Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340 - 356)



  340. Would you also perhaps say exactly, what is the opposing right?
  (Mr Watkins) The opposing right, I think, we would say, is enshrined in Article 8 of the ECHR, to privacy of family and domestic life. Also an opposing right, that the exercise of one right should not end in public disorder. Those are the two, as it were, competing rights.

  341. But would you not accept that the right under Article 8 to privacy is absolutely nothing to do with a parade going down a road, it is to do with a person's telephone not being tapped, and various things like that, it never has been applied in relation to a noise on the road, or a procession going down the road?
  (Mr Watkins) I think, so far it has been construed, certainly by the Government, although it has not, as I understand it, so far been tested in court, I grant you, that Article 8 does extend to the sort of rights that I have described, and that is the view that Ministers take. But I accept that so far it has not been tested in law, and, indeed, if I may say so, the Lord Chief Justice's judgement, as I understand it, as a non-lawyer, specifically declined to say that the right to freedom of assembly also entailed with it the right to march.

  342. Would you also accept that, whatever rights they may have, they have no right to sit down in the road and stop the parade?
  (Mr Watkins) The rights to march and the rights to protest are defined by the determination in an individual case, laid down under the Act, or reached under the legislation by the Parades Commission's determination. That is what authorises a march, lays down conditions on a march, that is what authorises and lays down conditions and restrictions on a protest. In terms of the law, as I understand it, it is unlawful to infringe any of those conditions, whether the conditions are implied on the march or on the protest.

  343. In keeping the law regarding parades under review, to what extent does the Northern Ireland Office look at the jurisprudence of the English courts; in particular, what assessment has been made of Lord Justice Sedley's judgement in the case of Redmond-Bate, and are they aware of that case?
  (Mr Watkins) We are aware of that case. Clearly, when there are judgements, from time to time, whether in the Northern Irish jurisdiction or elsewhere, we would seek, and the Parades Commission, I believe, also would seek, to consider the relevance. Our own assessment is that, the circumstances where, as I understand it, in the Redmond-Bate case, it turned on the application and the interpretation of the common law, whereas in this case Parliament has established a framework in the Public Processions Act, which specifies what is lawful and what is unlawful behaviour in relation to parades, and it is compliance with the Public Procession Act in Northern Ireland which I think takes primacy. And I am not sure, therefore, that actually the English case that you referred to does have any profound implications. Having said that, if a case were taken against a Parades Commission determination which relied on the outcome of the Redmond-Bate case, and if a court upheld that, then, of course, the Parades Commission and the Government would have to consider the implications of that; but no such case so far has successfully been taken, to the best of my knowledge.

  344. But you would accept that the principles enunciated by Lord Justice Sedley are extremely important?
  (Mr Watkins) They are important, but I do not believe that the application of the common law would override the application of statute law, as provided for in the Public Processions Act. However, let me emphasise again, if I may, if a court found that to be inaccurate, clearly, we would need to consider the implications very carefully indeed.

  345. Is it a concern to the Northern Ireland Office that, on a number of occasions, the number of police required to police a determination rerouting a parade was much more in excess than if the parade had been allowed to go on, as requested? And is this not a misuse of public resources?
  (Mr Watkins) Of course, it is regrettable, and I mean that more than in just the formulaic sense, when police, and may I say Army resources, because at Drumcree the GOC has had to call in and the Chief Constable has had to call in between three and four additional battalions, at times, in an Army which is not replete with battalions, of course it is regrettable that that is the case. But the law does require that the Parades Commission, in the failure of mediation, should make a determination, which is a lawful instrument, and clearly Ministers ideally would wish to reach a situation where such adjudications were not necessary, because marches were an accepted part of the tradition of society in Northern Ireland and were conducted on an agreed basis and in a more harmonious atmosphere; but, short of that, the law has to apply, and the RUC are called upon to enforce that law, as they themselves have said.

