Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

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The Chairman: The hon. Lady referred to amendment No. 158, in clause 47, page 27, line 28, leave out subsection (a), and I will happily add that amendment to the group for ease of debate. I trust that the Committee is content with that.

Mr. Mallon: I fully support the amendment. Amendment No. 289, which I tabled, attempts to achieve the same purpose. Amendment No. 157 is probably better, and I support it because although it is essential that the role of chief inspector be defined, he must at least have the opportunity to examine issues and should not be tied by the absolute term ''must.'' The wording of the amendment ensures that. It should be considered in conjunction with amendment No.

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158, which in many ways is consequential on it. I recognise the good reasons for the Liberal Democrat amendment, and I support it.

Mr. Browne: In amendments Nos. 157 and 289, hon. Members seem to want to give the inspector the discretion to inspect an organisation even if the inspector is satisfied that it is adequately inspected already. In the Government's view, the criminal justice agencies in Northern Ireland should not be overburdened with unnecessary bureaucracy. Nothing more should be imposed on an organisation that is being inspected already. Therefore, I ask the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 158 would remove subsection (a) of clause 47, which would remove the bar on inspecting individual cases. In our opinion, the review did not intend to confer on the inspectorate the power to inspect and review individual cases. That would profoundly change the nature of the organisation.

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Mrs. Calton: Removing the ability to investigate individual organisations might mean that an inspector could not investigate in the round, as he may want to. Without that ability, he might not be able to access information or make clear information that would be germane to any case that he made in the round.

Mr. Browne: I accept the hon. Lady's point that the inspector may not be able to inspect regimes, such as that involved in the detention of children, without considering the circumstances of individual cases. However, in my view, the Bill does not preclude the inspector from considering actual cases—I use that phrase advisedly—as opposed as individual cases. He can consider actual cases, which may be sampled at random, to examine the operation of a system in practice. Giving him the power to inspect individual cases would have profound implications for, and profoundly change the nature of, the institution that we want to construct.

The review framed its recommendations on the inspectorate so as to ensure good systems and cost-effectiveness, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh emphasised in the discussion on an earlier amendment. There is a clear distinction between this type of inspection and a complaints authority's or ombudsman's function. That distinction is widely recognised and practised by other inspectorates. For example, separate bodies in England and Wales deal with the inspections of the police and complaints against them in individual cases. That regime will exist in Northern Ireland, too.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Cheadle did not intend some of the more far-reaching consequences of the amendment. If she were suggesting, for example, that the inspectorate should be able to review controversial prosecutions as individual cases, that would make for a different debate. However, I suspect that she is not suggesting that, and that those who support her amendment are not either. That would contradict the review's recommendations on an

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independent prosecution service, for example. The inspector already has a challenging role to ensure appropriate standards within the system and that the system works effectively, so that organisations provide best value. It would not be helpful to expand the role of the inspector into this area, which in any event is not his business, so I urge the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Blunt: I strongly support the Minister in resisting all the amendments. The first amendment tabled by the hon. Lady would result in a lack of clarity in the inspection regime, and the possibility of being liable to inspection by two organisations should be resisted. If it is clear to the inspector that an inspection has been adequately carried out by another organisation, his duty should be as in the Bill, which requires that he ''must not carry out'' a further inspection. That position will be clear to organisations that are being inspected. An inspection is a testing time for any organisation, and its exposure should be minimised to that which is necessary.

Amendment No. 158, which would allow inspections into individual cases, could be thoroughly pernicious, particularly in the case of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The inspectorate should restrict its role to that of general inspections. Allowing individual inspections would lead the inspectorate into areas which the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh was attempting to resist in his previous amendment by making it clear that inspections should be for the sake of ''efficiency and effectiveness''. Sometimes individual cases should be reviewed, and it may be appropriate for people to appeal if they think that they have been on the receiving end of injustice. It should not be for the chief inspector of criminal justice to act as the board of appeal in such cases, which is what the hon. Lady's amendment would lead to, although I am sure that that is not her intention. It should be clear to individuals what their line of appeal should be, and that should not be to the chief inspector.

