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Lord Carver: I have spoken already to Clauses 14 to 25, which will be necessary only if Clause 11 remains part of the Bill. Let me emphasise again that the issue of summary appeal courts would arise only if Clause 11 of the Bill was passed. I suggest that, as far as concerns the Army and the Air Force, life would be much simpler for everyone--and justice achieved much more quickly--if Clause 11 were not implemented, in which case Clauses 14 to 25 would not be necessary. They are necessary only because, under Clause 11, a soldier or airman will need to choose between summary trial or courts martial before he has ever faced summary trial at all.
However, I shall not go over those arguments again. I hope that, when the Bill returns to the House, some changes will have been made, if not the total abolition of Clause 11. With the leave of the Committee, I withdraw my opposition to Clauses 14 to 25 standing part of the Bill.
I also explained that in the face of such potential difficulties, the CO may be tempted to take the simple and expedient route of opting for courts martial and sending the soldier back to the UK. Unfortunately, if the soldier is found guilty by this route, his career could be completely destroyed rather than just put back a few months. The Minister rightly claims that the provisions in the Bill stem from counsel's advice as to how to comply with the ECHR. However, I am not convinced that we need such a long period as 21 days in which to bring an appeal. Seven days appears to be much more reasonable and a period with which the CO could live.
A further difficulty was touched upon by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. He told the Committee of a situation he faced while on operations, when dealing with a spate of negligent discharges of personal weapons. What would happen to the vital principle of the need to apply discipline consistently if, in the case outlined by the noble and gallant Lord, two soldiers had to be disciplined for the same offence? What would happen if one soldier decided to appeal and the other did not? How would these two soldiers be dealt with consistently? I beg to move.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I am entirely clear why these amendments have been tabled. The concerns that they reflect were eloquently expressed during the Second Reading debate. It was said that summary discipline would be undermined if the impact of immediate punishment was lost. I should emphasise that, under the proposals in the Bill, sentences will take immediate effect except, of course, for custodial sentences. I acknowledge that these were the area of concern to noble Lords. However, if the purpose of the amendments is to reinstate, as far as possible, the effect of the short, sharp shock, they do not achieve that end. We accept that any period of suspension, be it seven or 21 days, will take away the immediate effect. We chose a period of 21 days quite deliberately as the time limit for summary appeals to the Crown Court. It seemed logical to remain in line with the civilian courts as far as possible. This period also allows sufficient time for an accused to prepare properly. He would need to prepare an application for legal aid and await a decision on that. He would also need to arrange an appointment and get advice from a legal representative. If a shorter period is imposed, it is inevitable that there will be a greater number of applicants seeking leave to appeal out of time or people will appeal automatically to ensure that they are within time, with the risk that they will later withdraw the appeal. In addition, we believe that any period under 10 days runs the risk of being unreasonable, given the wide variety of circumstances
Earl Attlee: I am extremely grateful for and pleasantly surprised by that response. I should like to touch on another problem. The accused will normally know if he has been unfairly dealt with and so ought to be able quite quickly to make a decision about appealing. But on operations he might not be able effectively to obtain impartial legal advice. However, under subsections (2) and (3) of new Section 83ZE, appeals can be brought outside the 21 days. Can the Minister say whether being on operations without access to non-MoD legal advice would be good reason to bring a late appeal? If she agrees that that should be the case, will the rules of procedure of the summary appeal court reflect that?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The fair answer to the noble Earl is probably not a very helpful one. It might be a good reason. The noble Earl said that the accused will know whether or not he or she has been fairly dealt with. But that may not be the only consideration in an individual's mind about what to do next. An individual may want to take into account all kinds of other considerations, including, of course, getting the whole issue over and dealt with as quickly as possible. All of us are agreed that that will be very much in people's minds.
The noble Earl asked specifically about individuals on operations who may not be able to have access to legal advice. It may be that on some occasions that would be a good reason. We could adduce all kinds of hypothetical cases which we might think were reasonable. I shall give some thought to whether I can give the noble Earl any further help on the question in general and see whether we cannot manage to have rather more of a meeting of minds on this issue.
Earl Attlee: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for her replies to both my points. We look forward to hearing what the Minister's suggests. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
As currently drafted, the paragraphs could be interpreted as implying that the subsection of the service discipline Acts to which the provision refers provide for matters relating to both the making and the withdrawal of an individual's election to commence his sentence of detention immediately. I hope that the amendments will clarify the real intention of that particular part of the schedule. I beg to move.
Lord Carter: My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity to say a few words of thanks and express my gratitude to all Members of the House and others who work here. I am sure that the whole House will share my delight in the fact that we are managing to adjourn for Christmas in such good time. Our thoughts and commiserations are with our colleagues in another place as they sit into Christmas week while we are able to get on with our Christmas shopping. The way that Christmas falls this year allows us to have a full three weeks off and I hope that everyone will enjoy it very much.
In particular, I extend my good wishes for the festive season to the staff who look after us so well. As ever, their dedication, loyalty and professionalism has been second to none. I thank them on behalf of the whole House for their help and support over the past year. I wish them all a well-deserved rest and a very merry Christmas.
I should like to say a personal word of thanks to the Opposition Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for the friendly and co-operative way in which they have, as always, helped the usual channels to flow. Sometimes the usual channels look as though they are heading for a dam and then somehow another channel is found and business proceeds.
I thank also the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, the former Convenor of the Cross Benches, for his help and co-operation during my time as Chief Whip, and welcome the noble Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, to his new post as Convenor.
It is not every year that we adjourn in the knowledge that we shall not reconvene until the next millennium. This year has been one of great change in this House. It seems fitting that it should end not only with the arrival of a new century but at the beginning of the third millennium. The House now goes forward as a new and different House, but one in which I hope friendship and civility are at a premium. I am sure that this House, steeped as it is in history and tradition, will embrace the challenges of the new century with all its customary zeal and enthusiasm.
It only remains for me, on behalf of the Government, to wish all of your Lordships a very happy Christmas and an exciting, challenging and fulfilling New Year.
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