5th Report, 2015 (Session 4): Supplementary Legislative Consent Memorandum on the UK Serious Crime Bill (LCM(S4) 33.2)

SP Paper 660 (Web only)

Remit and membership

Remit:

To consider and report on:
a) the administration of criminal and civil justice, community safety and other matters falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice; and
b) the functions of the Lord Advocate other than as head of the systems of criminal prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland.

Membership:

Christian Allard
Jayne Baxter
Roderick Campbell
John Finnie
Christine Grahame (Convener)
Alison McInnes
Margaret Mitchell
Elaine Murray (Deputy Convener)
Gil Paterson

Committee Clerking Team:

Joanne Clinton
Neil Stewart
Christine Lambourne

Supplementary Legislative Consent Memorandum on the UK Serious Crime Bill (LCM(S4) 33.2)

BACKGROUND

The Supplementary LCM

1. The Serious Crime Bill1 was introduced in the House of Lords on 6 June 2014. This Supplementary legislative consent memorandum (LCM)2 has been triggered by the tabling of an amendment3 at committee stage in the House of Commons to include a power for the Secretary of State to compel a communication provider to disconnect unauthorised handsets and SIM cards which are being used in prisons. In Scotland, this power would be exercised by Scottish Ministers.4

2. The Supplementary LCM states—

“The presence of electronic communications devices, in particular illicit mobile telephones, presents serious risks to the security of prisons and young offender’s institutions as well as to the safety of the public. Mobile telephones are used for a range of criminal purposes in these institutions, including commissioning serious violence, harassing victims, organised crime and gang activity. Access to mobile telephones is also strongly associated with drug supply, violence and bullying”.5

3. The proposed power would add to existing provisions which seek to prevent the use of mobile phones and other communication devices within prisons.

LCM on the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill

4. In 2012 the Committee scrutinised an LCM on the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill (LCM(S4) 15.1).6 That LCM provided for the Scottish Ministers to authorise interference with wireless telegraphy for the purpose of preventing, detecting or investigating the use of electronic communications devices within prisons or similar institutions.

5. During evidence on that LCM, the Committee heard concerns from witnesses about inadvertent interference with the wireless technology of customers legitimately using mobile devices in the vicinity of prisons. It therefore recommended7 that the Scottish Government should ensure that testing and monitoring is undertaken if the Scottish Ministers authorise any interference with wireless telegraphy in prisons and young offenders’ institutions in Scotland.

6. The Supplementary LCM on the Serious Crime Bill provides details of the pilots being conducted under powers in the earlier LCM. It states—

“The Scottish Parliament has previously given consent by means of [an] LCM in this area for the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Act 2012. This allowed the Scottish Prison Service to procure and install mobile signal denial technology in two pilot sites, HMP Shotts and HMP Glenochil. The technology was installed and operational by the end of the financial year 2013-14. This supplementary LCM for the Serious Crime Bill seeks to enhance the ability of the SPS to address this ongoing criminal issue.”8

COMMITTEE SCRUTINY OF SUPPLEMENTARY LCM ON THE SERIOUS CRIME BILL

Background

7. The Supplementary LCM on the Serious Crime Bill was lodged on 12 January 2015. Due to tight timescales for consideration of the LCM, the Committee took evidence from the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs and his officials on 20 January. The Delegated Powers and Law Reform (DPLR) Committee met earlier that same morning to consider the LCM, and the Convener of that Committee attended the Justice Committee to highlight two issues that had arisen during the DPLR Committee’s meeting. These issues are explored later in this report.

8. Justice Committee members questioned the Minister, who was accompanied by Jim O’Neill from the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), on the following issues—

  • the extent of the problem;
  • timescales for granting a court order;
  • unintended consequences of the LCM (such as blocking mobile phone signals of those living in the surrounding communities); and
  • awareness-raising of the provisions in the LCM.

