Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

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Clause 71

Local community safety partnerships

Mrs. Calton: I beg to move amendment No. 241, in page 60, line 29, at end insert—

    '(3A) The Secretary of State shall ensure that each partnership includes elected representatives and persons drawn from relevant statutory agencies and voluntary and community organisations.'.

In his comments on amendment No. 240, the Minister has reassured both me and my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire that his intention is to consult as widely as possible. It follows that the partnership will include a wide range of partners. I accept the Minister's argument that he is not in a position to establish the shape, and his assurance that he intends the partnership to be as widely drawn from the community as possible.

Lady Hermon: Patience is one of those rare virtues that I might not have. However, I have been patient since clause 70 and we are now considering clause 71. It was a pleasure to hear during the previous debate that the Minister had found that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister could be consulted about acting jointly.

I was reminded by the contribution of the hon. Member for Reigate that the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 dedicated an entire schedule, running to five pages, to the composition of district policing partnerships. I am concerned that, so much detail having been given on that occasion, we are being asked to approve a provision in this Bill for membership of local community safety partnerships to be specified by order made by the Secretary of State. That is unnecessarily vague. I should like to tease out what sort of membership the Minister has in mind and to address the concern in communities in Northern Ireland that paramilitaries could use this as an avenue to influence and to become part of community safety partnerships. A lot of trouble was taken in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act to ensure that that could not happen. I should like to see its provisions repeated in this legislation.

Mr. Browne: There are two ways in which the amendment can be approached. There are those who encourage a partnership and a broad approach—that is the position of those who drafted the amendment and who seem to be reassured that the Secretary of State intends to be inclusive and to generate a partnership that properly reflects those who should be involved in determining the shape of the application

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for a strategy for community safety. There is no one-size-fits-all model of how community safety should operate in Northern Ireland. The order-making powers are necessary because we have to ensure maximum flexibility to tailor the delivery of work in the field of community safety to the needs of each community.

I have already made it clear that the changes, post the review recommendations, have introduced new levels of uncertainty, which were principally generated by the Executive's review of local administration. That made it inappropriate to set out the shape of community safety policing partnerships or community safety partnerships in the way in which the hon. Member for North Down suggested. That will need to be done once the review recommendations have been implemented and there is a settled environment in which the partnerships can operate. Whether that will be done in Parliament or whether the Assembly will do it depends on when the review concludes and when its recommendations are implemented.

7.30 pm

Lady Hermon: Will the Minister say whether those with criminal convictions will be eligible to sit on community safety partnerships? It would be enormously helpful if he could clarify that one point of uncertainty.

Mr. Browne: I am almost certain that such issues will be dealt with in the forthcoming consultations and the legislation that comes before Parliament, which is when the matter can be debated. Obviously, the Secretary of State expects the shape of the community safety partnerships to include the police and representatives from those services to which I have already referred, which will be expected to deliver the plan. Clearly, the local community will need to be represented and we shall need to engage with its representatives in those debates. The consultation will take place and recommendations, which we shall have the opportunity to debate, will be made.

Mrs. Calton: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Blunt: The Minister has not reassured me. We did not divide on clause 70 because who are we to stop him having legislative power to have a community strategy? I am sure that he does not need primary legislation for that. The hon. Member for North Down made it clear that there is a lack of detail in clause 71. Rather than taking the powers now, it would be appropriate for the Government to return to the House to seek the powers in primary legislation when they are clearer about the answers to our questions. We therefore oppose the clause.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 16, Noes 5.

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Division No. 24]

Atherton, Ms Candy Barnes, Mr. Harry Browne, Mr. Desmond Calton, Mrs. Patsy Clarke, Mr. Tony Dobbin, Jim Heyes, Mr. David Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
McIsaac, Shona Mallon, Mr. Seamus Merron, Gillian Mole, Chris O¨pik, Lembit Stringer, Mr. Graham Tynan, Mr. Bill Woodward, Mr. Shaun

Blunt, Mr. Crispin Campbell, Mr. Gregory Francois, Mr. Mark
Hayes, Mr. John Hermon, Lady

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 71 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 72 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 73

Appeals in small claims cases

Mr. Browne: I beg to move amendment No. 299, in page 62, line 30, leave out from beginning to 'and' in line 35 and insert—

    '(a) after sub-paragraph (a) insert—

    ''(ab) any party may appeal on a question of law to a judge (not being a deputy judge) against any order, decision or determination;'',

    (b) in sub-paragraph (b), for the words from ''by the High Court'', onwards substitute ''by the Court of Appeal, state for the determination of the Court of Appeal any question of law arising out of an award made by the district judge in dealing with the claim unless an appeal on the question has been brought under sub-paragraph (ab);'','.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 300 and 301.

Mr. Browne: This group of amendments removes an undesirable side effect resulting from changes to the appeals process for small claims cases. The Northern Ireland civil justice reform group recommended that appeals relating to any question of law arising from an award made in a small claims court should go to the Court of Appeal, rather than the High Court. In addition, the group recommended that there should be a right of appeal from a small claims court to a county court on a point of law, regardless of whether an award was made. It was intended that those rights of appeal should be both exhaustive and exclusive. If a party appealed on a point of law to the county court judge and was unsuccessful, he should not attempt to appeal on the same point of law to the Court of Appeal. However, the wording of clause 73(2) as drafted does not fully reflect that intention.

Amendment No. 299 and the two consequential amendments correct that and reflect the reform group's recommendation by preventing an overlap in the appeal routes. I ask that the amendments be made.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 300, in page 62, leave out line 37 and insert '(ab) and (b)'.

No. 301, in page 62, line 39, leave out '(4)(ba)' and insert '(4)(ab)'.—[Mr. Browne.]

Clause 73, as amended ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Clause 74

Time limit for cases stated by county court

Mr. Browne: I beg to move amendment No. 76, in page 63, line 4, leave out from 'days'',' to end of line 6.

Article 61(2) of the County Courts (Northern Ireland) Order 1980 presently provides for an appeal from a county court to the Court of Appeal by way of a case stated to be commenced within 14 days of the relevant decision being given. The civil justice reform group recommended that the appeal period be extended to 21 days. That is provided for by clause 74, which helps to secure the group's overall objective of a more accessible civil justice system. The clause goes on to provide that the appeal period can be reduced at the court's discretion. However, it is considered that such a general discretion could create uncertainty. Moreover, it is not reflective of the other appeal arrangements in the county court tier. Accordingly, the amendment provides for the removal of that provision.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 74, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 75 to 78 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 75 to 78 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 79

Powers and duties of court securities officers

Mr. Blunt: I beg to move amendment No. 35, in page 65, line 22, at end insert—

    '(d) arrest any person in any court house, and must act in accordance with any general or specific instructions which have been given to him (whether orally or in writing) by a person in authority.'.

This is a small but important amendment, the case for which was put to me repeatedly in Northern Ireland. Given the police's tendency to move away from court rooms, people were certain that circumstances had arisen in which court staff had not been able to arrest people. One resident magistrate to whom I spoke had a particular example in mind. He had had direct experience and asked me what he could do if an arrest needed to be made. It would be sensible for the power of arrest to go to members of the court staff acting on the direction of the authority in the court. The power would appertain only within the jurisdiction of the court, and then only on the direct instruction of a person in authority. This is a sensible amendment, and I hope that the Government will allow it.

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Prepared 12 February 2002