Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

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The Chairman: Order. Interventions should be brief.

Mr. Garnier: This one will be.

The Chairman: I do not think that it is brief, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to bring it quickly to a close.

Mr. Garnier: Thank you, Mr. Pike.

It cannot be beyond the wit of people in the Room or outside it to draw up a form of words that distinguishes between minor offences and serious offences that contradict the criminal code.

Lady Hermon: I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for that helpful intervention. I agree entirely with what he said and I invite the Minister to comment.

Mr. Browne: I do not intend to rise to the bait of the suggestion by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) that we should discuss an amendment other than the one that we have before us—and a prospective amendment at that. There was a lot of nodding when the hon. Lady referred to paragraphs 2(4)(a) and (d) as covering the same

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circumstances. Before she closes, let me point out that paragraph 2(4)(a) refers to the past and paragraph 2(4)(d)--the one for which I was asked to give examples--refers to the future.

Lady Hermon: I stand corrected by the Minister—for a change.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh): I want to make two observations. I speak from memory, but I think that, at a certain point, some 190 people were convicted under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991 for having parked cars in security-controlled areas. Those people had committed criminal offences under emergency anti-terrorist legislation.

The Chairman: Order.

2.46 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

3.1 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Mallon: I was making the point—I hope that the situation has changed, and it may have done—that an inordinate number of parking offences in security zones have been rescheduled. They were terrorist and criminal offences. The question is how the amendment deals with them.

My second observation is that, whatever is written into legislation, the matter will be ultimately determined by the parties from which the First Minister and Deputy First Minister come. As things are, I have every confidence that good sense will be shown at all times in appointing people and removing them when need be.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 13.

Division No. 7]

Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Calton, Mrs. Patsy
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Francois, Mr. Mark
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Hayes, Mr. John
Hermon, Lady
Turner, Mr. Andrew

Barnes, Mr. Harry
Browne, Mr. Desmond
Clarke, Mr. Tony
Hall, Patrick
Heyes, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
McIsaac, Shona
McWalter, Mr. Tony
Mallon, Mr. Seamus
Merron, Gillian
Mole, Chris
Stringer, Mr. Graham
Woodward, Mr. Shaun

Question accordingly negatived.

Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle): I beg to move amendment No. 150, in page 72, line 35, leave out from 'background' to end of line 36.

The amendment is probing, and I suspect that we shall withdraw it if the Minister is happy to answer our questions. It is designed to ask why the annual report must include information about which part of

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Northern Ireland applicants to the commission regard themselves as being most closely associated with. Our suspicion is that the provision is meant to deal with applicants being too closely centred on Belfast, and it would help if we knew whether that was the case. If it is, there should be an outreach programme to other parts of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Garnier: I want to ask a brief question about information in the annual report. It has some bearing on the amendment. Paragraph 5(2) states:

    ''Each annual report must include information about the persons who have applied to be...selected to be appointed''.

Many people who apply to become a judge but fail may not want their application to be known about, for all sorts of perfectly proper professional reasons. For example, a solicitor in practice with partners will not necessarily want them to know that he has made such an application until he is appointed. Equally, a member of the Bar may be somewhat wary about letting his clerk or professional clients know that he has applied. That is a simple but important point.

Mr. Browne: The hon. and learned Gentleman is right; the point is simple but important, which is why it is covered in paragraph 5(4). It states that

    ''an annual report must not identify any person or include information from which the identity of any person could be readily ascertained''.

I am sure that that adequately covers his point.

I shall answer the question posed by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) in as few words as possible, because I am conscious of the time and know that hon. Members want to make progress. Indeed, it has been urged upon me that we should do so.

There is deep concern that some parts of Northern Ireland feel under-represented in public bodies. We recognise that the concept of trying to collate information about which part of Northern Ireland people consider themselves to be most closely associated with is difficult, but the provision is an attempt to do so in the context of the report. We want to collect information to see whether there is a factual basis to support the concern, and if necessary to take steps to address it.

I hope the hon. Lady is satisfied with that and will withdraw the amendment.

Mrs. Calton: I am happy with the Minister's answer, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lady Hermon: I beg to move amendment No. 92, in page 73, line 33, at end insert—

    '(3A) Committees may not include persons who would not be eligible to be members of the Commission.'.

It may help Committee members if I draw their attention at the outset to the fact that the Judicial Appointments Commission can, under paragraphs 11 and 12,

    ''delegate any of its functions . . . to any of its committees''.

That includes the appointment of the judicial offices listed in schedule 1, such as, most regrettably, High Court judges. Those committees can in turn delegate those functions to sub-committees. Given the time we

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rightly spent this morning scrutinising the composition of the Judicial Appointments Commission, it might come as something of a surprise to the Committee to note that under paragraph 8(3),

    ''A committee or sub-committee may consist of or include persons who are not members of the Commission.''

We have spent a great deal of time considering the Judicial Appointments Commission and I find it incredible that those committees need not even consist of commission members.

Although, to my regret, amendment No. 93 was not selected for debate, the Minister must, surely, accept its substance. As matters stand, people with criminal convictions can be appointed to the committees. Is the Minister telling the Committee and the Northern Ireland community that he concedes that criminals have a role to play in the judicial appointments process?

Mr. Mallon: I was advised this morning that a matter that I wanted to raise might be better raised under the amendment that we are now considering. I shall take that advice, unless you, Mr. Pike, countermand it.

As the hon. Member for North Down mentioned, under the Bill it would be possible for a sub-committee of the judicial appointments commission not to consist of any members of the commission set up to appoint the judiciary. That seems incredible. I have sought advice about whether I have been reading the sub-paragraph properly and I believe that I am correct. I note that the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) has tabled a relevant amendment, too. The provision means that we have spent a long time in productive debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission, but that in theory none of its members would have to be on the committee that would appoint the judiciary. That seems wrong, to put it mildly.

I referred to the matter briefly this morning but want to reinforce it, because the proposal would be untenable in new legislation. I thank the hon. Lady for raising it again, because it is a valid point.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): I want to speak in opposition to the amendment. I am a member of the European Informatics Market Group, dealing with matters of information technology.

If the committee as constituted found that some area of expertise needed to be incorporated into the judiciary, but that the relevant expertise was not available to the committee in its normal sittings, it might well want to get people to advise it on the subject in question. I have in mind particularly the fact that much crime can be organised or carried out using information technology. That could significantly change people's conception of their job in this context. I give that example simply to show how a body can be set up with particular expertise, but can then find that the expertise it needs is mainly outside its structures. It would need to amplify its expertise base to deal with those complex matters. For that reason, among others, I would want the amendment to be withdrawn.

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Mr. Browne: As paragraph 8(3) may be discussed in this debate, I shall address those points by dealing with that provision first.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) referred to the matter this morning, and I confirmed his interpretation of the provisions in the schedule. He used the word ''theoretically''—but practically, and in every other way, the provisions will give the result that that my hon. Friend suggested.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) that the structure of the schedule recognises the necessity, in certain circumstances, to co-opt expertise, which is why it allows people who are not members of the commission to be members of committees. We recognise that additional experience, information or skills, which members of the commission may not have, may be necessary in making a decision—although the provision is not as sophisticated as my hon. Friend suggested.

3.15 pm

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