9. These issues are explored in turn below.

Extent of the problem

10. The Minister was asked about the extent to which mobile phones were being unlawfully used in prisons. He advised that the pilot project to procure and install mobile signal denial technology in HMP Shotts and HMP Glenochil were proving effective in addressing the problem. He stated—

“In 2011, 959 mobile telephone handsets were found in Scottish prisons and more than 800 component parts of mobile phones—SIM cards and the like—were found. Phones are sometimes broken up, distributed and then reassembled for the purpose of making a call. In the six-month period to October 2014, after the implementation of the existing regulations relating to the previous measures that the committee oversaw, 135 mobile telephone handsets were found in Scottish prisons along with more than 170 component parts of mobile phones. If those figures are grossed up to annual figures, they show that there has been a substantial reduction in the number of phones and components that are being found”.9

11. Nevertheless, he stressed the importance of staying ahead of the “entrepreneurial activity of some prisoners in the custodial setting”, in light of continuing developments in technology.10

12. In a follow-up letter to the Committee, the Minister advised that the SPS is “aware of attempts by prisoners to develop countermeasures to the technologies”, adding that this “further demonstrates the need to have phones that are illicitly used in prisons disabled or removed from the network by the Communication Provider”.11

13. The Committee welcomes the reduction in the number of mobile handsets and component parts being found in prisons between 2011 and 2014, particularly given the ingenuity of prisoners in smuggling such devices and component parts into prisons.

Timescales for granting a court order

14. The proposals contained in the amendment to the UK legislation involve giving the Scottish Ministers the power to make provision for a court to order a communication provider to take action to prevent or restrict the use of communications devices by persons detained in prisons or young offenders institutions. The Minister was therefore asked how long the process for obtaining a court order is likely to take. He acknowledged the importance of being able to move very quickly in such cases.12 The Minister agreed to explore with the Scottish Court Service the potential, to expedite procedures, particularly if there is concern about a serious crime or a risk to public safety. The Minister indicated that he was happy to come back to the Committee to discuss how this might be taken forward.13

15. In a follow-up letter to the Committee, the Minister advised there is “significant work to do” on this issue and that he was not in a position to provide any definitive timescales. However, he added that the regulations, which will be considered by the Scottish Parliament, will provide more detail on this matter.14

16. The Committee welcomes the Minister’s commitment to speak to the Scottish Court Service about the potential to expedite court procedures in order that providers can disable the device in situations where it is essential to act quickly. The Committee seeks an update from the Minister on this issue, given that there is “significant work to do”.

Unintended consequences

Impact on individuals in surrounding communities

17. Committee members raised concerns about the impact of this Supplementary LCM, and the 2012 LCM, on the civil liberties of innocent members of the public and, in particular, on residents of properties in the vicinity of the prison estate.

18. Responding to a particular concern about the potential impact of the provisions on individuals who rely on telecare, Jim O’Neill of the SPS sought to reassure the Committee that—

“the technology has no impact on [telecare and other services] whatever. The technology only operates on the frequencies of mobile phones; it does not operate on or block any other frequencies”.15

19. When pressed on future proofing of this technology, Mr O’Neill acknowledged that developments in technologies could occur, but said that Ofcom, as the regulator, has oversight of the whole wireless range and is aware of who is transmitting.16 Mr O’Neill stated that Ofcom would have to be satisfied that parts of the wireless spectrum were not being interfered with without authorisation. He also noted that Ofcom has the public interest at the core of its business.17

20. The Committee notes the SPS’s comments that the technology would have no impact on telecare and other services, and that the role of Ofcom gives some protection to the public against the impact of developing technologies. Nevertheless, the Committee urges the Scottish Government and SPS to closely monitor the impact of interference of wireless technology on communities and to continue rigorously testing the technology before undertaking any interference with wireless telegraphy in prisons and young offenders’ institutions.

Use of investigatory powers legislation and its impact on members of the public

21. Paragraph 12(c) of the LCM states that Scottish Ministers will have discretion or power to make provision about—

“Mode of proof and evidence. It is envisaged that in order to provide the court with a sufficient degree of assurance that the correct phones are being disabled, evidence may comprise of, inter alia, the results of communications data applications under Part 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the use of technology that will analyse the patterns of usage to establish that the phone is in use within a relevant institution”.18

22. Committee members sought clarification from the Minister on the reference in this paragraph to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). In his follow-up letter the Minister confirmed that this reference relates to the SPS asking the police to obtain an interception warrant under Part 1 of RIPA to allow the police to intercept communications and disclose the material obtained to the SPS.19

23. In response to concerns raised about the potential for the legislation to lead to inappropriate surveillance, the Minister stated—

