Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
TUESDAY 23 JANUARY 2001
LAIRG, QC, AND
60. Do you feel confident that the legal system
is making rapid enough progress in using information technology?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I think we are doing quite
well. You would always wish that you could do better. I think
we are making good progress, yes.
61. Lord Chancellor, a couple of questions about
courts. I should declare an interest, as you know, as a part-time
member of the judiciary.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Quite.
62. First on security. I am sure you will have
been as shocked as the rest of us to have read recently about
the incident involving Judge Ann Goddard at the Old Bailey which
highlights that there is a potential problem which will not go
away and is going to be around.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes.
63. I wondered if you had got any general thoughts
arising out of that as to perhaps any way forward or any conclusions?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I have a great deal of thoughts
about it, as you might imagine. In fact, I spoke to Judge Goddard
at her home on the evening of the quite deplorable attack on her.
I would like to take the opportunity of this Committee to say
how much she really is to be admired.
64. We certainly agree with that sentiment
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) She took a day off work, when
many might have taken a lot longer, and was immediately back sitting
as a judge. It was a very nasty attack on her indeed. Now the
facts of the Judge Goddard attack I would not conceal from you
are worrying. In all courts the security of the prisoner in the
dock is the responsibility of the Prison Service, you will appreciate,
not the Court Service for which I am responsible. Now there were
three professional security guards in the dock, still the defendant
escaped, still he succeeded in attacking the judge. It was a court
clerk who pulled him off but not before injury had been done to
the judge, closely followed by a detective constable who was in
court. So, unsurprisingly, I have commissioned a departmental
security inquiry which, among other things, will have to consider
how these three security guards did not react successfully to
the emergency. I am looking for, and will receive, a report within
a matter of weeks.
65. Thank you. Lastly, on courts, locality.
It is quite topical. There is an increasing worry, is there not,
that some courts in remote areas are being closed and people have
to travel quite large distances now for access to civil and criminal
justice? Whilst we understand the financial constraints that can
be a problem, can it not?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Oh, yes, obviously.
66. I hope you are aware of that and have your
finger on the pulse.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Certainly. Of course you want
courts that provide the totality of services that people require,
whether they be victims, whether they be witnesses, whether they
be women with children. You cannot always keep open the local
court which people naturally have love and affection for because
it has been there for a long time but I certainly recognise what
you say. On the previous subject, we will really, I think, have
to think very, very fundamentally about security in courts. There
are about 420 guards, they are not responsible for the dock but
there are about 420 guards in courts across the country, 160 in
the Crown Court, 200 in the combined courts and 60 in the county
courts. We are aware that an increasing area of tension, quite
obviously, is in the family hearing centres because of the sensitivity
of the issues and the deep emotions that they give rise to. I
am not ruling out anything here. One fundamental proposal that
is around is that either the former routine uniformed police presence
should be reinstated orand this would be a very long term
venturethat a new uniformed service should be established
by the court service to provide security in courts. I have asked
my officials, quite apart from a report into the incident on Judge
Goddard, which I am not in the least surprised was the incident
with which you started, to report within three months on the adequacy
of the existing arrangements around the country and on the feasibility
of more fundamental proposals. There is also, I would not conceal
from you, a real problem in the county courts where district judges
have to administer what isI must not say summary civil
justice because it is not summary in that sensecivil justice
robustly and expeditiously and there you have to be concerned
about the security of the district judges as well. I am very,
very alive to it.
67. Perhaps it would be possible, Lord Chancellor,
for either you or Sir Hayden to pass on to Judge Goddard our deep
sympathy with what happened but, moreover, her dedication to her
duties. It was indeed an example of a judge determined to carry
on her responsibilities and duties regardless of what had occurred.
We much admired her for that.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) We will certainly pass that
Mr Winnick: I am going to ask Mr Howarth to
ask you a few questions on what might be somewhat more controversial,
the Human Rights Act.
68. Lord Chancellor, the Human Rights Act, of
course, has been in force now for just about three months, coming
into force on 2 October last year.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes.
