Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

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New Clause 2

Provision of reasons not to institute or continue proceedings

    '(1) Where the Director decides not to institute proceedings against a person or discontinues such proceedings he shall provide the Attorney General with reasons for his decision.

    (2) The Attorney General shall, if requested by a person properly connected to the matter, provide a copy of those reasons to that person unless to do so would be against the interests of justice or the public interest.'.—[Mr. Mallon.]

    Motion made, and Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill:—

    The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 13.

    Division No. 12]

    AYES
    Blunt, Mr. Crispin
    Calton, Mrs. Patsy
    Mallon, Mr. Seamus

    NOES
    Atherton, Ms Candy
    Browne, Mr. Desmond
    Dobbin, Jim
    Hall, Patrick
    Hermon, Lady
    Heyes, Mr. David
    Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
    McIsaac, Shona
    McWalter, Mr. Tony
    Merron, Gillian
    Mole, Chris
    Stringer, Mr. Graham
    Woodward, Mr. Shaun

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 8

Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice

Question proposed, That this schedule be the Eighth schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Blunt: I do not have many issues to raise, but I want to follow up the question of payment. The Secretary of State will presumably appoint the chief inspector both before and after justice is devolved. Paragraph 2 of schedule 8 places a duty on the Secretary of State to pay the chief inspector's salary, allowances and pensions. Under paragraph 3 the chief inspector employs staff subject to the Secretary of State's approval.

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After justice is devolved, I assume the responsibility for paying the chief inspector will remain with the Secretary of State and not be given to the Legislative Assembly. Will the Minister confirm that, and explain how to differentiate the provisions under paragraph 2 and others where the responsibility for payment devolves? Does the responsibility for food and rations, payment of the chief inspector and so forth remain with the Secretary of State? If it is devolved, why is that, given that the Secretary of State makes the appointment and is responsible to this place rather than to the Legislative Assembly? If the devolved Administration assumes responsibility for budget provisions and payments, the Secretary of State will be taking decisions about the size of the chief inspector's salary for which he is not accountable to the Legislative Assembly. An apparent contradiction in accountability arises. Will the Minister make the position clear?

Mr. Browne: I shall endeavour to do so in response to that reasonable question. Where functions do not come into effect until post-devolution, the Bill clearly states that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister have responsibilities for the aspects of the schedule that the hon. Gentleman highlighted. Where the Government intend to put a chief inspector in place before devolution, the Bill establishes the responsibilities of the Secretary of State. When the functions are subsequently devolved by order under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the relevant Minister in the Executive rather than the Secretary of State will be responsible. The order achieves the devolution.

As the chief inspector is expected to be appointed before devolution, for the period leading up to devolution, the schedule details the Secretary of State's responsibilities and the relationship between the chief inspector and the Secretary of State. When matters are devolved, the order will transfer functions to the relevant devolved authority. I hope that that is clear. The function of appointing the chief inspector will be devolved. Although the first chief inspector may be appointed by the Secretary of State, the function of appointing subsequent chief inspectors will be devolved, as will all the other functions spelled out as belonging to the Secretary of State.

7.15 pm

Mr. Blunt: That is extremely clear. Am I correct in my understanding that none of the references in the Bill to the Secretary of State will survive if the entire justice function is devolved? I have been under the impression that some residual functions in the Bill have been left with the Secretary of State. I may have misunderstood the position and misdirected myself, but I have been anxious that we make those responsibilities clear in the Bill. Will the Minister confirm that after devolution references to the Secretary of State will be replaced by First Minister and Deputy First Minister, usually acting jointly?

Mr. Browne: That is a demanding question to ask even a Minister about a Bill of this size. However, I can answer it in respect of the principles involved. When

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responsibility is devolved, what the hon. Member for Reigate suggests is by and large correct. In the event of an interregnum before devolution, that will not apply to all the references in the Bill to the Secretary of State. I shall check that. At this stage of consideration of a Bill of this size, I am not prepared to answer categorically. However, the principle that I enunciated and that the hon. Gentleman kindly said was clear applies to all cases in which something will change before devolution and devolution follows. That is the best that I can do at the moment. That does not apply to the Secretary of State's functions in the excepted field or the reserved field. Functions in the reserved field that relate to criminal justice will, by and large, be devolved.