“There are two approaches that we can take to the problem [of mobile phone use in prison]. If someone is caught in the act of using the phone, the existing procedures can be used to deal with that because it is an offence. However, we also need the ability to shut down a phone if we know that it is potentially being used. Mobile phones are almost like currency in jail, and if individuals have them that gives them a certain amount of power over their fellow inmates. However, we may not be able to track down the particular individual who is using a mobile”.20

24. The Committee agrees with the principle of enabling phones which are prohibited in prisons to be blocked.

Potential for incorrect identification

25. When asked about the risk of incorrect identification and the blocking of a signal of a phone belonging to a member of the public, Mr O’Neill advised that there have been no complaints about phones being affected by the deployment of the technology in the pilot projects, and argued that this “indicates that there is little likelihood of such interference”.21 However, he added that “there is scope for errors”.22

26. In his follow-up letter to the Committee, the Minister advised that installation of the technology had been fully operational, following independent acceptance testing, at one of the pilot project sites since 7 May 2014, but that the other installation had “faced technical difficulties in providing the necessary signal denial within the prison” and had been “subject to further testing”.23

27. The Committee notes that evidence from the pilots appears to show that the risk of incorrect identification and blocking of mobile phone signals is minimal.

28. However, the Committee remains concerned that there is still scope for errors, particularly in light of the technical difficulties referred to in the Minister’s letter. It therefore calls on the Scottish Government and SPS, in developing Regulations under the new legislation, to build in checking mechanisms that ensure that, before ordering a signal to be blocked, steps are taken to rule out incorrect identification. The Committee also calls on the SPS to engage with local residents to provide them with clear advice and guidance on their rights, including their right to compensation, in the event of an incorrect identification.

Awareness-raising

29. Given the potential impact on neighbouring communities discussed above, the Committee asked the Minister and his officials about the rights of individuals and how they would be informed of these rights.

30. Mr O’Neill advised that the Scottish Government’s memorandum of understanding with UK Ministers, Ofcom and communications providers already provides an opportunity for people to raise concerns and make complaints24. He further advised that the former Cabinet Secretary visited one of the pilot sites to raise awareness amongst the local community that it was taking place. Mr O’Neill noted that this was different to the approach taken in the rest of the UK, where local communities were not informed.25

31. When asked whether, as a belt and braces approach, it may be appropriate to use other means, such as leafleting, or texting, to let people know how to identify whether deployment of the technology has had an impact on their signal and what steps they should take, the Minister concurred that this would be reasonable. He agreed to come back to the Committee on this issue.26

32. In his follow-up letter, the Minister advised that he had asked the SPS to “give careful consideration as to how to best engage with those residing close to the perimeters of prisons”. Whilst noting that the SPS would wish to avoid the local prison being the first port of call for all problems with mobile phones, the Minister made clear his wish to ensure that “any residents that might be anticipated to be at risk of service disruption are made aware of how they can verify if this is a result of the measures taken by the local prison and how this could be rectified if necessary”.27

33. The Committee welcomes the Minister’s commitment that the SPS will give consideration as to how to best engage with local residents to ensure that they are fully aware of how to identify any impact of the technology on their signal and what steps they can take to rectify any problems. The Committee invites the Minister to provide the Committee with an update on this matter in due course.

DELEGATED POWERS AND LAW REFORM COMMITTEE

34. The Delegated Powers and Law Reform (DPLR) Committee considered the Supplementary LCM at its meeting on 20 January 2015 and reported to the Justice Committee on 21 January 201528.

35. Given the tight timescales for consideration of this LCM, Nigel Don MSP, Convener of the DPLR Committee, attended the Justice Committee meeting on the same day and questioned the Minister about the following two concerns raised by the DPLR Committee—

  • that the amendment leaves the Scottish Ministers to create an offence of breach of a Telecommunications Restriction Order (TRO) without specifying the maximum penalty in the primary legislation; and

  • an apparent discrepancy between the policy intention stated in the LCM and the scope of the proposed powers for Scottish Ministers to make regulations on the accessibility of court documents and for hearings to be heard in private.

