in the Terrorism Act 2000 which restrict access to a lawyer for those detained under Schedule 7. While introducing the amendment Mr Newlands noted that Richard Atkinson had stated that the schedule was of “great concern” to him as it fundamentally undermined what he would consider to be a cornerstone of our justice system - legal professional privilege.
• Speaking on amendment 21, Mr Thomas-Symonds also commended the evidence of Richard Atkinson in terms of seeking practical solutions to deal with the Government’s concerns and still maintain the right of legal professional privilege. He also noted that Mr Atkinson suggested several ways in which the balance could be maintained.
• Mr Thomas-Symonds said the committee should turn their minds to finding a practical solution that maintains legal professional privilege.
• Responding to the proposed amendment, Mr Wallace said he agreed with Opposition Members that where an individual has been detained under those schedules and has requested to consult a solicitor, they should have the right to do so privately. He claimed in the vast majority of cases, there will be no reason to question that right. However, he added that on rare occasions, there might be a need for the examining officer or a more senior police officer to impose certain restrictions.
• The Security Minister specified that the powers are designed to be available only in specific and serious circumstances, namely where those detained seek to frustrate an examination, cause evidence to be interfered with or alert others who are in some way involved in an offence.
• In response, Mr Thomas-Symonds argued the professional code of conduct that lawyers have would prevent them in engaging in any illegal activity. He described how Richard Atkinson had said that where there is concern about an individual lawyer there is provision for the suspect to have the consultation with that lawyer delayed but to be offered the services of another lawyer in the meantime.
• Mr Wallace addressed the point by saying that schedule 3 would allow use of the power only when an officer at least of the rank of commander, or assistant chief constable, has reasonable grounds for believing that allowing the examinee to exercise his or her right to consult a solicitor privately will have certain serious consequences. The Minister also made a distinction between a police station and a border security stop and the admissibility of verbal discussion as evidence in court.