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The amendment arises from the very strong view expressed by the Law Society of Northern Ireland—in written submissions, and also orally, to me and others who

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have taken its advice on the provisions—that there should be a duty on those responsible for the administration of justice to uphold the independence not only of the judiciary but of the legal profession. I refer the House to the key element of the society's submission:

The society also said:

The amendment seeks to achieve that aim in the simplest possible fashion, by appending in respect of the legal profession a guarantee such as that which the Bill already seeks to provide with regard to the judiciary.

The Minister found that arguments weighed heavily against him in Committee, especially in his exchange with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), who intervened on the arguments that the hon. Gentleman sought to adduce about the consequences of including the word "independence" in respect of the legal profession. The hon. Gentleman could not speak in detail about any specific consequences that would flow from the introduction of a duty to uphold the independence of the legal profession. He said that he wanted to explore in consultation with the Law Society of Northern Ireland the question of whether the society, as the main promoter of the original amendment—and, indeed, the clause—would find that it had created a rod for its own back. He sought to present himself to the Committee as looking after the best interests of the Law Society of Northern Ireland and the Bar by suggesting that specifying the proposed duty in the Bill might somehow cause problems for them.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's response. He is well aware that the amendment deals with one of the issues on which there has been welcome unanimity across the entire field in Northern Ireland. The ad hoc Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly managed to find an alliance ranging from Sinn Fein to the DUP and including all views in between.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh): The hon. Gentleman refers to the ad hoc Committee. Can he give any indication how many of the people who served on the Committee were lawyers, and whether that has any relevance to their independence?

Mr. Blunt: No and no; I do not have the slightest idea about the status of legal education of the members of the ad hoc Committee.

It is plain that the Law Society of Northern Ireland has found it extremely easy to convince a very wide range of people that upholding the independence of the legal profession and making that a duty in the Bill is a sensible way of proceeding. I am still waiting to hear from the Minister arguments that convince me otherwise. We did not hear such arguments in Committee, where I withdrew the amendment because the Minister had the opportunity subsequently to speak to the Law Society of Northern Ireland, but where I said that if, following those

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conversations, he failed to convince me, I would table and press an amendment on Report. I note that Liberal Democrat Members have put their names to the proposal and I have no reason to believe that other parties have changed their position.

Mr. Mallon rose

Mr. Blunt: I hope that I am not about to be corrected.

Mr. Mallon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. I dearly wish to support him because independence should run from top to bottom in the process that we are considering. However, what might the legal profession be independent of?

Mr. Blunt: The hon. Gentleman deliberately tries to draw me into difficult territory. It has been alleged that both sides of the community in Northern Ireland have exerted some influence on the legal profession. An example was given in Committee of a dispute between two clients and their lawyers. The law requires papers relating to one side to be discovered. It is plainly in the interest of the client whose papers are to be discovered for that not to happen. However, the lawyer who represents him would have a duty as an independent member of the profession to abide by the law and make the papers available to the other side. In that example, the lawyer-client relationship becomes subservient to the lawyer's duty to be independent and to stand up for his role as an independent member of the legal profession. I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough for the example.

I cannot give specific instances and I shall therefore deal in generalities. That is probably best. However, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) is plainly referring to the fact that allegations have been made that some members of the legal profession in Northern Ireland got too close to their clients in their political views and objectives, abused their legal position and did not maintain the independence of the profession.

The clause is aspirational rather than detailed. However, the amendment, which would provide for a duty to sustain the independence of the legal profession, is another prop to support such independence. It could work in many circumstances, but it is important in the circumstances of Northern Ireland. In Committee, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough asked what would be the consequences if we were considering not the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill, but a Justice (Zimbabwe) Bill. The legal profession in Zimbabwe has to operate under different pressures to maintain its independence. It is under pressure from the state and from armed terror from other semi-state organisations. The case for trying to sustain the independence of the legal profession in those circumstances is beyond peradventure.

Everyone supports the independence of the legal profession. I have not presented arguments that went over exactly the same ground in Committee, but the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh will remember the discussions about the United Nations declarations and the special rapporteur. The Government must present a case against the amendment to convince hon. Members that it is not worth including in the Bill an exhortation to support

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the independence of the legal profession. After all, the measure places a duty on all those involved to sustain the independence of the judiciary.

I note that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh did not say that he would not support the amendment, although I am not wholly convinced that I have his full support, and I would be grateful if he could clarify the position. The hon. Gentleman was, however, convinced—as were his party and all other parties in this House and in the Assembly—of the merits of putting such a measure into the Bill, so I hope that the Government will be as well. I look forward to hearing the report of the Minister's conversations with the Law Society of Northern Ireland, to see whether he has been able to identify with them whether the proposals would have any unintended consequences. I cannot for the life of me see that there would be any, and if the Minister is unable to convince me of his argument, I shall wish to press the matter to a vote.

Mr. Mallon: I want to make one brief point on the matters raised by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), both in Committee and today. I find it difficult to understand the type of society that he is envisaging in which the legal profession would be independent. I would first have to understand what it is to be independent from. I do not see any difficulty with members of the legal profession not being independent politically. As a matter of fact, when one looks around this House, and most other political forums, one sees quite a number of highly independent-minded members of the legal profession who have party allegiances. So the hon. Gentleman cannot be referring to that. If it is not that, what can it be?

We must be very careful, because on a previous occasion in a previous Committee, reference was made to members of the legal profession in the north of Ireland and, less than one week later, one of them was shot dead. I always have that in mind and I have no doubt that that is not what the hon. Gentleman was referring to. I find it difficult, therefore, to understand what this independence is. The legal profession is, by its very nature, aligned in many ways, and it always will be.

Let us posit the kind of question that will immediately be asked post-devolution. There will be appointments to be made, and those appointees will be drawn from people who have lived and worked in Northern Ireland all their lives. Does that mean that someone who was aligned with the Ulster Unionist party, the Democratic Unionist party, Sinn Fein, the Social Democratic and Labour party or—dare I say it—the Alliance party would automatically be disqualified from consideration for such appointments? I do not believe that that would be the case. Nor do I believe that that has happened in the past, from the foundation of the state to the prorogation of the Stormont Parliament, when the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland was de facto a practising member of the then Unionist party, which became the Official Unionist party and subsequently the Ulster Unionist party.

None of those Attorneys-General was independent in the political sense to which I think the hon. Member may be referring. Perhaps he could again try to help me with my difficulty in understanding what the independence to which he refers is independence of or from. I would be

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inclined to support him if he could give an indication of precisely the effect that the amendment would have, and of the reason behind it. I hope that he will take the opportunity to clarify the matter before the debate concludes.

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