Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

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Mr. Garnier: May I underline one or two of the points made by my hon. Friend? It is important that, if the new Public Prosecution Service is to work under the leadership of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland, it must be given adequate resources and be staffed by lawyers and other personnel of sufficiently high quality. To avoid some problems that the CPS and British police forces have had in this jurisdiction, it must be emphasised that proper and continuous communication is necessary between the police and the Public Prosecution Service. Too many cases have failed because of either an unwillingness or an inability of the police and the CPS to communicate adequately. There is anecdotal evidence that, in certain police forces, there is huge professional jealousy and a sense of annoyance that their ability to prosecute has been taken away. I hope that that will not be replicated in Northern Ireland; I am sure that it will not be.

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However, it is essential that the Government should give a lead, both through the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and through the office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland.

I am concerned, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, about the financial estimates for the establishment of the Public Prosecution Service. Such costs tend to grow like Topsy. While all Governments need to keep a firm control on public expenditure, if this is to be got right, it might as well be got right from the start—penny pinching will lead to more difficulties in the future and will prevent the DPP from appointing good lawyers and administrators to his staff. The old cliche about paying peanuts is close to our minds. I hope that the same mistakes are not made in Northern Ireland as were made at the outset of the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales. It is hugely important that the code under clause 38 addresses many of the issues and concerns that have been exposed by the development of the CPS since the early or mid-1980s in England and Wales. There are lessons for all of us to learn. Northern Ireland has the advantage of coming at it 20 years after England and

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Wales. I urge the Government to use all their powers—their financial power in particular—to make sure that the system works.

The final issue on which I should be interested to hear the Minister's views is whether it is intended that the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland should be under one administrative area, covering the whole of Northern Ireland as one prosecuting area, or whether it will be divided into counties or other districts as it is in England and Wales. The hon. Member for North Down mentioned the Glidewell report. It will be interesting to see how that is to be brought into existence in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry): May I ask the Minister for an assurance that the references in subsections (6)(a) to (d) are exhaustive and prescriptive, and that any subsequent body of constables that may emerge will not be included?

Mr. Browne: Let me respond to the last point first. The clause defines ''police force'' extensively and exclusively. Anything that is not referred to in that clause could not be a police force under the Bill. I have no knowledge of what the hon. Gentleman thinks is coming that might constitute a police force in Northern Ireland. If that is the reassurance that he requires, I am happy to give it.

Lady Hermon: I appreciate the Minister giving way so early in his response. May I ask him again to address the definition of ''police force'' within the meaning of subsection (6). He will recall that, under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, the name of the body of constables referred to as the Police Service of Northern Ireland, incorporating the Royal Ulster Constabulary, was changed for operational reasons only. Therefore, for legal purposes, including the Bill, definitions should include the words ''incorporating the Royal Ulster Constabulary''.

Mr. Browne: I hear what the hon. Lady says, and she makes an ingenious argument. However, the reference to the Police Service of Northern Ireland in the definition of a police force is entirely appropriate and correct. If the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) was asking whether further legislation would be required to establish a new body of constables within the terms of that definition, the answer is that legislation clearly would be required.

We may return to some of those issues, but I should move on. I am grateful for the contributions from the hon. Member for Reigate and the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, because the clause goes to heart of the work of new Public Prosecution Service, and it would have been inappropriate to pass over it without debate, even though no one has sought to amend it.

The clause will require the service to conduct all prosecutions that are instituted on behalf of any police force for summary and indictable offences in Northern Ireland. As the hon. Member for Reigate noted, the police presently carry out the majority of prosecutions

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in Northern Ireland, and the most up-to-date figure for police prosecutions is 30,000. The hon. Gentleman referred to the proportion of cases handled by the different bodies, but the burden that the new Director of Public Prosecutions will have to carry is about right. Police prosecutions involve exclusively summary cases, which are tried in the magistrates court, while the department of the Director of Public Prosecutions prosecutes only indictable cases and a limited number of summary cases.

