Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  80. That is the figure I have got, so we are not disputing it.
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) If you have it, it must be right.

  81. Thank you, Lord Chancellor. I might put that in my election address. If I can ask you this question. How do you see that figure squaring away now after three and a half months of operation of the Act? Is it within budget or are you likely to have to revise it?
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) It is absolutely impossible to predict. Since there is no evidence of any significant increase in the number of judicial reviews or of criminal appeals, since hardly any points, contrary to expectation, have been raised in the magistrates courts, although we trained the magistrates thoroughly to be able to deal with them, I am sanguine about the adequacy of these figures which have been reserved in the budget for this purpose.

  82. Lord Chancellor, I hope you will not misinterpret it if I leave now. I have a constituency engagement, it is nothing to do with the answers you have given me.
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) Not at all. Have a safe journey.

  Mr Winnick: You are not walking out in disgust.

  Mr Howarth: I am not Disgusted from Aldershot. Not that I agree with much of what the Lord Chancellor has said.

Mr Malins

  83. Lord Chancellor, I tend to agree with you that in our magistrates' courts and crown courts human rights points are not cropping up very much.
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) Certainly.

  84. I think that is the burden of what you are saying. I think I rather agree with that. However, there is another area where I think they are cropping up quite a lot, immigration appeals. I think there is a much higher proportion of take up points on human rights in immigration appeals cases. That is only anecdotal. Do you think that is likely and does that give you any cause for worry?
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) It is perfectly possible that that may be so but I have no evidence of any significant trend in that area.

  85. I have no evidence, it is just anecdotal. It is not something which at the moment has caused you any concern?
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) None at all.

  86. About the efficacy of those hearings?
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) Certainly not.

  87. It is something to perhaps bear in mind if problems come up.
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes. I think one very important point to remember is that the judiciary was thoroughly trained at every level for this.

  88. I can confirm that.
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) In many ways we learned from the experience of New Zealand because New Zealand passed its Human Rights Act and almost immediately implemented it. They had many more teething problems than we have had. In my view we have had virtually none. The reason is two fold, that the judges down to every magistrate were trained to respond sensibly to Human Rights Act points and trained in Human Rights jurisprudence, but also there was a massive exercise across the whole of Whitehall addressing really every rule, every principle, every practice, every procedure, to see that it was compatible. So Whitehall at the same time did a great deal of preparation and preparation has, in my view, borne fruit.

Mr Stinchcombe

  89. Just a few questions, Lord Irvine, following from those of my colleague, Mr Howarth. The Human Rights Act simply incorporated into domestic law the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights save for Article 13?
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes.

  90. Before the incorporation into domestic law, was that European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights capable of protecting British citizens if their rights were violated?
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) You know as well as I do the various classes of case where the courts did have regard to the Convention pre incorporation.

  91. As a matter of international law, was the Government bound to observe the requirements of the Convention prior to incorporation?
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) We are signed up to the Strasbourg Court. Our citizens have a right of access to that court. We have invariably, when the Strasbourg Court has ruled against us, changed the law, the domestic British law, to be compliant. But all this is a thing of the past now because, much more sensibly, people can enforce the Human Rights in British courts. How the Convention was indirectly enforceable before is history really.

  92. Does that mean then, Lord Irvine, that the substantive rights have not changed, it is simply that they are now enforceable here quicker and cheaper?
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) Absolutely. Exactly so. There will be more intensive enforcement of human rights in our own courts with greater access by our people to our own courts.

  93. Rather than treading that lonely and expensive path to Strasbourg?
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) Which could sometimes take five or six years.

  Mr Stinchcombe: Right.

  Mr Winnick: We are going on now to the Public Trust Office and Mr Linton has one or two questions to put to you.

Mr Linton

  94. I just want to ask you about the future of what I appreciate is a little known part of the Lord Chancellor's Department which is due to be abolished on April 1st and to be replaced by a new body. Can I first of all congratulate you on the modifications of your original proposals which you mentioned in your opening statement. As I understand it there is a new name now, the Public Guardianship Office.
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes.

  95. Which is a big improvement on the original proposal on the Mental Incapacity Support Unit.
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes. I am not proud of that. I am much prouder of the Public Guardianship Office.

  96. Secondly, the accounts collection is not to be handed over to the Inland Revenue, which is a change for the good.
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes.

  97. The first one you mention there is going to maintain a visiting service. Do I understand that is what is currently known as the Receivership Division of the Public Trust Office?
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) No, not as such. We have recruited ten visitors bringing the total to 16 and we are on course to achieve 4,000 visits to clients by April 2001, double the number of visits made last year.

  98. Very good. There are still one or two parts which seem a trifle unclear. The Office is still due to be relocated but as far as I know it is not yet known exactly where or what the budget is for the relocation?
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) I can tell you about that. There is really a quite urgent need to find improved accommodation. Stewart House, where it is at present, is just not conducive to a modern working environment. We did consider refurbishment. We rejected it as not a viable option. The estimated costs were £20 million. The level of refurbishment involved would have caused a major disruption and a need to decant to temporary premises and there is an urgent need to find here and now improved accommodation for the PTO. We looked at three possible areas. We looked at Milton Keynes, Greater London, and Croydon. We took the view that Milton Keynes was too far removed from the London area, Croydon not sufficiently accessible and we selected Archway Tower. Nothing is ideal but I think it is a good outcome.

  99. Certainly I think it is preferable because, as I understand it, a lot of people have to come from all over the country to the Public Trust Office.
  (Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes.

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