69. I understand your Department has introduced
arrangements to survey cases through data collection systems in
the magistrates courts and the courts service to see how it is
working. Inevitably you will not be able to give us a full report
on the effect so far, but can you tell us whether you have learnt
any lessons from this Act to date? In particular perhaps you can
tell us about the expenditure of £60 million a year for the
costs of implementing it, how that is working out?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Well, I do not recognise that
figure at all. What has been set aside for Human Rights Act implementation
is £21 million for additional court time plus £39 million
against the possibility of an increased Legal Aid bill, and that
is where the £60 million comes from. I would say really quite
frankly that the implementation of the Human Rights Act has proved
to be a triumph and that all the press reports of chaos in the
courts are completely misconceived and that, unsurprisingly, our
courts, who have had two years to prepare for the implementation
of the Human Rights Act, are dealing with the matter with remarkable
efficiency. I am looking at a Financial Times editorial
of 27 December in which they sayand I can confirm it by
the amplus detail"The Human Rights Act, which
became law in October, was condemned by many who claimed it would
create a legal nightmarejamming the courts with worthless
cases and rendering centuries old British traditions illegal.
But such predictions have proved to be wide of the mark. Judges
have shown a commendable willingness to throw out bad cases while
expediting more serious claims". Then tribute is paid to
the smooth transition to the new rights based culture, which reflected
careful preparation in Whitehall over a period of two years, training
of all judges right down to every magistrate. The results have
been excellent. There is no chaos in the courts and I can give
you chapter and verse for it if you wish.
70. Lord Chancellor, I am sure the Financial
Times is daily reading in your household, I am not certain
it is daily reading in every household in the country and I am
not sure you would be well advised, therefore, to base your case
on the editorial writers of the Financial Times.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) What I would say to you, quite
clearly, is that since what the Financial Times says is
absolutely correct, and I know the full detail to back it up,
on this occasion the Financial Times has been both objective
71. As you know, Lord Chancellor, the fact is
that there are a great many people who believe that this law does
represent a very substantial and, indeed, unacceptable shift in
power from Parliament to the courts. I would like just to take
up two points here, if I may.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I do not agree that many people
think that at all. I think that the overwhelming body of opinion
in this country, if it was ever to be tested on this single issue,
would take the view that the human rights, which every country
in Western Europe enjoys, and which are directly enforceable through
the ordinary courts of every other major Western European country,
should also be enjoyed by people in this country in their own
courts without having to beat the lonely and expensive road to
Strasbourg. On the contrary, I believe that over time the Human
Rights Act will prove to be a much appreciated and highly valued
piece of legislation which this Government has passed.
72. There are also a lot of people in this country
who are rightly coming to the conclusion that this Government
is an authoritarian government, that it has contempt for Parliament.
The Prime Minister, as you know, is seldom here and
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) That point does not, if I may
say so, appear to relate to the previous point which was about
the popularity or otherwise of the Human Rights Act.
Mr Winnick: One at a time, please. Let the Lord
Chancellor respond, Mr Howarth, and then you can continue your
Mr Howarth: I was finishing my point which is
that this Human Rights Act in the view of many does represent
a shift of power away from Parliament. If I can cite one example
Mr Winnick: No. By way of a question, if you
please, Mr Howarth, the same way that I would ask any other Member
of this Committee, not a statement, by way of a question, please.
73. Chairman, I do not think I need instruction
on how to ask a question of the Lord Chancellor. May I put it
to the Lord Chancellor that when the Lord Chief Justice stated
in an article in The New Statesmannot known to be
an impartial organthat he thought it was wrong for the
Home Secretary to have the power to determine the tariff for adult
murderers and that if the matter came before the courts it was
likely that that power would go, surely that is an example where
the Lord Chief Justice should not be seeking to make that sort
of policy? These are issues which should be determined by this
democratically elected Parliament or certainly by the democratically
elected House of Commons.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Judges have always given public
lectures and written articles which have been controversial. This
is not the consequence of the Human Rights Act. The real issue
is whether the Human Rights Act is good or bad. I have given you
the reasons why I think it is good. Ultimately sovereignty remains
with Parliament. We have not even had a declaration of incompatibility
other than in the planning area under this Act. There will be
precious few over time because our laws do generally conform with
the European Convention. We were substantially the architects
of it. Our laws are substantially compliant. Of course, with any
new system of legislation bad arguments are raised from time to
time in the courts and they have been dealt with robustly by the
higher courts. This will become part of the democratic furniture
of this country which people will applaud.