36. In response to the first point, the Minister acknowledged that it would “have been preferable” for the amendment to have specified the maximum penalty but that there was “less opportunity” than the Scottish and UK Governments would have liked to “make the provisions perfect”. He added that it is envisaged that breach of a TRO would be prosecuted under the Contempt of Court Act 1981, and that, as this legislation (the provisions of the amendment) is the preferred option of the communication providers, it is considered that the need for courts to impose such penalties will be rare.29

37. In his follow-up letter to the Committee, the Minister confirmed that the current intention is to rely on contempt of court legislation but that there are “alternative means of enforcement available to Ministers should that be considered necessary”.30

38. In response to the second point, the Minister advised that an earlier draft of the amendment had included regulation-making powers in relation to the accessibility of court documents and to allow court hearings to be heard in private. For the avoidance of doubt he added that—

“The final provisions do not contain any power to allow court hearings to be held in private, as powers to regulate court procedures are already set out in section 32 of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1971 and section 5 of the Court of Session Act 1988. The SPS has no plans to seek that a court exercise the powers in order to hold hearings in private”.31

39. In his follow-up letter to the Committee, the Minister confirmed that this discrepancy was due to the LCM being drafted before the final amendments were published.32

40. The Committee notes the Minister’s comments in response to the Convener of the DPLR Committee and endorses the recommendations of that Committee in its report.

Conclusions

41. The Committee is content with the additional provisions in the Serious Crime Bill covered by this LCM that relate to devolved matters in Scotland.

42. The Committee therefore recommends that the Parliament approves the supplementary legislative consent motion on the UK Serious Crime Bill, to be lodged by the Scottish Government.


Any links to external websites in this report were working correctly at the time of publication. However, the Scottish Parliament cannot accept responsibility for content on external websites.

Footnotes:

1 UK Serious Crime Bill. Available at:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2014-2015/0116/15116.pdf.

2 The Committee previously considered an LCM on the Bill which covered Proceeds of Crime; Computer misuse; Serious Crime Prevention Orders and Financial Reporting Orders; and Female Genital Mutilation. The Committee’s report on that LCM is available at:
http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_JusticeCommittee/Reports/jur-14-15w.pdf.

3 Amendment NC 11 to the Serious Crime Bill. Available at:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2014-2015/0116/amend/pbc1161501m.pdf.

4 Supplementary Legislative Consent Memorandum on the Serious Crime Bill, paragraph 3. Available at:
http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/LegislativeConsentMemoranda/SeriousCrimeLCM.pdf.

5 Supplementary Legislative Consent Memorandum on the Serious Crime Bill, paragraph 6.

6 Justice Committee, 13th Report, 2012 (Session 4), Legislative Consent Memorandum on the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill (LCM (S4) 15.1). Available at:
http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_JusticeCommittee/Reports/jur-12-13w-rev.pdf.

7 Justice Committee, 13th Report, 2012 (Session 4), Legislative Consent Memorandum on the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill (LCM (S4) 15.1).

8 Supplementary Legislative Consent Memorandum on the Serious Crime Bill, paragraph 8.

9 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. Official Report, 20 January 2015, Col 41.

10 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. Official Report, 20 January 2015, Col 41.

11 Letter from Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs to the Convener, 21 January 2015. Available at:
http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_JusticeCommittee/General%20Documents/20150121_MfCSLA_to_CG.pdf.

12 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. Official Report, 20 January 2015, Col 42.

13 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. Official Report, 20 January 2015, Col 42.

14 Letter from Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs to the Convener, 21 January 2015.

15 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. Official Report, 20 January 2015, Col 42.

16 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. Official Report, 20 January 2015, Cols 42-43.

17 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. Official Report, 20 January 2015, Col 43.

18 Supplementary Legislative Consent Memorandum on the Serious Crime Bill, paragraph 12.

19 Letter from Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs to the Convener, 21 January 2015.

20 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. Official Report, 20 January 2015, Col 40.

21 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. Official Report, 20 January 2015, Col 38.

22 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. Official Report, 20 January 2015, Col 38.

23 Letter from Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs to the Convener, 21 January 2015.

24 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. Official Report, 20 January 2015, Col 44.

25 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. Official Report, 20 January 2015, Col 44.

26 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. Official Report, 20 January 2015, Col 45.

27 Letter from Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs to the Convener, 21 January 2015.

28 Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, Report, 2015. Available at:

http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_SubordinateLegislationCommittee/Reports/suR-15-07w.pdf.

29 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. Official Report, 20 January 2015, Cols 33-34.

30 Letter from Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs to the Convener, 21 January 2015.

31 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. Official Report, 20 January 2015, Cols 34-35.

32 Letter from Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs to the Convener, 21 January 2015.

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