A. Conceived at last year's Conservative Party conference, it was flagged by Michael Howard as 'the most comprehensive package of action against crime'. It has since been attacked as 'the most comprehensive attack on human rights'. Its 171 clauses, tackling issues from terrorism to human embryo research and ravers to private prisons, have attracted equally diverse opposition from the Lords, the clergy and lawyers through to the disaffected young.
Q. If there is so much opposition to the Bill why didn't we hear Labour's voice?
A. Partly because Labour approved of some of the Bill's provisions and partly because it was decided that outright opposition on the Commons floor would be politically damaging. Instead the Labour Party decided to fight the Bill clause by clause at the committee stage. It sought to introduce its own measures to tackle issues like drug crime; it opposed measures such as those for new jails for 12- to 14-year-olds; and it sought to water down others, such as plans to abolish the right to silence.
Q. How does the Bill affect the right to silence?
A. The right of silence has been a cornerstone of the criminal justice system for more than 300 years. The Bill will enable the courts to draw an adverse inference if a defendant remains silent under police questioning. The right to silence is seen as a safeguard against oppressive questioning which has led to false confessions in notorious miscarriages of justice.
Q. What exactly are child jails?
A. Clause 1 of the Bill enables the courts to make secure training orders for persistent child offenders aged 12 to 14 in five new units, to be built and run by private companies. They were devised after the publicity over the trial of the two 10-year-olds for the murder of James Bulger and other stories about 'out-of-control' children.
Q. Will it still be possible to organise outdoor raves and festivals?
A. While aimed at unauthorised raves, the Bill can apply to other events where music is played. It bans music at night that is likely to cause serious distress to residents and is 'characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats'.
Q. How will the Bill affect New Age travellers?
A. Designed to tackle the perceived 'menace' of travellers, the Bill introduces a set of proposals which make it a criminal offence not to leave land when ordered by police or the local authority - even if the landowner has given permission to camp. It removes the duty of local authorities to provide authorised campsites. The legislation therefore affects gypsies and others who do not live in fixed dwellings.
Q. Will the Bill mean the end of squatting?
A. The Bill criminalises squatters who fail to leave a property the moment they are requested to do so. Failure could result in a jail sentence. Squatters who have nowhere else to live will continue to squat in empty properties, but there are fears that more young people will be forced on to the streets.
Q. What other new powers are being given to the police?
A. The Bill strengthens police stop-and-search powers in designated areas where 'it appears that it is expedient to do so in order to prevent acts of terrorism' and, further, where it is believed someone may be carrying an offensive weapon.
Q. Will video censorship be tightened?
A. The Bill bans the private use of videos which 'present an inappropriate role model' for children or which are 'likely to cause psychological harm to a child'. The wording is open to wide interpretation.
Q. But will the Bill affect crime?
A. The Government argues it will. By giving police greater powers against terrorism and giving the courts extra powers to lock up children and people who skip bail, more criminals will be removed from the streets, the Government says. Critics say the effect on the bulk of crime will be minimal.
Q. Will it be more difficult to organise peaceful protests?
A. Clauses 63-66 of the Bill create new offences of aggravated trespass, which occurs 'with the intention of disrupting or obstructing lawful activity', or 'intimidating people so as to deter them'. While aimed at hunt saboteurs, the wide-ranging provision could be applied to prevent a wide range of innocent protests, such as trade union pickets and anti-road protests, critics argue.
Q. Does the Bill really breach human rights?
A. It is argued that it breaches a wealth of European human rights legislation. For example, the removal of the right to silence could contravene the right to a fair trial; legislation tackling travellers could breach the right to a private family life; and the restrictions on raves and protest could breach the right to freedom of assembly.
Q. Are there any proposals that are generally welcomed?
A. Yes, they include removing the requirement for a judge to warn a jury of the dangers of a woman's uncorroborated evidence in sexual offence cases.
Q. What happens to the Bill now?
A. It returns to the Commons on 19 October and the Government will seek to reverse the amendments forced on it by the Lords, notably giving courts discretion on whether to send children to the new secure units; halting changes to the criminal injuries compensation scheme which will mean many victims will be worse off; and delaying for five years plans to remove the local authority duty to provide caravan sites. The Lords are likely to put up a final fight, but the Bill is almost certain to be on the statute books by the end of the month.
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