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The Crime and Courts Bill which was introduced in the Lords, covers a wide range of subjects. Part 1 of the Bill would provide the statutory basis for the new National Crime Agency (NCA), which the Government hopes will be fully operational by the end of 2013. The NCA is to tackle serious organised crime, encompassing the work of a number of existing organisations. These include the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) which was set up by the previous government in 2006. The National Crime Agency will have four “commands”, three dealing with organised crime, border policing and economic crime and the fourth comprising the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. As is currently the case with SOCA, it will be possible to designate its officers with powers of police officers and also those of revenue and customs officers, and immigration officers. Key differences are the breadth of its remit (because it brings together the work of other organisations too) and the ability, in limited circumstances, to give directions to chief constables.

Part 2 of the Bill contains a variety of provisions to do with courts and justice.

• It would create a single county court and a single family court for England and Wales.

• In line with a recommendation made by the House of Commons Justice Committee, the Bill would repeal provisions in the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010 intended to amend reporting restrictions in certain family proceedings.

• It would enable the jurisdiction for appeals by barristers against disciplinary decisions (and certain other matters) to be transferred from the Visitors to the Inns of Court to the High Court.

• The Bill makes further changes to the law relating to judicial appointments, amongst other things, to improve judicial diversity. It also contains provisions about judicial deployment, to introduce flexibility. This would allow court judges to sit in tribunals, and for tribunal judges to sit as court judges.

• Clauses 23 and 24 of the Bill deal with the enforcement of financial penalties. The principal change would provide for the cost of enforcing any sums due under a financial penalty imposed on conviction (e.g. a fine or compensation order) to be borne by the offender. At present, the state bears the cost of enforcing unpaid financial penalties.

• Clause 28 of the Bill would give the Lord Chancellor power to make an order permitting the recording and broadcasting of court proceedings, which is currently prohibited (other than in the Supreme Court).

• Clause 29 of the Bill would abolish scandalising the judiciary as a form of contempt of court in England and Wales. It was added to the Bill by way of an amendment moved by Lord Pannick. The Government supported the amendment and it was agreed without division.

• Clause 30 of the Bill deals with the law of self-defence as it applies to householders who use force to defend themselves or others from intruders in their home.

• Clause 31 and Schedule 15 of the Bill cover community and other non-custodial sentencing. The principal change set out here would require a court sentencing an offender to a community order to include at least one requirement imposed for the purpose of punishment, and/or to impose a fine.

• Clause 32 and Schedule 16 of the Bill would introduce deferred prosecution agreements, which would be used to tackle corporate financial and economic crime.

Part 3 of the Bill contains miscellaneous provisions, including various changes to immigration appeal rights. These include abolishing the full right of appeal against family visitor visa refusal decisions, removing an in-country right of appeal for persons excluded from the UK, and providing for immigration and nationality judicial reviews to be transferred to the Upper Tribunal. It also proposes extending the powers available to immigration officers investigating serious and organised immigration and customs crimes.

Clause 37 introduces a new offence of driving or being in charge of a motor vehicle with a concentration of a controlled drug above a specified limit and makes further provision for the taking of preliminary tests to determine the level of drugs in a person’s blood or urine. Different specified limits may be set for different controlled drugs, including a specified limit of zero in some instances.

Clause 38 is the latest of a series of attempts in various bills to remove the word “insulting” from section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 which makes it an offence to use “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour”. The Government resisted this amendment, and strongly holds the view that the word “insulting” should be retained in section 5.

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