Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

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Lady Hermon: I am not at all surprised that the Minister has not changed his position-in fact, I would have been amazed had he done so. I expected him to be consistent in his arguments, and he has proved me right in that respect.

By tabling the new clause, I wanted the Minister to address the serious issue of gaining the confidence of all parts of the community, which is a central aim of the review. In that context, it was worth opening a discussion about whether all sections of the community would have confidence in court security officers who have previous convictions. I also wanted to extract from the Minister a guarantee that persons who apply to be court security officers will be vetted, and he gave a generous reassurance on that point.

It is worth mentioning an argument against the new clause. I am perfectly aware that the vast majority of people who have been involved in terrorist activities have never been convicted of those activities, so would not fall within the remit of the new clause.

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I appreciate the comments of the hon. Members for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) and for Newry and Armagh, and the fact that on this rare occasion I have the support of the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell)-in principle. However, he, too, gave the understanding that the Minister's reassurances would appease-if that is the right word-him and would reassure him that court security officers would be vetted. With that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 81

Excepted matters: judicial office-holders

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

10.45 am

Mr. Browne: I rise to speak about this clause only because it refers to the issues surrounding the distinction among excepted, reserved and transferred matters, which have periodically exercised the Committee. It is incumbent upon me to explain, given some the questions that have been asked, although I will address some of those questions later.

The review recommended that the appointment and removal of judicial office holders should be devolved. The Northern Ireland Assembly cannot legislate about the appointment or removal of specific judicial office holders, because it is an excepted matter under the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The clause provides for the appointment and removal of judicial office holders to become a reserved matter in preparation for the transfer by order of those powers from Westminster to the Northern Ireland Assembly once responsibility for justice matters is devolved, as recommended by the review.

Hon. Members will appreciate that it is not possible to devolve matters to the devolved Administration by order under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 from the excepted category directly to the transferred category. An order can only devolve reserved matters, so the clause provides for the appointment and removal of judges to be recategorised as a reserved matter.

The review recommended that judges' salaries should continue to be fixed by reference to their equivalents in England and Wales, which are within the remit of the Senior Salaries Review Board. As a result, remuneration, superannuation and other terms and conditions of holders of judicial offices-other than those relating to removal from office-are to remain an excepted matter. Determination of the salaries of the president and other members of the Lands Tribunal for Northern Ireland is, however, the responsibility of the department of finance and personnel, and will remain so.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 81 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 82 and 83 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 12 agreed to.

Clause 84 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Schedule 13

Repeals and revocations

Mr. Browne: I beg to move amendment No. 77, in page 121, line 41, at end insert-

    'In Schedule 2, the entry relating to the Lord Chief Justice's Office.'.

The amendment provides that the Lord Chief Justice's office will no longer be a department of the Supreme Court within the meaning of the Judicature (Northern Ireland) Act 1978. The amendment is consistent with the review recommendation, reflected in clause 13, that the Lord Chief Justice should have a wider role, covering the judiciary and the magistracy, instead of just the Supreme Court. It is a positive signal of the Government's intent that the office of Lord Chief Justice should embrace the whole judicial service.

Mr. Blunt: I should just place it on record that it is a pity that we were not able to debate clause 13.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 13, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 85 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 86

Interpretation

Mr. Browne: I beg to move amendment No. 78, in page 67, line 30, at end insert 'and'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 79.

Mr. Browne: The clause provides for the interpretation of a number of terms used in the Bill and includes a definition of the term ''magistrates court''. However, it is already defined in schedule 1 of the Interpretation Act 1978, which applies to the Bill. The amendment removes the definition of ''magistrates court'' from clause 86 as it is not considered to redefine the term for the purposes of the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 79, in page 67, line 32, leave out from '(c. 23)' to end of line 34.-[Mr. Browne.]

Clause 86, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 87

Transitionals and savings

Mr. Mallon: I beg to move amendment No. 209, in page 67, line 39, leave out subsection (2).

This amendment and the subsequent one refer to the new office and the new role of the DPP. It has been touched on in debate at various times and in various ways. I regard the clause as crucial and the amendment as an important one.

The Chairman: Order. Before the hon. Gentleman develops his theme, let me say that I am happy to group with amendment No. 290 amendment No. 291, in clause 87, page 68, line 13, leave out subsection (4). Both amendments stand in his name, and he will be able to broaden his comments.

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Mr. Mallon: Thank you, Mr. Conway. The purpose of the amendments is shared.

The review group, whose recommendations we have considered, expressly recommended the establishment of a new, independent prosecution service, with new arrangements for prosecutions and new measures to ensure its accountability. In paragraph 4.174, it foresaw that the implementation of its recommendations would entail

    ''building upon the responsibilities and work of the existing Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions.''

However, it underlined that it would also involve

    ''taking on new work, a different approach to aspects of its existing work and substantial organisational change.''

The review group went on to make recommendations about how the new Public Prosecution Service would be staffed and organised to ensure that it would be able to discharge its duties. Those duties include the appointment of the DPP and his deputy through open competition before a selection panel, in accordance with procedures established by the Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland in recommendation 59 of the criminal justice review. Subsection (2) defers the implementation of that important recommendation until some unspecified time in the future. It is worth considering it in detail, because it is not only contrary to the spirit of the review's recommendation but it is ill-defined, so implementation will probably not take place for some time.

The existing DPP might become the new DPP under the new dispensation. Let us assume that he or she is appointed at 35 years of age. That would give him or her ample time to have obtained 10 years' experience. It could therefore be 30 years before that crucial part of the recommendations would be implemented, notwithstanding the possibility that the Attorney-General might extend the period of tenure for the DPP past the age of 65, in which case it could take longer. That point might be a little over-stated, but it is true. We should not agree to defer the implementation of that crucial recommendation.

We do not know who the DPP or the deputy DPP will be when clause 31 comes into force. Whoever it is, the review's recommendation will not be implemented until one or other of those people reaches the statutory retirement age of 65, which may be extended by the Attorney-General. I find that most unsatisfactory because the new beginning and approach of the DPP will be the flagship for the Bill. It will be the flagship for the entire project of establishing a criminal justice system that will command the respect and allegiance of all. If that flagship does not leave port until some point way down the line, the entire project will be damaged.

If my hypothesis is right, I will not live to see the new dispensation in operation, and neither will many hon. Members present. Nevertheless, it is the crucial element of change in the Bill. The clause does not stand up, and should be amended. I made that point in a previous debate and I make it again today. We have already debated the review group's recommendation that the appointment of the DPP should be through open competition before a selection panel in

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accordance with procedures established by the Civil Service Commissioners in Northern Ireland. When does that apply? Does it apply to the DPP who is in place and would become the new DPP? It will not happen for some time.

Mr. Browne: I think that my hon. Friend will find the unequivocal answer in subsection (2), and that he wants to omit that subsection because the existing DPP and deputy DPP would otherwise remain in office.

I invite my hon. Friend to address his comments to a more general point. He may agree that the transition cannot be made immediately, but it must not take so long that hon. Members will not be here to see it. Can he suggest how an achievable time frame could be fixed in statute?

11 am

 
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Prepared 14 February 2002