To accommodate the definitions in clause 44 of when proceedings are considered to have begun, the clause will require the Public Prosecution Service to take over proceedings that are instituted by the police. It is important to note that, in all cases, the PPS will determine whether to institute proceedings and what charge to put to the court. The clause also requires the DPP to give police forces advice, which will, of course, be limited to prosecutorial matters.

The hon. Member for Reigate raised some important points, and his contribution neatly encapsulated the reason why we cannot give him the firm date that he seeks. A significant amount must be done to facilitate the transition from the present position to that set out in the Bill. The expansion of the Public Prosecution Service and the transfer to it of police prosecutions can start before devolution and will be well advanced by 2003.

Mr. Mallon: Do the Government envisage a halfway house as regards the implementation of the provisions? To take a hypothetical situation, could the Northern Ireland Assembly refuse to accept its responsibility under the Bill? Are the Government in danger of starting a process that it is not within their power to finish?

Mr. Browne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to clarify the position. The Government intend that the transition to an independent prosecution service will take place with or without devolution. It is our aspiration, hope and intention that the stability of the institutions of devolution in Northern Ireland will be such, post the 2003 general elections in Northern Ireland, that they will be able and will want to accept responsibility for the devolution of justice. In those circumstances, the Government will be a willing partner in the transfer of functions to the devolved institutions.

Whether the devolved institutions want the transfer or whether there is stability, the process of change to an independent prosecution system will proceed. The Government intend to achieve the objectives of the review in that regard. For the reasons that the hon. Member for Reigate so ably set out—they were encapsulated in his short speech, but were set out in full in the Glidewell report—the Government are conscious of the dangers of a big-bang approach. A significant number of the problems experienced in England and Wales were due to the fact that the transfer took place when the system was not ready for it.

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We have come to the conclusion, advised by Glidewell, that a big-bang approach would be a mistake, as would an over-hasty roll-out of the provisions. We intend to learn the lessons that have been pointed out to the Committee by various hon. Members, and implement the provisions at an appropriate pace to ensure not only that they work in practice, but that the system of prosecution retains the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland, especially those with whom we charge the responsibility of investigating crime.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to the way in which the police presently deal with matters. The review does not criticise police handling of cases, and nor do the Government. The issue is not the present handling, but whether the present structure of prosecutions in Northern Ireland is appropriate to a modern criminal justice system. To bring Northern Ireland into line with England and Wales, and for that matter Scotland, through an independent prosecution service is now universally agreed to be appropriate to a modern criminal justice system.

Lady Hermon: The Minister swept aside my point about the police force as an ingenious argument—I hope that I quote him correctly. When the Minister is on better form, perhaps over lunch, I invite him to check that the title of the Police Service of Northern Ireland was changed for operational purposes only. If he cares to look up the recent legal challenge by Mr. Mark Parsons, he will find that the legal title is

    ''the Police Service of Northern Ireland (incorporating the Royal Ulster Constabulary)''.

Mr. Browne: If that was an invitation to lunch, I am grateful to the hon. Lady and would be delighted to accept. Unfortunately, I have a lunch appointment today, but I am sure that we will find a mutually acceptable gap in our respective diaries some time in the near future. I am also grateful to her for pointing the issues out to me, but I think that I made my position clear.

I want to move on to finance, which is important. The hon. Member for Reigate asked some reasonable questions on the subject. In partnership with the DPP, we have examined the likely cost implications of the reforms. The Government believe that the DPP will need more money than the review envisaged, and that the likely cost of the transition was underestimated. I can, however, reassure the Committee that the Government understand the resource implications and accept their responsibility to meet the requirements for resources. That is clearly set out in the implementation plan.

In the 2000 spending review, the sum of £13.5 million over three years was allocated for the DPP. Discussions are about to commence on further funding, but the Government are very conscious of the cost implications. They accept that the review may have underestimated the necessary resources, and are prepared to accept responsibility for making the necessary resources available.

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I hope that, in those few words, I have answered all the points that were raised. I have a sneaking suspicion that I have not answered the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough. If so, I will write to him on the matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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