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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his characteristically clear explanation of what is involved in the order. I am also grateful for the courtesy of his office in providing a general indication
Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I should like to put a question to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in relation to Article 42C. My question relates to the public interest. Given that we on these Benches support the order as a useful measure for the county courts, perhaps the noble and learned Lord can provide one or two examples of what constitutes public interest, which is always a sensitive issue in Northern Ireland.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for his remarks. I believe that the document which has been prepared by the Court Service in Northern Ireland is extremely good. I am glad that he agrees with me. I shall be very happy to pass on his comments to those who have supported me so well and loyally in Northern Ireland in very difficult conditions particularly over the past few years. I sincerely hope that those conditions will not recur. The courts' staff in Northern Ireland have been subject to great pressures in their work and the fact that a compliment of this kind is paid to them in this House is something that I warmly welcome.
As far as the public interest is concerned, the noble Lord is familiar with the discussion that has been going on in this country about certificates issued by Ministers in respect of particular classes of document. That kind of discussion is not thought to be very suitable for the county court. It is fairly clear that such a question arising in a civil case, in the context of Northern Ireland, will be regarded as being a matter for the High Court.
The kinds of considerations that arise in public interest immunity certificates are usually concerned with the level of the document and the nature of the confidentiality attached to it, if it is a government document. Perhaps it is a letter of complaint made to the police. The disclosure of the name of the person who makes the complaint may have an important bearing on the public service. That is just one example, but there are many in the books. In England and Wales the courts have the right to overrule such a certificate. The Minister is simply saying by the certificate that a question of public interest arises in relation to the confidentiality of the information. It is for the court to decide whether that public interest is outweighed by the public interest in doing justice in the particular case which requires that, notwithstanding the certificate, the document should be disclosed. My judgment--which I believe is supported by the consultation--is that these questions are not suitable for the county court. If a question of that kind arose it would be for the High Court to determine.
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