Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

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Column Number: 215

Clause 38

Code for Prosecutors

Mr. Mallon: I beg to move amendment No. 203, in page 22, line 30, at end insert—

    ( ) The Director must consult with-

    (a) the First Minister and Deputy First Minister;

    (b) the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; and

    (c) any other person appearing to the Director to have an interest in the matter, before finalising, or making alterations to, a code.'.

Amendments Nos. 203 and 204 are linked, and are intended to bring the Bill more closely in line with recommendation 50 of the review group. That included the recommendation that the DPP be required by statute—

The Chairman: Order. I am prepared to accept the two amendments as being grouped together if that will facilitate the process.

Amendment No. 204 reads: in page 22, line 30, at end insert—

    '( ) In exercising his functions under subsections (1) and (4), the Director must have regard to the United Nations Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors.'.

Mr. Mallon: I am sorry if I was out of order, Mr. Pike. The DPP would be required by statute to publish codes of practice and ethics, the latter being based in part on the standards set out in the United Nations guidelines. The new Northern Ireland Policing Board, which has various types of representation, is drawing up codes of practice in terms of its remit, which are essential given the importance of the DPP's position.

The United Nations guidelines on the role of prosecutors are especially relevant. In line with the review group's recommendation, it is important to place a duty on the DPP to have regard to the guidelines in drawing up codes for the prosecution service. The first part consultation with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is an attempt to ensure cross-community support for the code of ethics that I hope will be proposed by the DPP. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will ensure conformity with human rights and standards. There are further implications because the Equality Commission and the Human Rights Commission might include in that consultation non-governmental organisations and agencies. Enormous strength could derive from this if it is done well and handled properly.

I will not die at the ditch over the wording of the two amendments because I recognise that there are difficulties. They could be tidied up, but I want to put them on the record. I strongly urge the Minister to examine how the principles underlying them may best be applied. If he can give me such an assurance, I shall not press the amendment, but I shall wait for inspiration from him or hope that somehow I am able to raise that inspiration at a later stage.

Lady Hermon: I am glad to be able to record that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh and I have found ourselves in agreement this afternoon.

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However, the agreement was, alas, only in part, and I should not want to build up false hopes. I shall give the good news first, and then come to the bad news.

Mr. Browne: That is a nuance.

Lady Hermon: That is right.

In paragraph 3.25 of the criminal justice review, the review team recommend that

    ''human rights issues should become a permanent and integral part of training programmes for all those working in criminal justice agencies, the legal professions and the relevant parts of the voluntary sector.''

On the basis of that recommendation I am happy to support the part of the amendment of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh that refers to consultation with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Given my track record of criticism of it, that is a major advance on my part.

The bad news is that I am concerned by the reference to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I am specifically concerned by it because of the terms of reference that the review team lays down in the agreement, which are usefully quoted on page 2. The review group was duty bound under its terms of reference to consider

    ''arrangements for the organisation and supervision of the prosecution process, and for safeguarding its independence.''

Quite frankly, I do not believe that it is appropriate that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister—I notice that on this occasion they do not have to act jointly—should consult on the code for prosecutors when two MLAs are being consulted.

Paragraph (c) of the new subsection proposed by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh concerns me because it is open-ended and too wide. It mentions

    ''any other person appearing to the Director to have an interest in the matter''.

I would like him to give some idea of the scope of the provision and of the people who are covered by that paragraph.

6.30 pm

Mr. Mallon: I welcome the hon. Lady's support for the consultation with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. I take it from the UN guidelines that the role of prosecutor is very important. I welcome that. I note what the hon. Lady says about the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. The reason why ''acting jointly'' is not included is because theirs is a passive role. The function rests with the DPP. The hon. Lady said that she would go home and read the Northern Ireland Act 1998 carefully and note whether, when there was reference to passivity, it was different from that which was a function. I know that she is going to score an interesting point now; let us hear it.

Lady Hermon: I gave an undertaking that I would refresh my memory about the agreement. My concern was that subsequent legislation might have extended its meaning. When I read the agreement, I noticed that it said:

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    ''Key decisions requiring cross-community support will be designated in advance, including election of the Chair of the Assembly, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, standing orders and budget allocations.''