Mr. Blunt: I am grateful for that clarification. I am left with just a hint of opaqueness in my understanding of precisely which areas will be devolved and which will be reserved. I appreciate that the Minister cannot give a comprehensive answer now, but I invite him to write to member of the Committee well before Report, so that there is time to table amendments if the position is unclear and hon. Members want to change responsibilities between the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the Secretary of State. The Bill needs to be clear about which areas automatically relate to devolution of justice and which do not, and at the moment it is not.

Mr. Browne: I should make myself clear, because I am not sure that the last few sentences of my contribution were exactly enlightening. All references to the Secretary of State in the schedule relate to the reserved field, which will be devolved when criminal justice is devolved. The hon. Member for Reigate can replace the Secretary of State in the schedule with the devolved Minister, although I am not in a position to say who that will be since other provisions in the Bill imply that other decisions must be made.

Where the Bill refers to the Secretary of State in the excepted field—off the top of my head, I am not sure where that happens, but I will have it checked—those responsibilities will not be devolved. Any reference to the Secretary of State in the context of excepted matters will continue to be read as a reference to the Secretary of State. I am more certain in myself that that is clear now; whether others understand it is a matter for them.

Mr. Blunt: I am sure that the point is startlingly obvious, but when one reads the Bill, how can one identify what is excepted and what reserved?

Mr. Browne: This is becoming a ping-pong match. The hon. Gentleman will have to read another Act of Parliament. The reader needs to know his way around the Northern Ireland Act 1998. It is the same in Scotland: to work out what is devolved and what reserved, the reader has to know his way around the Scotland Act 1998. By referring to the Bill and the

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Northern Ireland Act, the hon. Gentleman will be able to answer his question. He will have a good Wednesday doing that.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 8 agreed to.

Clause 46

Functions of chief inspector

Mr. Blunt: I beg to move amendment No. 31, in page 26, line 30, at end insert—

    (k) the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 181, in page 26, line 30, at end insert—

    '(k) Consignia,

    (l) the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland,

    (m) the Financial Services Authority,

    (n) the Inland Revenue.'.

No. 188, in page 26, line 42, at end insert—

    '(5A) An inspection carried out by the Chief Inspector of Consignia, the Financial Services Authority or the Inland Revenue may cover only functions relating to the Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland.'

Mr. Blunt: The amendment is straightforward. I look forward to hearing arguments from the hon. Member for North Down about the inclusion in the chief inspector's remit of Consignia, the Financial Services Authority and the Inland Revenue as well as the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland. I approach the hon. Lady's amendments with an open mind, and if her arguments are as convincing as I expect them to be, I shall withdraw my amendment in order to allow hers to be put to the Committee.

The major issue before us is the role of the police ombudsman. It is important that she and her office should be brought within the chief inspector's remit. The reasons for that are blindingly obvious. The ombudsman has an important role in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. Regrettably, she got off to a somewhat unhappy start in her relationship with the Chief Constable and the controversy over her investigation into the Omagh bombings. Clearly, that is to be regretted. The Committee have debated whether to give the police ombudsman additional responsibilities, and I have tabled amendments to that effect. If the ombudsman is to have the important role that she has been given—and perhaps an enlarged role as time goes on—it will be necessary to have some form of inspection to ensure that that office is performing its functions in, at the very least, an administratively effective and competent fashion. That is one of the remits of the inspectorate.

It would seem odd that the ombudsman should stand outside the chief inspector's remit. Given all the other bodies that will be subject to the inspectorate, I should hope that the ombudsman and her office would not object to some form of outside inspection of how they carry out their role. That is important. There is also a sense of fairness. Because the role given to the police ombudsman is important in the criminal justice

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area, there is concern, certainly within the Police Service for Northern Ireland, that it may be possible for that office to behave in a perhaps capricious fashion. It is terribly important that that notion is corrected. If there is some sense in which the police ombudsman can be subject to a set of standards and inspection by the chief inspector, that would help to address the issue of the professional competence of the ombudsman and her staff.

 
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Prepared 5 February 2002