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Restorative Justice

2. Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): If he will make a statement on the development of restorative justice schemes. [103414]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): The experience in many jurisdictions is that restorative justice has a role to play in making offenders more aware of the consequences of their actions, facilitating reparation to victims and allowing reconciliation between offender and victim or between victim and the wider community. It is extremely important that the rights and interests of both victim and offender are protected. Such schemes must be complementary to the criminal justice system, not an alternative to it. Investigation of crime is the responsibility of the police and the determination of guilt or innocence solely the responsibility of the courts.

Kali Mountford: Does my right hon. Friend believe that there are lessons to be learned from the experience of restorative justice for the rest of the United Kingdom? I welcome what he said about the complementary nature of restorative justice: it would not be good for it to take the place of the due process of law. Will he comment on what an important part it plays in returning to a normal social environment and leaving behind the horror of the past?

Mr. Ingram: I agree with all those points. If we are able to get schemes in operation in addition to those that we are already piloting in Northern Ireland and to draw on international as well as British experience, that would further normalisation in Northern Ireland, which I am sure that everyone would welcome.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): Does the Minister agree that some of the restorative justice schemes that are operating in Northern Ireland could be accurately described as alternative justice schemes? Does he also agree that those schemes are operating wholly outside the legal system and involve significant abuse of the rights of the people who are caught up within them? Will he give an undertaking that legislation will be introduced to ensure that the only restorative justice schemes that operate are those that have a clear legal basis, are integrated into the legal system, fully respect the rights of those involved and comply wholly with the letter and the spirit of the European convention on human rights?

Mr. Ingram: The right hon. Gentleman has hit on an important aspect of some of the developments that are taking place outwith the normal process of the rule of law which ignore that important right of everyone--offenders and victims--to the protection of his human rights. Some

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schemes clearly do not conform to what is desirable, do not recognise the police and, indeed, may not even recognise the due process of law. Such schemes do not fall within the ambit of restorative justice but of a different type of civil administration and are, therefore, unacceptable. A review of the criminal justice system is due to be completed shortly and we will report in due course to the House.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): As the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said, and whether we like it or not, a perceived vacuum in policing is being replaced by paramilitary actions and their distinctive brand of restorative justice. How long does the Minister think it will be before that paramilitary action is replaced by the rule of law?

Mr. Ingram: It is not just down to those who administer the rule of law--the police, the Government or the criminal justice system--it is also down to the community to recognise the primacy of the rule of law and to co-operate with those schemes that have been defined and conform to the fundamental principles that I enunciated in an earlier answer. [Interruption.] I would hope that that could be achieved immediately, but we will continue to work to remove that unsatisfactory and unwelcome aspect of society in Northern Ireland.

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker: Order. I would be much obliged if conversations were a little less noisy. It is difficult for Back Benchers and Ministers to be heard. [Interruption.] Order. I am asking for conversations to be less noisy. I can hear what hon. Members are saying, but I want to hear what they say when they are on their feet.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Thank you, Madam Speaker.

But does not the Minister think that the many victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland are unlikely to have much confidence in restorative justice when they see what they believe to be clear commitments in the Belfast agreement being altered? How can anybody have any confidence when weapons that were meant to be handed in and destroyed will now be made permanently inaccessible in secret arms dumps that will be known to the terrorists? No weapons will be handed in or destroyed, so they will still be accessible.

Mr. Ingram: Clearly the hon. Gentleman did not listen to the earlier reply given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We listened to the hon. Gentleman's question and he should have listened to the reply that was given on the point that he has raised. That issue is a matter for the independent commission under John de Chastelain to verify. It has to provide security on the decommissioning of weapons and we have placed our faith in it. I had understood that the hon. Gentleman's party had done so also.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): Does the Minister appreciate that many people in Northern Ireland feel that the principles of restorative justice would

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be more firmly founded if those officers of the RUC who issued death threats to Rosemary Nelson were prosecuted and if there was an international inquiry into her murder?

Mr. Ingram: I should have thought that it was much more important that the perpetrators of the crime were brought to justice and that support was given to those who are investigating that crime in order to bring those responsible for such a terrible deed before the courts. I understand the way in which my hon. Friend has framed his question, but he has gone slightly wider than the subject of restorative justice schemes. I am happy to discuss with him further the detail of our attempts to ensure that proper restorative justice schemes are applied in Northern Ireland.


4. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): If he will make a statement on the current security position. [103416]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): Over recent months, there has been a marked decrease in the overall number of security- related incidents, and the main paramilitary groups are maintaining their ceasefires. There remains, however, a threat from dissident paramilitaries on both sides who are opposed to the Good Friday agreement.

Sir Teddy Taylor: Although I wish the Government well in their complex and difficult endeavours, is not it a matter of real concern that the killings and beatings appear to be continuing, as we saw only yesterday? Do the Government have clear evidence that the incidence of killings and beatings is being reduced? Will the Minister remind all the parties involved that a sound and stable peace will depend on them all abandoning the Mafia-type violence that has been in evidence for so long?

Mr. Ingram: I am sure that the whole House would agree with the hon. Gentleman's condemnation of that violence. Earlier, I said that there has been a marked decline in the number of such incidents, but even one is one too many. The solution does not lie only with the RUC, the criminal justice process or even with the politicians. The overall society in Northern Ireland must stand up and condemn such actions, give evidence about them and bear witness to them.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down): Does the Minister agree that the prospect for maintaining and improving the current security situation would be greatly enhanced by the early introduction of the Patten report? The report's proposals would make the police service more efficient and, most importantly, would allow it to attract greater cross-community support. Will the Minister enlarge slightly on the answer given by the Secretary of State to the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) as to when the relevant legislation will be introduced? Will he assure the House that the Patten report will be implemented in full, and that there will not be cherry-picking to suit the positions of political parties?

Mr. Ingram: The Patten report examines new ways to deal with policing in Northern Ireland, and the importance

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of that was recognised in the Good Friday agreement. The report is in the public domain and there has been a long consultation period on its contents. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, he will address the House on the matter in the next few weeks.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Does the Minister accept that the murder of Richard Jameson this week illustrates very clearly that the terrorist threat is ever present? Will he therefore give the House a guarantee that there will be no reduction in armed forces levels, or any other security changes, unless the Chief Constable and the Army's General Officer Commanding believe that any such change would be safe?

Mr. Ingram: First, it would be proper to sympathise with the family of the victim of that tragic incident. As for the on-going development of the peace process, we hope that no more such crimes--ones that groups devoted to terrorism, paramilitarism or some political process seek to justify--are committed.

As to the future, assurances have been given time and again that reductions in levels of security will be threat-dependent. Decisions in that regard will be made according to the best available advice.

Mr. MacKay: I wish to return to the deeply regrettable murder of Richard Jameson. If the Chief Constable informs the Minister that the Ulster Volunteer Force was responsible, it will be clear that that group is no longer observing the ceasefire. In those circumstances, will the Minister guarantee that no more prisoners belonging to that organisation will be released from jail?

Mr. Ingram: As we have advised the House time and again, the whole question of prisoner releases is kept under constant review. That would apply in the circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman describes.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the enormous confidence that exists in the work that he has done for demilitarisation in Northern Ireland? The reduction of British troop numbers, the closure of vehicle checkpoints and the opening of the border can only help to improve confidence in the security situation there. Should not my right hon. Friend make greater use of what has been achieved in that regard to encourage people to think positively about decommissioning, as the British Government are carrying out what they said that they would do? Would it not be better to talk about the Government's positive achievements in Northern Ireland than to indulge in the nit-picking approach displayed by the Opposition, who appear to want to set back the whole peace process?

Mr. Ingram: The very principle underlying the points made by my hon. Friend were of course set out in the Good Friday agreement. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State published shortly before Christmas a paper setting out the way forward for the normalisation of the security profile, which it says is dependent upon the level of threat. Any further security reductions,

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which have been considerable over the past year and a half, will be dependent on the best security advice available at that time and in the future.

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley): I am sure that the Government and the Minister will join me in condemning the tragic murder of Richard Jameson in Portadown. Given that last year the Government determined that the IRA ceasefire was intact following its murder of Charles Bennett, what confidence can we have that the Government will apply standards that can be upheld in determining whether a ceasefire has been breached in respect of the murder of Mr. Jameson? Can we have any confidence that the Government will act in those situations to halt the early release of terrorist prisoners?

Mr. Ingram: The hon. Gentleman has been very vocal in his opposition to early releases, but a court assessment has found in favour of the Secretary of State's judgment in terms of the quality of the ceasefire of that particular terrorist group. We continue to monitor the actions of those who are so engaged; judgments are made, and we have shown that we will act resolutely and firmly, based on the evidence that is provided to us on the best security advice available.

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