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|Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill|
These notes refer to the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill (HL)
JUSTICE (NORTHERN IRELAND) BILL
1. These explanatory notes relate to the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill as brought from the House of Lords on 11 February 2004. They have been prepared by the Northern Ireland Office in order to assist the reader of the Bill and to help inform debate on it. They do not form part of the Bill and have not been endorsed by Parliament.
2. The notes need to be read in conjunction with the Bill. They are not, and are not meant to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill. So where a clause or part of a clause does not seem to require any explanation or comment, none is given.
3. The purpose of the Bill is to continue the process of change and improvement in the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. This process of change stems from the Criminal Justice Review, a wide ranging survey of the Northern Ireland criminal justice system published in March 2000. Other milestones in the change process include the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 (c.26), the Joint Declaration (published by the British and Irish Governments on 1 May 2003) and the updated Implementation Plan for the Criminal Justice Review, published on 18 June 2003 (ISBN 0-337-08614-1):
[Bill 55EN] 53/3
4. The Bill has 22 clauses and 4 Schedules:
Clause 1: Transfer to Lord Chancellor of functions relating to Judicial Appointments Commission
5. The Criminal Justice Review recommended the establishment of a Judicial Appointments Commission once responsibility for criminal justice matters had been devolved (recommendation 77, paragraph 6.102). Part I of the 2002 Act confers on the First and Deputy First Ministers, acting jointly, a number of functions in relation to the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission ("the Commission"). The Joint Declaration published in May 2003 gave a commitment to establish the Commission prior to devolution in order further to enhance public confidence in the criminal justice system (paragraph 24).
6. This clause transfers functions of the First and Deputy First Ministers in relation to the Commission to the Lord Chancellor. This transfer is so that the Commission can be brought into operation before the devolution of responsibility for criminal justice. Schedule 1 amends Part I of the 2002 Act to effect this transfer of functions. On devolution of criminal justice, these functions will be transferred back to the First and Deputy First Ministers, acting jointly, as provided for in the 2002 Act. There are also a number of consequential amendments on, for example, superannuation and the presentation of accounts.
Clause 2: Membership of the Commission
7. The Criminal Justice Review recommended that the Commission should be representative of the community in Northern Ireland (recommendation 79, paragraph 6.104). Section 3(8) of the 2002 Act provides that the First and Deputy First Ministers must ensure, so far as possible, that the lay members of the Commission are representative of the community in Northern Ireland.
8. Subsection (1) of this clause replaces this duty with a duty for the Lord Chancellor and those others responsible for making nominations to the Commission (the Lord Chief Justice, the General Council of the Bar in Northern Ireland and the Law Society of Northern Ireland) to make such arrangements as will, so far as is practicable, ensure that the membership of the Commission as a whole is reflective of the community in Northern Ireland.
9. Under paragraph 2(2) of Schedule 2 to the 2002 Act, a person may only be appointed as a non-judicial member of the Commission for up to five years at a time, for a maximum of ten years. Subsection (2) inserts new paragraphs (1) and (1A) into Schedule 2 to the 2002 Act to place the same time limits on the Commission's judicial members.
Clause 3: Duty of Commission to secure judiciary reflective of the community
10. The Criminal Justice Review recommended that the judiciary in Northern Ireland should be as reflective of Northern Ireland society as can be achieved consistent with the requirement of appointment on merit (recommendation 69, paragraph 6.85). Section 5(8) of the 2002 Act provides that, so far as is practicable, the Commission must secure that a range of persons reflective of the community in Northern Ireland is available for consideration each time the Commission selects or recommends a person for appointment to a listed judicial office. Section 5(9) of the 2002 Act states that the selection of a person to a listed judicial office must be based solely on merit.
11. Clause 3 amends section 5 of the 2002 Act by replacing subsections (8) and (9):
Clause 4: Appointment of Lord Chief Justice and Lords Justices of Appeal
12. Section 4 of the 2002 Act amends section 12 the Judicature (Northern Ireland) Act 1978 (c.23) by requiring the Prime Minister to consult the First and Deputy First Ministers and the Lord Chief Justice before making recommendations to Her Majesty The Queen as to who should fill the posts of Lord Chief Justice and Lords Justices of Appeal. The 2002 Act also requires the Commission to advise the First and Deputy First Ministers over the procedure they should adopt for formulating their reply to the Prime Minister.
13. This clause makes provision for a change to the process for appointing the Lord Chief Justice and Lords Justices of Appeal. The First and Deputy First Minister, after consultation with the Lord Chief Justice (or the most senior Lord Justice if the office of the Lord Chief Justice is vacant or the Lord Chief Justice is unavailable), will make a recommendation to the Prime Minister (new section 12(4)). The Prime Minister must consider that recommendation before making his recommendation to Her Majesty The Queen. The Commission will still provide advice to the First and Deputy First Ministers on the procedure to adopt for formulating a recommendation to the Prime Minister. This amendment brings the procedure for appointing the Lord Chief Justice and Lord Justices of Appeal more closely in line with the Criminal Justice Review's recommendation (recommendation 75, paragraph 6.96).
