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Baroness Elles: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the committee's report back to the United Kingdom warmly welcomed and encouraged the initiation of the peace process in Northern Ireland and acknowledged the efforts of the state party to combat racial and ethnic discrimination? In a recent case reported in The Times, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice gave a very clear explanation of the right of silence which in no way violates the human rights of a defendant.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I agree with all that my noble friend says. It is absolutely true that the Government do not accept that the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 as regards inferences drawn from silence, or the comparable legislation in Northern Ireland, in any way contravene the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Indeed, there is no change to the basic presumption of innocence; it is still for the prosecution to prove that the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The security forces in Northern Ireland are required to operate within the law at all times. Nothing that we do is in breach of our international obligations.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, will the Minister agree that the Human Rights Committee is an eminent body which included at the relevant time the new British judge at the International Court of Justice, Judge Rosalyn Higgins, and that its view ought to be taken very seriously indeed, and that in particular, the strong concern expressed about the failure to have a British Bill of Rights or to give domestic effect to the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the covenant is a continuing breach of the international covenant? Is that not a matter which should be debated by Parliament on a free vote?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, in the Government's view the incorporation of the covenant, the European Convention on Human Rights or, indeed, a Bill of Rights is not necessary or desirable. I fear that they
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the recommendations referred to in this Question are those which also include the suggestion that we should review our military discipline, ban corporal punishment in public schools, and tackle any remaining problems of a racial nature in this country? If so, while no noble Lord would wish to be complacent in the matter of human rights, would it be worth the Government suggesting to the United Nations that it should direct its energies to matters of serious human rights abuse on this planet? Is it not the case that this country has one of the finest records in this regard?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, my noble friend does indeed point to some of the criticisms which the committee made of the United Kingdom, all of which were answered in great detail. Those answers are a matter of public information. I repeat to my noble friend that we have one of the finest records in the world, and I hope that that remains so.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the Government have not yet completed their consideration of this matter. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will announce the conclusions of the review in due course but I cannot say at present when that will be.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the recommendations regarding reducing from murder to manslaughter cases where excessive force was used either in self-defence or in the prevention of crime were put forward first 15 years ago by the Criminal Law Revision Committee; that some six years ago, the Law Commission drafted the criminal code following that recommendation; that in 1989 your Lordships' Select Committee on Murder and Life Imprisonment put forward the same recommendation; that in 1994 the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland, in the case of Regina v. Clegg, recommended that the law should be changed; and in 1995 the House of Lords, in
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, all that the noble and learned Lord has catalogued as having been said and debated in the past and what is being debated at presentindeed, the Home Affairs Select Committee at this moment is considering, among other things, this issuewill be taken into account in the course of the review, and eventually will be reported to Parliament.
Lord Carver: My Lords, will the noble Baroness please accept that this is a matter of great urgency for the Armed Forces, the members of which are liable to find themselves convicted of murder and statutorily sentenced to life imprisonment if deemed to have used excessive force in support of law and order?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord makes a very important point. In particular, it was such a case that gave rise to this review. We understand the urgency, and the noble and gallant Lord will also understand the complexity of the matter. It is worth again putting on record that it is not just about members of the Armed Forces or uniformed personnel. It is dealing with the general matter of using excessive force in preserving law and order and/or self-defence.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord pointed out, it was set up following the Clegg case. The review is being conducted within government with representatives from the Home Office; the Northern Ireland Office; the Ministry of Defence; legal personnel; and the Scottish Office. An interim report has gone to my right honourable friend, and that is being considered at present.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, will the Minister recognise that when she uses the phrase "in due course" to describe how soon a report is to be issued and debated, she is giving the lowest possible priority to the report? She might at least have used the word "shortly" or the words "very shortly". When such a review is forced on government by public disquiet, is it seriously open to government to delay for 10 months in the way that they have now? Is it not a public obligation to take the matter far more seriously than has been evidenced by her replies to the noble and learned Lord?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I can tell the whole House that the matter is being taken very seriously. I can say also that there is no malicious intent or deliberate delay in reporting to the House about the matter.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, my noble and learned friend catches me out. I am looking to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to ascertain whether indeed his department does have any input into the matter. I cannot believe that it does not. However, I shall have to check.
Lord Lowry: My Lords, can the noble Baroness assure the House that the Government are no less interested in possible criminal law reforms which may ameliorate the condition of accused persons than in those which may make them worse?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I can tell the noble and learned Lord that all aspects and all facets of the issue will be taken into account in the course of the deliberations on the matter. However, it only serves to highlight the complexity of the particular issues.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, the Minister said that the report would be published "in due course". However, can she give us any further indication? For example, is it likely to be published by the end of this year or during the next parliamentary Session? When are we to have the final report? Surely we deserve an answer to that question.
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