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Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 22, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: It is late in the day to be starting our detailed consideration of this important Bill, but that is the way it has turned out. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, apologised that after having put his name to some of the amendments he has been obliged to leave before we deal with them.

I rise to move Amendment No. 1. The Committee will know that some offences in Northern Ireland are called "scheduled offences" and special provisions apply. In particular, the trial for such offences takes place without a jury, but with extra safeguards such as automatic appeal. Such provisions are considered by everyone to be necessary in order to protect the public and to secure convictions.

Schedule 1 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996 lists the scheduled offences. They are of two types. They are what one might call the automatic scheduled offences, which are always automatically dealt with as terrorist offences with no jury, and presumed scheduled offences covered by note 1 of the schedule. These can be certified out by the Attorney-General and instead be dealt with by trial by jury.

This clause will give the Attorney-General the power to certify out more types of offences as not being terrorist offences. My amendment seeks to leave some of those offences as automatic scheduled offences. I am sure that we are all agreed that some offences should be automatically scheduled and some should be certified out. The question is which should be in the latter category.

These amendments propose that the following offences should continue to be treated as automatically scheduled offences. I shall not use legal language; in layman's language the offences are: causing an explosion or sending an explosive substance--that is to say, bombs and parcel bombs; making, possessing or throwing a petrol bomb; possessing or carrying a firearm with intent to endanger life; using or carrying a firearm to resist arrest; possessing a firearm in suspicious circumstances; causing, or conspiring to cause, an explosion likely to kill; and making or possessing explosives in suspicious circumstances.

I do not believe that those offences are ever likely to be committed in Northern Ireland in current circumstances except by terrorists. If the Minister is to justify the clause as it stands, he needs to tell us of offences falling into these categories which have been committed in Northern Ireland by what are politely known as "ordinary, decent criminals", in the jargon of the Province--that is, not by terrorists. I do not know how many petrol bombs have been thrown by people outside the terrorist context, but, in order to justify the clause, that is what the Minister needs to explain.

The importance of a particular terrorist offence being in the automatic category as a scheduled offence is that no specific action taken by a politician in a particular

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case causes that offence to be tried without a jury. I realise, of course, that the Attorney-General acts in a legal capacity, but he is a politician. That fact and the fact that he, as a politician, is the one who decides whether it is tried in a Diplock court, can lead to misunderstanding and certainly from time to time leads to misrepresentation. If there are extra offences of that kind it also leads to extra work in the Attorney-General's office as more cases will need to be considered for possible certifying out, although that fact does not seem to have been provided for in the Financial Memorandum to the Bill.

Some argue that there should be the minimum of automatic scheduled offences in the interests of natural justice and the normality of the judicial process. But the situation is not normal in Northern Ireland; if it were we would not need any of the emergency provisions. I want the minimum of political decision in settling which cases are tried without juries and the maximum of certainty. That is why I commend these amendments to the House. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: The effect of these amendments would be that there would be no facility in any circumstances for the following offences to be certified out of the list of scheduled offences: Section 29 of the Offences Against the Person Act (NI)1861; that is: causing an explosion or sending an explosive substance or throwing corrosive liquid with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. Offences under Section 2 and Section 3 of the Protection of the Person and Property Act (NI) 1969; that is: making or possessing a petrol bomb etc., in suspicious circumstances; or throwing or using a petrol bomb, etc.

Offences under Articles 17, 18, 19 and 23 of the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 1981; that is: possessing a firearm or ammunition with intent to endanger life or to cause serious damage to property; use or the attempted use of firearm or imitation firearm to prevent arrest of self or another, etc.; carrying a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to commit an indictable offence or to prevent arrest of self or another; and possessing a firearm or ammunition in suspicious circumstances.

Offences under Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Explosives Substances Act 1883; that is: causing an explosion likely to endanger life or damage property; intending or conspiring to cause any such explosion, and making or possessing an explosive with intent to endanger life or cause serious damage to property; and making or possessing explosives in suspicious circumstances.

