Annabelle Ewing: I shall be brief because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak. It goes without saying that many of the Bill's provisions are welcome and do not cause concern, but I am afraid that part 4 does not fall into that category. I join the many hon. Members on both sides of the House who lament the extremely limited time that we have been given to examine these fundamental provisions.
As a lawyerone of that popular breedand a Scottish Member, I must point out that many of the provisions will have a significant impact on Scots criminal law. It is a great shame that we are debating them in a Committee of the whole House in proceedings that will last only three days. Only one Scottish Labour Member has seen fit to participate and, when one considers that the Scottish Executive happily proposed in a Sewel motion that the matter be passed to Westminster to be dealt with, that is a great shame for all those who have an interest in the integrity of Scots law.
The SNP cannot support a measure to introduce detention without trial. We believe that the right to trial following detention is a fundamental tenet of the legal systems in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. If the Government are to depart from that, they will have to make a much better case. That is why my hon. Friends and I voted against the motion to invoke the derogation from the European convention on human rights. It is notable that no other contracting party to the convention has sought that derogation, and the UK Government have failed to make a case for their desire to do so.
I find it staggering that the Government seek not only to invoke a derogation but, in clause 30, to preclude the jurisdiction of our supreme courts to test the validity of that derogation by way of judicial review. That is why my hon. Friends and I have tabled an amendment to the clause.
Many comments have been made about SIAC, and I made an intervention on the nature of that strange body. One hon. Gentleman made the point that if we involved the courts fully, it would be like substituting one High Court judge for another. With respect, that shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the legal systems in this country. To say that SIAC is a court could not be further from the truth. It bears no resemblance to a court, and if we want to bestow on that body significant powers on the right to appeal and to a trial following detention, we should come out and say so, instead of pretending that SIAC is a court of law.
It is not helpful to say that there is an appeal on a point of law which may or may not involve certain procedural matters. We are talking about the right to appeal, on a point of fact or law, to the court of first instance about the decision of the court of first instance. Which court would then determine the merits of the initial decision? The answer is no court. Surely we cannot sign up to such a fundamental breach of our civil liberties without due cause being shown, which it has not been.
My colleagues and I will be unable to support the clauses. The Home Secretary pointed out that choices had to be made, and he is correct. In any measure to be adopted, there is always a balance to be struck between the interests of security and respect for fundamental civil liberties. The Government have not struck that balance in part 4.
Mr. Mike O'Brien: I rise to support the provisions that the Home Secretary has brought to the House, but also to say how pleased I am with his agreement to make concessions. Like many Members, I am uncomfortable with some of the provisions, particularly those on
The circumstances facing this country after 11 September mean that there is a serious threat to the people of this country, which means that we should take the necessary steps to protect them. There are people in the United Kingdom who are wanted for terrorism in other countries; they may have committed no offence in this country for which we can arrest them, but we cannot return them to their country of origin. In the current international crisis, we must be able to deal with such situations.
When the Human Rights Act 1998 was being discussed, we were well aware that this problem might present itself. At that stage, however, it did not look as if the threat from such individuals would be great. After 11 September, the situation changed. I hope that in due course we will be able to overturn our derogation from part of the European convention on human rights and fully comply with it. That may well be some time in the future, but the sooner the better. What is required now is a balanced response, and that is what the Government seek.
Mr. Marshall-Andrews: I am interested in the observation that we are going to imprison people who have committed no offence in this country. As I understand it, even the Home Secretary does not go that far, as he says that there are people who have committed offences, but who, for some reason or other, we cannot bring to trial.
Mr. O'Brien: As I understand it, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is saying that we have good cause for believing that the people in question are involved in activities that might lead to terrorist offences or are supportive of such offences. That is a somewhat different prospect. Of course, if those involved had committed offences in this country, we would be able to deal with them in our courts. That is the way in which we should deal with them, but we are facing circumstances that are somewhat different. I am afraid, therefore, that my hon. and learned Friend, who is usually very good on these matters, is not quite right on the point that he made.
I want to deal briefly with a number of issues. First, the decision to be taken by any Home Secretary in these circumstances will be difficult. He will have to make a judgment based on the evidence, some of which will come from confidential and high-security sources. That is a difficult decision for him to make, but once it is made, it is right that it should be subject to a review. SIAC has been established for the purpose of reviewing very difficult decisions made by the Home Secretary. I have heard some nonsense from the Opposition about SIAC
Decisions may be made and referred to SIAC about returning people to their countries. Of course, they may be in some fear about doing so, so SIAC deals with serious situations. That is why it is a high-powered commission on which a High Court judge, an immigration judge and a specialist in security matters sit. This is indeed a very serious body. I believe that the question whether it qualifies as a court of record is immaterial. It is a serious and high-powered body that is presided over by a High Court judge and deals with serious issues. It has a special procedure that enables intelligence information to be dealt with by the special counsel procedure set up under the legislation.
Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): On the information from security services, will my hon. Friend make a quick comment about why it is important for the cases to be dealt with by SIAC and not judicial review, because of the potential effect on our intelligence services?
Mr. O'Brien: That was the very point with which I was about to deal. Under SIAC procedures, the defendant does not get to know the source of the intelligence information that is provided to the Home Secretary. If we were to deal with these matters by judicial review, they would be referred to the divisional court. There is not currently a procedure that could enable the defendant to put his case properly before the divisional court by way of judicial review and in which he would have access to all the information about which the decision is made, other than by using certificates of public interest immunity. I suspect that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) will be seeking to intervene on that point. We know about the problems that have arisen in relation to certificates of public interest immunity in the past. There is a great reluctance to apply them, but that would seem to be the only way in which we could get these matters before the divisional court. We would be creating an entirely artificial situation that would not enable the defendant properly to examine the case against him in any event and would not involve the sort of the protections that hon. Members on both sides of the House have been seeking to claim too much in respect of judicial review.
Mr. Marshall-Andrews: That point is simply wrong. The divisional court has the powers to receive whatever evidence it wants, in whichever form it wants. It does not have to reveal material from security sources to somebody who appeals to it. I am afraid that my hon. Friend is simply wrong.