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Mr. Clifton-Brown: It has oft been said during our debates on the Bill that justice must be seen to be done. Unless justice is seen to be done, the population of Northern Ireland may think that the Bill does not represent their interests. It is fundamental to the rule of law and to common justice that people should have the full right to be heard and to professional representation throughout their hearing. It is not good enough to say that they can be represented by a solicitor before a caution and before a charge is made. They should have a right to be represented by a solicitor throughout the hearing.

We are in danger of passing legislation that will result in innocent people being charged with offences that they have not committed. The House of Commons should jealously guard the interests of minorities and of people who have not committed crimes. I am concerned that ordinary, inarticulate people in Northern Ireland may be convicted of crimes that they have not committed. It is common sense that suspects should have proper legal representation. If the Government resist the amendments, they will appear to have something to hide. I know that it is inconvenient for prosecuting authorities to have articulate solicitors and barristers arguing the case, but that is not the point. Justice must be seen to be done.

I ask the Home Secretary, instead of smirking and talking to his colleagues as he is, to listen seriously to the representations being made and to consider sensibly whether the amendments are of sufficient merit to be

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included in the Bill. We should take into account the sensible proposals advanced by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), which would create a situation in Northern Ireland that is the norm even in respect of extremely minor offences in the rest of the United Kingdom--ordinary audio tape recording and representation by a solicitor.

All the police and criminal evidence legislation has included provisions allowing individuals to be represented by a proper solicitor. Why should some of the UK's citizens, in the face of some of the most serious offences imaginable, not to be allowed legal representation? The Home Secretary should seriously consider the amendments. If he fails to do so, the legislation may be seen to be oppressive and in breach of the European convention on human rights, and thus subject to challenge in the European Court.

Mr. White: The amendments enhance the Bill. It is hard for an individual to admit to having made a mistake, but it is almost impossible for a system to do so.

The police are under immense pressure to get a result in respect of terrorist offences. I related earlier my experiences of about 20 years ago. If a suspect is indeed a member of a proscribed organisation, is it not important that we ensure that he cannot cry, "perfidious Albion" and say that the accusation is a set-up? There must be evidence to convict such individuals. If the suspect is innocent, should there not be a solicitor present to protect individuals, who might be as naive as I was about 20 years ago?

If the problem is that the RUC will not accept that, it is contempt of what the House suggested six or nine months ago. Joe Kennedy said that, in politics, perception is everything, but, if we do not enhance the Bill, the perception will be that we have something to hide. I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Government to take on board a sensible amendment that will give the Bill greater credibility.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): I am sure that all hon. Members are aware that Parliament has been recalled to introduce tough--some would say draconian--measures to deal with an exceptional situation in Northern Ireland. I fully support the Bill and its underlying aim of taking out the 20, 30, 40 or 50 individuals who are pledged to undermine the Good Friday agreement, to bomb, maim and destroy innocent people and to undermine all that we have worked for. However, I could support the Bill even more strongly with the inclusion of the amendment.

Tough laws need tough safeguards. Yes, the Omagh bombing was an attack on the Belfast agreement. Yes, it was an attack on the peace process. However, as great an attack on the peace process and the Good Friday agreement would be the first miscarriage of justice that occurred as a result of the inadequacies in the Bill. I hope that we can avoid miscarriages of justice, because it is in our interests to do so. There is no coherent argument to be made against the full involvement of proper and due legal representation, so I urge all hon. Members to support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin).

Mr. Straw: I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) for the manner in which he moved the amendment. I also thank all other hon. Members for their contributions on this important issue.

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Let me start by saying to my hon. Friend that, for reasons that I have explained, I cannot accept the amendment, but I do accept and acknowledge the overall case that he made in respect of the importance of proper safeguards for the accused. Those are important, first and foremost, in the interests of justice--they are a mark of the rule of law--but they are also important in the interests of ensuring that guilty men are convicted and that our police system works efficiently.

I make no reference at all to terrorism or the north of Ireland, but I remember from my short time at the Bar more than 25 years ago that in those days only the judges' rules were available, and they were not properly enforced. Police officers used to refer to the "Ways and Means Act", which had never been before any Parliament but gave them the ways and means of obtaining confessions. Even decent police officers jealously guarded the old procedures, because they genuinely believed that those less formal methods, which were less subject to proper outside scrutiny, were in the interests of justice because they helped them to secure convictions efficiently.

We and the police have reaped the whirlwind of those methods. There have been serious revelations of corruption and an increasing scepticism on the Bench about the way in which confessions have sometimes been extracted, as well as some celebrated miscarriages of justice whereby innocent people spent many years in prison. Courts and juries have become increasingly sceptical about police evidence. It would have been far better if safeguards had been put in place much earlier, giving rise to much less questioning of the veracity of police evidence. The rare but important cases that besmirched British justice, when shortcuts were taken or corruption or violence was used, might not then have arisen.

2 am

I entirely agree that we need the greatest possible safeguards for the accused, but the Bill includes some important safeguards and others are already in place. We have already had a lengthy debate about the evidential safeguards and the fact that people cannot be convicted solely on the opinion evidence of a senior police officer or because of a refusal to answer material questions. The Bill also contains the very important safeguard that no inferences can be drawn before the defendant has been permitted to consult a solicitor.

The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) referred to the European convention on human rights.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: If, according to the criteria in police and criminal evidence legislation, people in the rest of the United Kingdom are entitled to proper legal representation on comparatively minor charges, surely those accused of the most serious crimes--terrorist offences--who might be innocent and might be inarticulate should be allowed proper representation both pre-caution and post-caution and at the evidence-taking stage. I cannot understand how the Home Secretary can possibly resist the amendment.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman's assumption about standard practice elsewhere in the United Kingdom is incorrect.

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We are satisfied that the Bill meets the requirements of the European convention. I am delighted that, as a result of the Human Rights Bill, many Conservative Members, who were sceptical even about our signing the declaration, are becoming more and more convinced of the need for incorporation and of the benefits that it will bring. One of the benefits that it has already brought is that there is a much greater daily focus on the crucial issue of human rights and the rubric of human rights. The burden of the judgment in the Murray case was that before inferences from silence could be drawn, the person should have a right to consult a solicitor. The European Court of Human Rights did not say that a solicitor should be present throughout the rest of questioning. We have reflected Murray exactly in the measure.

There are other safeguards. Since January, there has been a mandatory regime for silent video-recording of all interrogations in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Why silent?

Mr. Straw: When the hon. Gentleman represented Cirencester and Tewkesbury he usually supported the previous Government, who for a long time resisted the introduction of any safeguards for the questioning of suspects in Northern Ireland. I shall not detain the Committee with an explanation of why it is silent. It is a significant advance and an important safeguard for suspects and for police officers against allegations of assault on suspects--the overwhelming majority of police officers do not go in for such practices--and it also records the general conduct of interviews.

When we deal with the next set of amendments, I shall speak about the statutory provision to ensure that interviews can be audio-recorded in circumstances such as those that are anticipated in the Bill. The only issue there, which is an important one and with which I shall deal on the next group of amendments, is the time that it is taking to introduce those arrangements.

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