Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 96B:

Page 30, line 46, leave out ("whether to release him on bail,") and insert ("he may, on the first subsequent such reference or application,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 96C:

Page 31, line 4, leave out from ("unless") to end of line 5 and insert ("--
(a) the detained person has made a claim for asylum and the court considers that there are compelling reasons why it should sit in private; or
(b) the court considers that the interests of the administration of justice require it to sit in private.").

The noble and learned Lord said: Clause 41 confirms the established principle that a magistrates' court should sit in open court, unless it considers that to do so would not be in the interests of the administration of justice.

19 Jul 1999 : Column 762

When consultation took place prior to the drafting of the Bill, many asylum groups and legal representatives suggested that a detainee should be entitled to request that his or her bail hearing be held in private. That suggestion was also made during the Special Standing Committee stage in another place.

Having considered the matter, we believe that it would be reasonable to allow an asylum seeker, who may be fleeing persecution, to put forward compelling reasons why the court should sit in private, and for the court to consider such a request. Amendment No. 96C will give the court the power to consider whether there are compelling reasons why it should sit in private in the context of an asylum claim, and I therefore to commend it to the Committee. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 97 not moved.]

Clause 41, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 42 [Use of live television links at bail hearings]:

Viscount Bridgeman moved Amendment No. 98:

Page 31, line 23, at end insert ("and the court is able to make arrangements for the detained person to give instructions and receive advice from their legal representative on a confidential basis before and during the hearing.").

The noble Viscount said: This amendment enables the detained person to give instructions and to receive advice from his legal representatives on a confidential basis before and during the hearing. It is to facilitate the professional assistance that the detainee can be expected to receive. I beg to move.

Lord Hylton: In view of what I have said at least twice, I am happy to support the amendment.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: With regard to Amendment No. 98, I should like to reassure Members of the Committee that it is not our intention to deny a detainee the opportunity to consult a legal representative either before, during or immediately after a routine bail hearing. The use of live television links under Clause 45 will not be introduced for routine bail hearings until we have ensured that private consultation between a detainee and his representative is possible before, during and immediately after the hearing.

However, I shall consider the matter further to see whether or not the current wording of the clause makes this clear. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Viscount will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Perhaps I may speak also to the government amendment in this grouping. The purpose of Amendment No. 98A is to provide that representations about whether a routine bail hearing should be heard via a TV link should themselves be heard by TV link. We consider that this proposal will ensure the most effective use of resources without prejudicing the rights of detainees. It will mean that the detainee does not have to make what might be an unnecessary journey to a court. If a detainee was allowed to be physically present when making representations regarding the proposed use of TV links, the benefit to resources of using such links would be nullified. Indeed, if the court

19 Jul 1999 : Column 763

subsequently decided that the routine bail hearing should be heard via a TV link, the detainee would need to be taken back to the detention centre or prison for the hearing to take place. Allowing the representations to be heard via a TV link will mean that if the court decides that the routine bail hearing should take place via a TV link, there is nothing to stop the hearing being proceeded with there and then. I therefore commend the amendment to the Committee.

Viscount Bridgeman: I am most grateful to the Minister for that helpful reply. On that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 98A:

Page 31, line 23, at end insert--
("( ) If the detained person wishes to make representations under subsection (1) he must do so by using the facilities that will be used if the court decides to give the proposed direction.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 42, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 43 and 44 agreed to.

Clause 45 [Grants to voluntary organisations.]:

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 99:

Page 32, line 21, at end insert--
("(3) In the exercise of the power granted under subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall ensure that such advice and assistance for detained persons is available in Northern Ireland.").

The noble Lord said: The amendments in my name relating to Northern Ireland were tabled as a result of the submission from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which the Government set up not long ago, and further discussions that I had with one of its officials.

Amendments Nos. 99 and 123 would ensure the granting of financial support to voluntary organisations in Northern Ireland for the purpose of giving advice and assistance to asylum seekers. No such financial support is given to any organisation in Northern Ireland by the Secretary of State.

The commission does not envisage the amendments replacing the need for the provision in the Bill for extensive legal aid for all stages of the asylum process. The commission supports the amendments in that regard.

I back that with a quotation from the submission of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, a government body. Some of the issues also relate to the UNHCR, of which Mary Robinson, the recent President of the Republic of Ireland, is now the head. The human rights commission says:

    "The lack of financial support for legal proceedings conducted by detainees in Northern Ireland seems particularly acute. Legal aid for asylum seekers is currently not available for legal representation at asylum appeal hearings or bail hearings".

19 Jul 1999 : Column 764

The hearings are also pretty hard to get to and are held far apart because there are no detention centres. The commission continues:

    "The kind of financial grants to voluntary organisations that provide advice or assistance for detained persons that is envisaged in clause 45 of the Bill has already been provided under section 23 of the 1971 Act. No such grant has, however, ever been paid to an organisation in Northern Ireland. As neither the Refugee Legal Centre nor the Immigration Advisory Service effectively provides representation at hearings in Northern Ireland, the Home Office does not fund any legal or welfare advice for asylum seekers who reside in Northern Ireland. In light of the history of financial support for advice organisations in the region, it seems clear that the extent of financial support proposed in clause 45 would be wholly insufficient to fulfil the needs of asylum seekers for specialist immigration advice throughout the whole of Northern Ireland. This provision cannot replace comprehensive legal aid at all stages of the asylum application process".

I commend the amendment.

Lord Avebury: It is obviously necessary to provide advice in Northern Ireland. I am interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, says about the Refugee Legal Centre and the Immigration Advisory Service not operating in the Province. That reinforces what we were saying earlier about the need to ensure that the increased grants made available to those two organisations fully comprehend the large increase in the duties imposed on them by the Bill. Have any discussions been held with either of them about their expansion into Northern Ireland? Without any disrespect to the distinguished organisation that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, mentioned, the RLG and the IAS have the necessary expertise to help applicants in bail hearings. The considerations in respect of bail hearings in Northern Ireland will be similar to those that arise elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It would be logical to organise those organisations to establish branches in Northern Ireland so that they can extend their work to the Province rather than imposing a duty on an organisation that has no previous experience of the matter.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am happy to reassure Members of the Committee that Northern Ireland is not excluded from the provisions in Clause 45. People are already represented in Northern Ireland by grant in aid arrangements under Section 23 of the 1971 Act. With reference to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, discussions have taken place with both the Immigration Advisory Centre and the Refugee Legal Centre about expanding their service to ensure that in Northern Ireland there will be representation at routine bail hearings. Those organisations will be involved in the necessary project work to ensure implementation of this part of the Bill.

Since the Clause 45 power would extend to Northern Ireland and will be exercised in relation to Northern Ireland, I can see no justification for the amendment, which gives special treatment to Northern Ireland over the rest of the United Kingdom.

Amendment No. 132 would place upon the Secretary of State a requirement to ensure that advice and assistance, as defined in Section 7(1) of the 1971 Act, is available in Northern Ireland. Again, the amendment

19 Jul 1999 : Column 765

is unnecessary. Clause 71(1) extends to Northern Ireland the present arrangements for providing advice, assistance and representation in Northern Ireland and the Home Office pays a grant in aid under Section 23 of the Immigration Act 1971 to the Immigration Advisory Service for this purpose. We have no intention of changing these arrangements.

I hope that in the light of the reassurance I have given, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page