Mr. Mallon: There was no intention on my part to create a situation in which the chief inspector could surf through the areas suggested by the hon. Member for Reigate. However, an urgent issue of public concern could arise in which the inspector might consider that an inspection was justified, even though the agency had already been inspected by another inspectorate. If the inspector cannot make such a judgment, he will be in a weak and difficult position.

Mr. Browne: That is why ''adequate'' appears in clause 46(2).

Mr. Mallon: I take the Minister's point. However, I do not believe that changing the wording from ''must'' to ''need'' would have the detrimental effect that is envisaged. It makes good sense.

Mrs. Calton: I shall deal with the last point first. It could be argued that the phrase ''must not carry out inspections'' may lead to a situation in which the chief inspector may not consider a matter that gives him cause for concern. In such circumstances, some of the sense of these amendments is needed. I accept the

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Minister's assertion that it is not the intention—it is not our intention, either—to insist that the chief inspector should re-examine individual cases that have been adequately inspected. However, the inspector might have cause for concern, and subsection (2) might be used to argue that he has no jurisdiction because adequate arrangements are already in place. Arrangements may be adequate in the round, but may not be adequate in relation to an individual case on which the inspector's hands will be tied.

The Minister's distinction between actual and individual cases left me somewhat confused. I dare say that it has some legal meaning, but it escapes me, and I should be grateful for some further explanation. If I understood the distinction, I might agree with the Minister.

Mr. Browne: If it is of any help to the Committee, the distinction was between anonymised cases--which may be helpful to the inspector in working through a regime--and individual cases that refer to a particular personality, which we are trying to avoid.

Mrs. Calton: I am happy to accept that explanation, but I still believe that either one of the amendments to subsection (2)—amendment No. 157 or amendment No. 289—should be accepted to give the chief inspector some flexibility to reconsider cases if he deems it appropriate.

The Chairman: Order. So that I can be clear about the hon. Lady's intentions, does she seek leave to withdraw amendment No. 157 or to divide the Committee? If she seeks to withdraw the amendment, we can still proceed to a Division on amendments Nos. 289 and 158, if that is the wish of other hon. Members.

Mrs. Calton: I think that we should go ahead with amendment No. 157.

Question put, That the amendment be made: —

The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 17.

Division No. 14]

Calton, Mrs. Patsy
Mallon, Mr. Seamus
Öpik, Lembit

Atherton, Ms Candy
Barnes, Mr. Harry
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Browne, Mr. Desmond
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Clarke, Mr. Tony
Dobbin, Jim
Francois, Mr. Mark
Hall, Patrick
Hayes, Mr. John
Hermon, Lady
Heyes, Mr. David
McIsaac, Shona
Mole, Chris
Stringer, Mr. Graham
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tynan, Mr. Bill

Question accordingly negatived.

Lady Hermon (North Down): I beg to move amendment No. 189, in page 27, line 5, at end insert—

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    '(6A)No order shall be made under subsection (6) above unless the Secretary of State has consulted the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice.'

It is nice to be able to welcome you back to the Chair this morning, Mr. Conway.

The amendment would oblige the Secretary of State to consult the chief inspector of criminal justice before making an order that added, subtracted or otherwise altered the list of organisations set out in subsection (1)(a) to (d). I consider it appropriate that the Secretary of State should have the confidence and support of the chief inspector when he makes such changes. In that context, I draw the Committee's attention to clause 47(7), which states:

    ''The Secretary of State may require the Chief Inspector to provide advice in relation to an organisation specified in section 46.

If the Minister can confirm that the word ''advice'' includes consultation with the Secretary of State when he wants to alter, add or omit an organisation from the list in clause 46(1), I shall be happy to withdraw the amendment.

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