In tabling these amendments, the noble Lord seeks to ensure that the offences I have listed are invariably treated as scheduled offences and subject to Diplock trial. The Bill, as presently worded, has the effect that the offences I have listed, among others, may be certified out in individual cases at the Attorney-General's discretion.

The Government's purpose in framing the Bill in this way is to seek to ensure that, where appropriate, a case which would otherwise be treated as a scheduled offence can be treated in the ordinary way. In order for that to

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happen, the Attorney-General would have to certify that it was to be so treated--in other words, that in his opinion it was not connected with the emergency.

A number of offences listed at Schedule 1 to the 1996 Act already are capable of being certified out: the Government's proposal is to extend that category.

The effect of the amendment would be to confine automatically to a Diplock court an offence involving an unprovoked attack in the street on a member of the public by criminal elements not connected with terrorism; for example, by the spraying of an individual with lighter fuel in order to steal his or her possessions. Similarly, a domestic crime involving possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life would automatically be tried by a Diplock court, as would the use of explosives by ordinary criminal elements to gain entry to, for example, a safe.

The Government are aware of the strength of feeling aroused following a recent case involving a number of defendants charged with robbery. The case was certified out as the law provides, but it was later shown to have a terrorist connection. I should say that over the considerable period of time the present system has been operating, this, to my knowledge, is the one and only example of a case having been certified out which ought, on reflection, to have come before a Diplock court. The Government's view is unaltered by the experience of this isolated case. They remain firmly of the view that it is fundamentally wrong not to make provision for an offence which has no terrorist connection to be subject to normal criminal procedures. The Government have examined carefully the category of offences they propose, by virtue of the Bill, to render capable of being certified out. They are satisfied that there could be circumstances in which offences in that category might be committed in a non-emergency context. In the interests of fairness and integrity of the system of scheduled offences, I ask the Committee to join me in rejecting these amendments.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Alderdice: Perhaps I may make a few brief comments. It seems to me that in the fight against terrorism, it is important to ensure that there is as much normality as possible because if we deal with every matter as if it were a terrorist matter, we have effectively handed over to the terrorists and they will, in effect, be deciding how the community should be run.

In the Bill, as drafted, it is clear that in so far as a terrorist component is apparent, it can be dealt with appropriately through the Diplock courts which unfortunately in the current context we have to have. That has been the case for some time. However, where it is clear that there is no terrorist component, it seems appropriate that the normal procedures should apply.

Northern Ireland 20 or 30 years' ago was an extraordinarily law-abiding community. I refer to the notion that there might be "ordinary" criminals. I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, introduced the word "decent", entirely in line with conventional speech in Northern Ireland at the moment. It would have been almost incomprehensible then that a "normal" criminal

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in Northern Ireland would have, for example, tossed corrosive liquid in the eyes of his victim. The use of fire-arms, too, would have been remarkable. It would have been unusual to use explosives in respect of a safe. It is a sad fact that, on our own side of the water as, indeed, on this side of the water, such behaviour has more and more become the normal pattern of behaviour for criminals, even those who are not involved in terrorist activity. It therefore seems unwise to assume that every time fire-arms, explosives, corrosive liquids and so on are used, there is terrorist intent. In parenthesis, I accept that there may be a slight difference with regard to petrol bombs. The amendments, however, are fairly wide-ranging and it seems inappropriate that we should insist that whenever such behaviour occurs, it is regarded as terrorist-related. That seems ill advised.

Indeed, during the past week there have been a number of explosions in telephone kiosks in south-east London. The general assumption is that young people are playing with chemicals. I have to say that the young people in Northern Ireland are no more immune to that form of experimentation than young people in south-east London. We would be ill advised to insist that all such young people will find themselves enclosed under the rubric of "terrorist".

Therefore, the Government's approach does not seem unreasonable. Although I understand the context in which the amendments have been tabled and the appropriateness of the thinking of those proposing them, I believe that it would be wise to stick with the proposition announced by the Government. We certainly find ourselves unable to support the amendments.

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