Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

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Mr. Mallon: I have noted with great interest some of the reactions to this legitimate amendment in the context of a Bill of this nature. I should like to deal with some of the points that have been made.

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The hon. Member for North Down said that I did not produce a shred of evidence against any member of the judiciary. That is true, because I made no accusation against any member of the judiciary. Nor did I make a criticism of any of them. Because I made no accusation, criticism or implication, I felt no necessity to produce evidence, or to attempt to do so.

I was reminded that five members of the judiciary in Northern Ireland were murdered. That is correct. I knew three of them very well. I counted them as friends, and still do. It would be far from me, at this point of remove, to make implications about those three, about any other members of the judiciary who are murdered, or about any other serving members. That is not what the amendment says. The real implication is in the wording. I shall respond to the views of hon. Members, and I shall withdraw the amendment lest there be even a suspicion that there is an implication. However, let me ask the Committee whether, if the Bill related to Scotland, England or Wales, the sentence would read:

    ''those with responsibility for the administration of justice must uphold the independence of the judiciary.''

If we ask ourselves that question, would that not be the sentence? The reason for its inclusion is the suggested implication. If the Bill applied to Wales, would it not read as I hoped to amend it to read? I believe that it would. I am not a lawyer, like the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton), who spoke previously, but I believe that it is much more pristine as it is written. So be it.

While we are dealing with Northern Ireland we shall always have residues of difficulty. The hon. Lady was right to ask what the wording would be in 10 or 15 years' time? It is a valid point. I withdraw the amendment, although I think that it was right to table it, because there is a message for all of us in the very first line of the Bill. Perhaps I can, as kindly as I may, say that part of that message, in debates such as those that we shall have on this Bill, is that we shall have feelings about the issues. There will, of necessity, be raw nerves, and that will be understandable. If something as devoid of implication as this—and something that has had an amendment tabled to it that points to the future, not the past—touches nerves to the extent that we have seen, I hope that as we go further down the road we listen to one another and regard views as genuine, whatever feelings may be.

Lady Hermon: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Although he spoke only to the lead amendment, I have looked at amendment No. 81, which has not received comment this morning. It uses words such as:

    ''The judiciary shall decide matters''—

The Chairman: Order. It might help the hon. Lady to know that we shall reach that amendment in due course and that hers is an intervention, not a contribution, so it must be directed at the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh.

Mr. Mallon: I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and look forward to hearing the point about amendment No. 81.

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I conclude on the note on which I hoped the debate would begin. There are no implications, and I should not like there to be any, for people whom I know, who are friends and who have been killed in their duty of carrying out their responsibility under the judiciary. I believe that the process of law and legislation is strong enough to rely on a statement that says,

    ''Those with responsibility for the administration of justice must uphold the independence of the judiciary.''

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Blunt: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 6, after 'judiciary', insert 'and the legal profession'.

I preface my remarks by thanking my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough for his contribution. I am embarrassed that our positions have swapped since we were with the Minister on the International Criminal Court Bill.

Mr. Garnier: My hon. Friend need not be embarrassed; our positions have not swapped. He has a political post as an Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland. I lived in a world of my own as a shadow Law Officer. I may still live in a world of my own, but he is still doing an important job.

Mr. Blunt: I am enormously grateful, and delighted that my hon. and learned Friend is on the Committee because he is the only lawyer among Her Majesty's Official Opposition. I hope that I do not misrepresent my hon. Friends the Members for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) and for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) by suggesting that they do not have legal qualifications.

I hope that the amendment will be uncontentious. On the face of it, the evidence for it is overwhelming and has convinced a wide body of opinion that it should be accepted. While doing preparatory work for the Bill in Northern Ireland, I was struck by the force of the case for the amendment—or for one along similar lines—by the Law Society of Northern Ireland. In repeated submissions, it said:

    ''The safeguarding of human rights standards is not just a matter of judicial independence nor (in the specific context of the criminal justice system) of an independent prosecutorial structure. The existence of a genuinely independent legal profession is vital in the protection of human rights, not only in so far as this involves the framing of just laws and procedures but also in the robust and independent application and defence of those laws and procedures.''

That point was made to me forcibly, not only in writing but directly by Alan Hewitt, the president of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, and John Baillie, the chief executive. It is a strong recommendation of the Law Society, which was endorsed by Eilish McDermott of the Bar Council when I went to see her, that that should appear in the Bill.

The form of words for an amendment suggested by the Law Society of Northern Ireland was:

    ''Those with responsibility for the administration of justice must uphold the continued independence of the legal profession''.

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Rather than include in the Bill a separate amendment about the legal profession, it seemed sensible simply to link the judiciary and the legal profession together.

The case behind the amendment did not come just from the Law Society, but arose from the review group that reported in March 2000. Paragraph 3.53 of that report says:

    ''Principle 16 of the Basic Principles''—

the United Nations' basic principles on the role of lawyers—

    ''also provides that governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference. In his report on his mission to the United Kingdom in 1998, the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Mr. Param Cumaraswamy, expressed particular concern about the fact that lawyers in Northern Ireland who had represented those accused of terrorist offences had been subjected to intimidation, harassment or improper interference, and had been identified with their clients or with their clients' causes. The Special Rapporteur welcomed the Northern Ireland Law Society's decision to establish a complaints procedure to enable solicitors to complain to the Society about any agency within either the criminal or civil justice system which had allegedly impugned or threatened their independence, professionalism and integrity.''

The review concluded from that, and I agree with the conclusion:

    ''We agree with the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers that government has a responsibility to provide the machinery for an effective and independent investigation of all threats made against lawyers''.

In their plan for implementation of the criminal justice review, the Government acknowledge the special role of defence lawyers and say that they accept recommendation 9 of the review.

There is a climate within which the Law Society, the Bar Council and the review by implication uphold the necessity to protect the independence of the legal profession, and acknowledge the problems that there have been with the legal profession in Northern Ireland, not least over lawyers and clients being seen as too close together. Accusations have been thrown around about the legal profession's role in Northern Ireland. It is therefore necessary to include this provision in the Bill. The Northern Ireland Assembly agrees with that, which should be the clincher for Committee members to accept the amendment. Any agreement that is reached in the Northern Ireland Assembly among parties ranging from—

Mr. Browne: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way in mid-sentence. I am conscious that the amendment arises from lobbying on behalf of the Law Society of Northern Ireland. I see the force of it and the relevance of paragraph 3.53 of the review, which I shall discuss in my response. However, will he apply his mind to the issue of the regulation of both branches of the legal profession in the light of his amendment? What are its implications for the regulation of a profession that is at present self-regulated?

Mr. Blunt: I sincerely hope that self-regulation will be able to continue. The duty being placed on those responsible for the administration of justice in the clause is the upholding of the independence of the judiciary, and the amendment only adds the

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independence of the legal profession. Such independence is a duty placed on those responsible for the administration of justice. Members of the legal profession, especially in their responsibilities as officers of the court, also have a duty to the court. My proposal is at the request of the Law Society and the Bar Council. I am sure that they would not want this in the Bill if they thought that the Government would find it necessary to propose a mass of regulations. I look forward to hearing what the Minister thinks the consequences of the amendments might be. I had certain consequences in mind when I tabled the amendment.

11.30 am

 
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