Clause 5: Duty of Director of Public Prosecutions to refer certain matters to Police Ombudsman
14. Section 34 of the 2002 Act amends section 55 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 (c. 32) to place the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland ("the Director") under a duty to refer matters to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland ("the Ombudsman"). Recommendation 21 of the Criminal Justice Review stated that there should be a duty on the Director to refer matters to the Ombudsman and clause 5 makes the necessary amendments to ensure that the recommendation is fully implemented in line with the undertaking of the Government in the Joint Declaration published in May 2003 and referred to at page 33 of the Updated Implementation Plan.
15. Clause 5 amends section 55 as follows. Firstly, it removes the references to the Director in those sections which deal with the discretion (subsection (2)). Secondly, it inserts a new subsection into section 55 which places a duty on the Director to refer any matter to the Ombudsman in which it appears to the Director that a police officer may have committed a criminal offence or, in the course of a criminal investigation, have behaved in a manner which would justify disciplinary proceedings (subsection (3)).
16. Under the new subsection it is made clear that the new duty does not apply if the Director knows that the Ombudsman is already aware of a matter this is to ensure that matters are not repeatedly referred to the Ombudsman and to avoid overlap with matters that have already been referred. Subsection (4) amends section 55(5) to ensure that the Ombudsman has the power to investigate any matter referred under new subsection (4A). Subsection (5) amends subsection 55(7) so that the Ombudsman is no longer obliged to inform the Director of the outcome of criminal or disciplinary proceedings. Informing the Director is unnecessary because he made the referral to the Ombudsman in the first place. Finally subsection (6) ensures that referrals under this clause are treated consistently with any referrals under section 55 to which the RUC (Complaints etc.) Regulations 2001 (S.R. 2001/184) currently apply. Subject to certain exceptions, Regulations 7 to 9 of these Regulations limit the Ombudsman to investigating complaints about matters that are no more than 12 months old.
Clause 6: Influencing a Prosecutor
17. This clause creates an offence of seeking to influence a prosecutor with the intention of perverting the course of justice as recommended by the Criminal Justice Review at recommendation 46. For this purpose, a prosecutor may be the Director, the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, a Public Prosecutor (as provided for in subsection (1)) or a barrister or solicitor to whom the Director has assigned the power to institute or conduct any criminal proceedings under section 36(2) of the 2002 Act (as provided for in subsection (2)). A person who, with the intention of perverting the course of justice, acts with the intention of influencing a prosecutor as defined above in any decision as to whether to institute or continue criminal proceedings commits this offence.
18. Case law concerning the common law offence of perverting the course of public justice is likely to be of use in the interpretation of this new offence. The intention in relation to the common law offence is one to pervert the course of public justice or the intention to do some act which, if achieved, would pervert the course of public justice. The act done must tend or intend to interfere with the course of public justice. Such acts include but are not limited to making false allegations, perjury, concealing the commission of an offence, obstructing the police, assisting others to evade arrest, failing to prosecute, procuring and indemnifying sureties, interfering with witnesses, evidence and jurors and publishing material calculated to prejudice a fair trial. Public justice has been interpreted to mean that either a course of justice has been commenced by way of an investigation or court proceedings, or an offence has been committed which requires prosecution.
19. A person charged with this offence may be tried either summarily or on indictment. Subsection (3) provides that the offence is punishable on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both. On conviction on indictment, the offence is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine or both. Subsection (4) requires the Director's consent for proceedings to be instituted to ensure that a prosecution for this offence is only instituted where there is sufficient evidence and where the prosecution will be in the public interest.
Clause 7: Guidance for criminal justice agencies on human rights standards
20. The Criminal Justice Review took account of basic human rights principles set out in international law (paragraph 3.11) and stressed their application to the criminal justice system (paragraph 3.6). The Joint Declaration of May 2003 stated the Government's intention to make future provision to promote a human rights culture in the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland (paragraph 24).
21. This clause makes provision for the Attorney General for Northern Ireland to issue guidance to certain criminal justice organisations in Northern Ireland on how to carry out their functions in accordance with relevant international human rights standards. The organisations to which this clause applies must have regard to any such guidance (subsection (1)). This clause does not affect the operation of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which provides that it is unlawful for public authorities to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right (subsection (2)).
22. Subsection (3) requires the guidance to be published, to be laid before each House of Parliament and to be brought into operation by an order made by the Attorney General, subject to the negative resolution procedure, when it is issued, and each time it is revised. The organisations to which the guidance will apply are listed at subsection (4). Subsection (5) gives the Attorney General for Northern Ireland the power to amend this list by order subject to the draft affirmative procedure.