74. May I just ask you a further question about
a case which took place in Scotland where, of course, the Act
has been in operation for, I think, two years longer than it has
been here. You will know that there was a case there involving
the Proceeds of Crime Act where drug traffickers had their assets
seized, as Parliament had ruled should happen, and, indeed, that
has been in force since 1986, and the Court of Criminal Appeal
in Edinburgh ruled that confiscated assets of convicted drug traffickers
breached European Human Rights law. May I put it to you, Lord
Chancellor, people in this country generally see drugs as being
a major problem and drug traffickers as being the most odious
people that there are in this country. They find it astonishing
-let me put it that waythat the courts should place the
rights of the trafficker over the democratically determined view
of Parliament. Surely that is the way these issues should be judged?
Are we not going to see more cases like that which appeared in
Scotland as the Act progresses in England?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) You seem to be unaware that
in a similar case in England the Court of Appeal Criminal Division
has ruled that the legislation concerning confiscation orders
is not incompatible. The case may or may not go to the House of
Lords. I have to say that if you look at it over the whole sphere,
if you look at it over, so far, confiscation orders, breach of
bail, any of the range of cases that have come up, the courts
are reacting sensibly and proportionately. Let me quote from Lord
Bingham, the senior Law Lord, when addressing magistrates: "You
will hear many arguments based on the Human Rights Act. Some of
those arguments no doubt will be good. Many will be bad. You must
of course listen to the argument, take advice from your clerk
and make up your own minds. But I would, if I may, recommend a
measure of suspicion. Do not be too ready to accept that we have
been doing everything wrong all these years. As a society we have
on the whole been very respectful of Human Rights. We developed
many of them. We have taken steps since the Act was passed to
rectify some obvious deficiencies. So I would commend a measure
of caution. If you conclude there is no breach, it will always
be open to a higher court to review your decision and reach a
different conclusion". I can tell you that you can take it
that the senior judiciary from the senior Law Lord, the Lord Chief
Justice, the Master of the Rolls, right down have all these considerations
well in mind.
75. How would you react, Lord Chancellor, if
the Countryside Alliance were to claim their rights to go hunting
and not to be criminalised, as is the plan of the overwhelming
number of members of your party, if they were to seek to exercise
their human right and if the court upheld it was their right along
with those of anglers and shooters?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) The Human Rights Act will apply
to all future legislation of whatever character. If anyone invokes
the Human Rights Act successfully then what they are doing is
their right. I have to remind you that the Human Rights Act was
passed by Parliament. It is now part of the law of the land and
people have their rights under the Human Rights Act until it is
76. Of course there are a number of Acts passed
by this Government which do not enjoy the wholehearted consent
of Parliament, as you will appreciate, as many Acts passed by
the Conservative Government did not enjoy the same unanimous support.
Let me put this point to you further, Lord Chancellor. The Prime
Minister's wife who, you know, is a partner in a special firm
of barristers set up specifically
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) She is a member of a set of
chambers called Matrix Chambers.
77.in order to exploit the new body of
law that is likely to come in, said in an article that it is not
enough for public authorities to refrain from violating rights
themselves. Of course the other thing is we are looking at establishing
an investigation into racism at the moment, effectively. What
Martin Myers, the former President of the Law Society, pointed
outa very great man he is indeedis one has to co-operate
to investigate effectively.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I am not going to comment on
a straight quote which I am quite unable to verify from Miss Booth
78. It was in The Daily Telegraph.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg)be it in The Daily
Telegraph, a newspaper which I read avidly every day, or whatever,
I am not going to comment on that, but of course there are people
who practise in judicial review, as Miss Booth does, who will
now be practising in the human rights' area as well. One of the
most interesting things about the Human Rights Act, you know,
is that it has scarcely generated any new cases. The prophets
of doom who are progressively being proved wrong said there will
be an enormous influx of new business into the courts and the
courts will grind to a halt. In fact, the truth is that almost
all the Human Rights Act points are being raised in existing cases
so it is just an added dimension to an existing case and there
is no evidence whatsoever of the courts being overwhelmed, on
79. If I could just put it to you, Lord Chancellor,
the jury is still out in the sense that I am sure you will accept
this is a new development. I do not wish to challenge that point
which has just been made. Can I just come back to the figure you
mentioned about the £39 million being set aside for Legal
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I think that is the right figure.
I said that off the top of my head.