Those are very definite categories in which there should be cross-community support. In other cases, such decisions could be triggered by a petition of concern brought by a significant minority of Assembly Members. Nowhere in the agreement, which I have signed and which the vast majority of people supported in referendums both north and south, are the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister tied together at the hip.

Mr. Mallon: I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution. She is right about the decisions of the Assembly. The decisions that are to be made with cross-community support are specified as those on the election of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, budgetary arrangements and the human rights content of the agreement. There may be another.

My crucial point is that the functions of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister are joint. What comes as a more terrible shock is that they are not only joint, but joint and equal. That takes some people by surprise, but that is what is in the legislation, which was written not by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, but by Parliament. That is the reality, and if we are to get to grips with the essence of the Bill and other legislation, we must realise that they hold a joint equal office, reflecting the joint equal decision-making process and what was known in the negotiations as parallel consent.

The hon. Lady asked about other organisations. I immediately think of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and several others that may be able to make an input. The Probation Board for Northern Ireland may be another. All those organisations need to be explored, and I agree with the hon. Lady that there is an open-ended quality about the amendment that encourages me not to press it to a vote at this stage.

Mr. Blunt: I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for North Down in principle, if not entirely. She is right that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister should not have a role in the proceedings precisely for the reasons that she adduced about political independence. That he must consult with

    ''any other person appearing to the Director to have an interest in the matter''

is the ''Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all'' paragraph. One must trust the director a little. If one is simply unable to name the people with whom he will have to consult, they are already in clause 42(3), which requires him to consult with the Attorney-General and the Advocate-General before bringing the code of ethics into play or altering it. That strikes me as the appropriate balance, as the Advocate-General will remain accountable in this country, and the Attorney-General will be able to answer questions in the Assembly. However, that also means that the director retains his independence in framing the code.

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It is not appropriate to name the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission above and beyond many other bodies that also have a legitimate interest. One must assume that when the director frames the code, he will consult where he considers it appropriate to do so. Those whom he consults are likely to be appropriate consultees. I depart slightly from the hon. Lady's view in that it would be incorrect to put the Human Rights Commission on a pedestal that was equivalent to the Attorney-General and the Advocate-General.

My views on amendment No. 204 offer more comfort to the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh. The director should have regard to the United Nations guidelines on the role of prosecutors. It is appropriate for that to be included in the Bill, so that the Director of Public Prosecutions will take that as his starting point in framing the code of ethics. Combining that with the requirement to consult with the Attorney-General and the Advocate-General for Northern Ireland meets the aims of the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman wants to press amendment No. 204 to a vote, he will have my support. He does not have my support for amendment No. 203.

Mr. Browne: When I first spoke to the amendments, my original view was that the provision for consultation with the Attorney-General and Advocate-General, to which the hon. Member for Reigate referred, was sufficient as set out in clause 42. Like the hon. Gentleman, I thought that it would not be appropriate to be more prescriptive on consultation at this stage. However, I have considered the provision further and, for the reasons that all hon. Members have articulated in the debate so far, I can see a role for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in the consultation. The hon. Member for Reigate can also see such a role for the commission in the consultation, which was the thrust of his argument--until he explained that he did not think that it was appropriate because it would put the commission on a par with the Attorney-General and the Advocate-General. I accept that point. I can see a role, but for the reasons that have already been articulated, I cannot see a role for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in this process. I certainly cannot see a role for an unlimited group of people who are not capable of definition.

On amendment No. 204, the Government endorse recommendation 50 of the review that the code of practice and ethics should be based on the UN guidelines on the role of the prosecutor. The guidelines will provide an invaluable benchmark for standards in the prosecution of offences. It is inconceivable that the Director of Public Prosecutions would not consider such an instrument when he is compiling a code of practice or ethics. Whether it would be appropriate or necessary to put that—

6.40 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

7.8 pm

On resuming—

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It being after Seven o'clock, The Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order D [28 June 2001] and the Orders of the Committee [29 and 31 January 2002], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put and negatived.

The Chairman then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Clause 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 39 to 44 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

 
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