23. Section 52 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c.32) makes provision for a code of ethics for police officers. Subsection (6) amends section 52 to provide that the Chief Constable and Policing Board must have regard to the human rights guidance for the time being in operation when revising the code of ethics for police officers. This is to ensure that the police are guided by one document which is consistent with the human rights guidance and avoids the need for the police to refer to a variety of documents.
24. Subsection (7) states that the Director of Public Prosecutions must have regard to the human rights guidance currently in operation when drawing up or revising his code of practice for prosecutors under section 37 of the 2002 Act. This is to ensure that there is no conflict between the code of practice and the human rights guidance.
25. Subsection (9) requires the Attorney General for Northern Ireland to consult the Advocate General for Northern Ireland before issuing or revising such guidance, bringing the guidance into operation or amending the list of organisations to which it will apply. This provision will only take effect after the devolution of criminal justice matters, at which time the post of Advocate General for Northern Ireland will be created as provided for in Section 27 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002.
Clause 8: The Juvenile Justice Board
26. The Criminal Justice Review recommended the creation of a next steps agency which would take on responsibility for the range of responsibilities which fell to the Juvenile Justice Board (recommendation 185). The functions of the Board have been transferred to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and are now being exercised by the Youth Justice Agency, which was established on 1 April 2003. In addition, the new Agency incorporates youth conferencing services. The purpose of this clause is to substitute references in the 2002 Act to the Juvenile Justice Board for reference to the Youth Justice Agency (subsections (1), (2) and (4) and to remove references to the Board in the 2002 Act and other legislation where they are no longer appropriate (subsections (3) and (5)).
Clause 9: Prosecution right of appeal against grant of bail by magistrates' court
27. This clause creates a prosecution right of appeal to the High Court against the granting of bail by the magistrates' court. At the moment there is no mechanism available for the prosecution to appeal against the grant of bail. It is important that there are adequate safeguards against the possibility of mistakes being made. The granting of bail may only be appealed if a person is charged with an offence punishable by imprisonment to ensure that only in the most serious cases can a person be denied their liberty by virtue of an appeal.
28. Subsection (2) provides that the grant of bail may only be appealed where the prosecution is conducted by or on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions, or on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland: as a consequence appeals will only be possible where a professional prosecutor is involved in the matter. Subsection (3) states that an appeal may only be made if the prosecution made representations against the granting of bail before bail was granted.
29. Subsection (4) provides that oral notice of an intention to appeal must be given to the magistrates' court at the conclusion of the proceedings at which bail is granted and before the person concerned is released from custody. Subsection (5) provides that written notice must be given to the magistrates' court and the person concerned within two hours of the conclusion of the proceedings. Subsection (6) requires the magistrates' court to remand the person concerned in custody from when it receives the oral notice of the appeal until a decision on the appeal is taken. Where the prosecution fails to comply with subsection (5), the appeal shall be deemed to have been disposed of (subsection (7)). The hearing of the appeal must be commenced with 48 hours (subject to limited exceptions) of the giving of oral notice (subsection (8)). The purpose of these strict time limits is to ensure that if an appeal is unsuccessful a person is only further detained for as short a time as possible.
30. Subsection (9) permits an appeal by the prosecution by way of re-hearing, and on such an appeal the High Court may (a) remand the person concerned in custody, or (b) grant bail subject to such conditions (if any) as it thinks fit. In relation to a person under the age of 21, the reference in subsection (1) to an offence punishable by imprisonment is to be read as a reference to an offence which would be so punishable in the case of a person over that age (subsection (11) refers). Without such a provision the clause would only cover those aged over 21, because those under 21 cannot be sentenced to imprisonment by virtue of the Treatment of Offenders Act (Northern Ireland) 1968 (c.29).
Clause 10: Bail under section 67 of the Terrorism Act 2000
31. This clause and Schedule 2 (as introduced by subsection (2)) deal with the enforcement of bail granted under section 67 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (c. 11) ("the 2000 Act") (section 67 forms part of the temporary provisions in part VII of that Act). The intention is that those granted bail under section 67 should, as regards enforcement, be put in the same or a similar position to those who are granted bail for non-scheduled offences. Subsection (3) creates a duty to surrender to custody for those granted bail in scheduled cases under section 67 of the 2000 Act (subsection (1) refers). The duty is either a duty to surrender to the custody of a court, or to surrender to the custody of the governor of a prison (the latter duty is to cover those released on compassionate bail).
32. Subsection (4) provides that clause 10 and Schedule 2 will cease to have effect on the same day as part VII of the 2000 Act - 19 February 2006 - or such earlier date as the Secretary of State may by order appoint. The power make an order with the effect that the provisions will cease to have effect is included to cover the situation in which section 67 ceases to have effect before 19 February 2006 either by virtue of an order under section 112(2) of the 2000 Act or because it is allowed to lapse under section 112(1) of the 2000 Act.
|© Parliamentary copyright 2004||Prepared: 12 February 2004|