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Dr. Reid: That is not an entirely constructive way forward. If anyone wants reassurance that there is no conspiracy and that I have no inkling about whether those events are likely to take place over the next couple of weeks, I should be obliged if they would accept my assurance.
Perhaps we can now proceed with the reform of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland, although I have a funny feeling that I am not going to be allowed to do so. However, while I have a window of opportunity, I shall proceed. Policing and criminal justice, as I was saying, are currently reserved to Westminster, but in the Belfast agreement the Government signalled their willingness in principle to devolve responsibility for policing and justice to the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly.
I was saying that we remain committed to that aim; I think that I was about distinguish between a target and a deadline. A target for devolving policing and justice would be after the Assembly elections, scheduled for May 2003. For our part, we recognise that that is undoubtedly a challenging target, but we are committed to doing everything that we can to meet it. We want to ensure that good progress is made in implementing the review before then, so we have a formidable programme of work ahead of us.
The terms of reference of the criminal justice review and the composition of the review group were set out in the Belfast agreement. Implementation of the review therefore represents continued progress in implementing the agreement. Indeed, it is true to say that it was the last element of the agreement that had to be started; that has now been accomplished. On the implementation plan, the Bill gives effect to many of the recommendations of the review of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland which was published in March last year. Other recommendations do not require legislation and are being implemented separately. Details of all the steps being taken are set out in the criminal justice review implementation plan, which is the Government's formal response to the review.
In publishing the draft Bill, the Government have done their best to ensure fullest scrutiny of the key proposals. I know that some would have preferred a longer consultation period. Indeed, we, too, would have welcomed that, but we needed to ensure that the proposals were well developed before publication. We are not claiming to have got everything right, which is why we have committed ourselves to consultation with politicians, practitioners and others. In any case, it is questionable whether we could have increased scrutiny by publishing the draft Bill earlier this year, when the parties were rather preoccupied with the future of the institutions. We now have revitalised local institutions. With the Good Friday agreement back on track, we can now turn our attention fully to these important proposals.
Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): The Government's first 16 recommendations regarding the criminal justice review are concerned with human rights. Is my right hon. Friend aware that concern has been expressed by certain parties about the fact that the Bill does not include human rights in full? Is he content that the Bill as it stands covers human rights in full?
The review group recommended that human rights be made central to the justice system. In formulating its recommendations, the group considered not only the European convention on human rights, but 15 other international human rights standards and instruments. The entire review is drafted with those principles in mind, just as the Government's Human Rights Act 1998 puts human rights at the heart of policy making and operations for all public authorities. The lessons that we drew from study not only of our own procedures, but of international procedures and standards, permeate our whole approach. The issue will arise again to some extent during consideration of the detail of the Bill, to which I should now like to turn.
The Bill has six parts and 13 schedules. Part 1 covers the courts and judiciary and reinforces the primacy of the merit principle and the continuing independence of the judiciary. It makes provision for a Judicial Appointments Commission, which, in the new context of devolution, will help to ensure the transparency of the judicial appointments system. Part 1 also amends the eligibility criteria for judicial office and requires all new appointees to the offices listed in schedule 6 to take the new oath proposed in the review. Clause 13 provides for the Lord Chief Justice to replace the Lord Chancellor as head of the Northern Ireland judiciary following devolution. Schedule 5 transfers to the Lord Chief Justice some of the
Part 2 covers Law Officers and the new Public Prosecution Service. It provides for the appointment of a local Attorney-General for Northern Ireland and the creation of a Westminster-based Advocate-General for Northern Ireland. Both posts are to be commenced on or after the devolution of justice functions to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Attorney-General for Northern Ireland will become a figure responsible to the Northern Ireland Assembly and will carry out many of the existing functions of the post and some new ones, but not all the functions of the current Attorney-General fall within the devolved field. That is why we will create the new post of Advocate-General for Northern Ireland, mirroring arrangements in Scotland. The Advocate-General will be responsible to Parliament for those of the Attorney-General's current functions that are within the reserved and excepted fields in Northern Ireland.
The Bill provides for establishing a chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland and a Northern Ireland Law Commission. Those new institutions will ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of the agencies and legal framework of the criminal justice system. They will facilitate its evolution into a more clearly defined, modern and joined-up system of justice.
Part 4 deals with youth and restorative justice. It sets out the principal aim of the youth justice system as the prevention of crime committed by children. It also provides for two new youth justice orders: a community responsibility order and a reparation order to broaden the number of measures at the court's disposal for dealing with young offenders, and for custody care orders when detention is appropriate for children under 14.
The Bill provides for dealing with persons under 18 as children in the criminal justice system in line with international practice and the internationally accepted definition of a child. Part 4 also allows for a youth conference system as a diversionary measure or a court-based disposal. Youth conferencing is a model that has a notable international pedigree. It is already being used in a pilot form in England and Wales as part of referral orders under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.
The youth conference system for which the Bill provides tries to repair the damage to social values and relationships that crime causes. It does that by giving the victim, the offender and the community a stake in the official response to crime. The young person is given an opportunity to learn the way in which his behaviour affected the life of the victim and to make reparation for his crime.
Part 5 contains a range of provisions, which include giving victims enhanced rights to be informed about the release of offenders. It provides for the Secretary of State to devise a community safety strategy and paves the way for the establishment of new local structures to take the matter forward in future.
Part 5 regulates the use of the royal coat of arms in courtrooms and outside courthouses. It empowers the Lord Chancellor to direct that exceptional legal aid may be made available in specific circumstances, including for inquests. It also empowers the Lord Chancellor to transfer
The Bill has comprehensive and far-reaching provisions to modernise the landscape of criminal justice in Northern Ireland and to help ensure that impartiality and respect for all remain central to its ethos, aims and processes.
The Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General are responsible for several provisions. It is only right that I express appreciation for their work. We have worked closely together on preparing the Bill. We continue to do that in driving forward implementation.
Hon. Members will know about the review of the criminal courts in England and Walesthe Auld reportwhich is currently subject to public comment. The Auld report and the criminal justice review undertook a fundamental examination of parts of the criminal justice system. However, overlap is relatively limited. We shall keep a close eye on the decisions that were made in the light of public comments in England and Wales, especially given the similarities between the two legal systems.
It is too early to ascertain the final decisions on implementing the Auld report in England and Wales. That is even more true of deciding whether it would be appropriate to extend any changes to Northern Ireland. Consequently, the Bill is unlikely to be the appropriate vehicle for change. If legislation is required to extend reforms into Northern Ireland, we will consider the best way forward with colleagues in England and Wales.
Let me say a word about the extent of the Bill. With some technical exceptions, it applies only to Northern Ireland. The only substantive point is the creation of the new Westminster office of the Advocate-General for Northern Ireland, who, as I said earlier, will carry out the functions of the current Attorney-General for Northern Ireland which are excepted matters. The Bill deals with reserved or excepted matters as defined by schedules 2 and 3 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
The prospect of the devolution of justice functions means that we will need to consider the way in which the relationships between Westminster and the devolved Administration will operate in practice. We shall work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive on the arrangements for future administrative co-operation in this field.