Government plans to amend extradition laws will be included in a wide-ranging justice reform bill, the home secretary told the House of Commons last night.
During the second reading of the Crime and Courts Bill, Theresa May said the bill would propose amending the Extradition Act 2003, introducing a forum bar - allowing a UK court to determine where a person should be tried - and transferring to the High Court her responsibilities for considering representations on human rights grounds.
May proposed the changes following her decision last October to block the extradition of computer hacker Gary McKinnon.
She also told the house that the government had agreed to abolish the crime of ‘insulting’ under in section 5 of the Public Order Act, after the House of Lords voted to scrap it last year.
‘I respect the view taken by their lordships, who had concerns that I know are shared by some in this house about section 5 encroaching upon freedom of expression,’ May said.
‘On the other hand, the view expressed by many in the police is that section 5, including the word "insulting", is a valuable tool in helping them to keep the peace and maintain public order,’ she said.
May added: ‘There is always a careful balance to be struck between protecting our proud tradition of free speech and taking action against those who cause widespread offence with their actions.’
MPs welcomed many of the provisions in the bill, including the introduction of a drug-driving offence; deferred prosecution agreements; measures to improve judicial diversity and the creation of a single family court.
On family courts, Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith said more needed to be done to improve transparency and openness. ‘The lack of it helps to feed very strong views among fathers about how private law cases are decided and among families about how public law cases are decided.
‘That creates, or strengthens, a sense that wrongful decisions may be taken, and people do not understand the reasons for decisions.’
MPs also welcomed measures to relax the ban on televising court proceedings by giving the lord chancellor power to revoke the current rules, but said that caution should be exercised to ensure that proper parliamentary scrutiny is given to the detail of these plans.
Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd voiced concern that details of the specific circumstances in which filming would be allowed would be introduced through secondary legislation, limiting the scope for debate by MPs.
‘Many groups, including Liberty, have expressed concern about the possible repercussions that could emanate from allowing for the filming of civil and criminal proceedings in their entirety,’ Llwyd said. ‘That could well lead to additional anxiety for witnesses - and in certain circumstances to some witnesses being less inclined to appear in court - as well as to the alteration of testimony,’ he said.
Many MPs also spoke against proposals to amend self-defence laws to allow householders who use force to defend themselves from intruders without fear of prosecution, calling the change unnecessary.
Commenting on the bill, a Law Society spokeswoman welcomed provisions that ‘will contribute to creating a more modern and effective criminal justice system’, but said there are several ‘apparent omissions and areas of concern with the current drafting’.
‘The government is right to be concerned about diversity within the judiciary. However, it is disappointing that the opportunity has not been taken to formalise the procedure for the appointment of UK judges to international courts or to address the current restrictions on government lawyers seeking judicial appointment.’
She voiced concern about plans to televise court proceedings, saying: ‘Whilst measures intended to improve public confidence in, and knowledge of, the justice system should be welcomed, it is important that sufficient safeguards to avoid sensationalist, partial or misleading reporting are incorporated.’
On the self-defence plans, she said: ‘The Society considers any change to the law of self-defence to be entirely unnecessary, as the current law is clear, proportionate and well understood. Rather than bring clarity, the amendment proposed in Clause 30 will lead to substantial confusion and increased litigation in the form of expensive appeals.’
The bill will now go to committee in the Commons.
Read the full debate.