  346. Finally then, I am interested in the selection process for both the members and the Chairman of the Commission. You tell us that the posts were advertised on 5 November 1999, and then you tell us that on the closing date you seemed to realise that there were three applications that were received after the closing date; two which you knew were coming, and one, in fact, which came surprisingly. Two of them coming as a result of the intervention of a political party; which political party was that?
  (Mr Watkins) The Ulster Unionist Party. If I recall correctly, the Minister of State had written to the leaders of all the political parties in Northern Ireland, asking them to encourage those in whom they would have confidence to nominate themselves for the position. We had reason to believe that two who would have the confidence of the Ulster Unionist Party were planning to apply, but at 5 November, which I think was the determined date, had not done so. We checked that they were still expected to, and therefore, as it were, held the gate open, as we would have done for other parties, and as we did for another person whose application arrived—

  347. Is it not completely irregular to be accepting applications after the closing date?
  (Mr Watkins) This was a subject of the judicial review which was taken, and, again, in the judgement of the court, it was not found to be unacceptable, because, and we were scrupulous in this, we had not started the assessment process of any of the applications received prior to 5 November. And therefore our judgement on this was upheld by the court, well, so long as no element of the assessment or evaluative process had started then no detriment was suffered by anybody on account of the fact that three candidates were allowed in late, precisely, and again the court recognised this, in order to extend the field of application, which would in turn help the Secretary of State improve the representativeness of the Commission.

  348. Coming to the Chairman, it appears that you became aware that applications for the chairmanship were not going to be too high, and therefore you increased the salary, it would appear?
  (Mr Watkins) We did.

  349. But we are told that, in fact, 45 people applied for the Chair; does not that negate that argument?
  (Mr Watkins) My recollection is that actually none had replied, or a very, very small field had replied, to the first advertisement, and we assessed that it did not give Ministers a wide choice, and therefore Ministers decided that we should re-advertise offering a higher salary. I can get the figures for you, if I may, as to how many applied on the first shot, if you wish, as against how many applied in the second[9]. But the purpose was to extend the field a good deal more widely, and indeed it had that outcome, I would suggest.

  350. By how much did you increase the salary?
  (Mr Watkins) If I may, I will write. I do not recall[10].

  351. Then finally, what input did the Irish Government have in the selection process, were they sent the names of the applicants, and did they suggest certain applicants?
  (Mr Watkins) As I think the memorandum from the Northern Ireland Office says, we consulted the Irish Government, at the same time as the Minister of State wrote to the leaders of all the local parties and the churches; we consulted them, asking them to encourage anyone they considered appropriate to apply. That was, to the best of my knowledge, the only consultation there was with the Irish Government; we did not, in other words, nor would we generally, then communicate to them the list of applicants, no.

  352. So they had no input on that?
  (Mr Watkins) No.

  Mr Thompson: Thank you very much.

  Chairman: Let me verify, before we close the session, whether there are any other supplementary questions any of my colleagues want to ask.

Mr Robinson

  353. Can I just get clarification on a point arising from Mr Thompson's last series of questions. Am I to understand that the Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party submitted two names, or asked for it to be held over so that two people could put their names forward?
  (Mr Watkins) Neither. We understood that he had suggested that a couple of people should, he had told us that he had encouraged a number of people to apply. When on the final day those people had not applied we asked—

  354. It was a David McNarry suggestion, was it?
  (Mr Watkins) No, no. We asked them whether, in fact, those people were going to apply, we were told they were, we said well they would have to apply extremely quickly, we could not hold the door open for more than a very short period, two days, and in that period they applied directly themselves2. It was not Mr Trimble or anybody else applying on their behalf.

  355. So the two people that he said he had encouraged to apply did apply?
  (Mr Watkins) Yes; there may have been others, but those are the two in question. I do not know, they do not say, whenever they apply, "I am doing so at the behest of X."

  356. Were either of the two, that you suspect came from that direction, appointed?
  (Mr Watkins) One was.

  Chairman: The questions have come from all corners of the horseshoe, in that somewhat non-geographical phrase, and you have been extremely patient in dealing with them and dealing with them as expeditiously as you have. We are very grateful to you for your evidence, and thank you very much indeed.

9   See also Ev p 99. Back

10   See also Ev p 100. Back

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