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Mr. Spellar: It is right that we gave considerable thought, as I said in Committee, to the appropriate penalty to attach to the offence. It was decided that it should be compared to the offences of intimidating a juror, which carries a penalty of five years following conviction on indictment, and of perjury, which carries a penalty of seven years following conviction on indictment. It is true that the common law offence, like all such offences, attracts a maximum penalty of life. However, it is not a logical conclusion that moving away from that step towards infinity lessens the penalty.

As I said, case law suggests that the offence has in practice carried a sentence of between four and 24 months. There have been about 11 cases of attempting to pervert the course of justice in the past five years. It is
26 Apr 2004 : Column 698
not likely that introducing penalties that are significantly higher than those that are being imposed will lead to a reduction in the range of the tariff. In common law cases that carry a maximum sentence of life, it is not the maximum that is the major determinant, but the case law and the standard tariff that is applied by the courts in a particular jurisdiction.

Mr. Carmichael: Is the Minister really telling the House that he cannot envisage circumstances in which a serious attempt to pervert the course of justice by influencing a prosecutor would not merit a sentence in excess of five years?

Mr. Spellar: All I can say is that that has not been the experience, and five years is a substantial penalty. The hon. Gentleman is a lawyer and he could advise me whether a common law case could be mounted if it were felt to be more relevant in the circumstances. The case law shows a substantial gap between the average tariffs imposed and the one that we are suggesting. It is not normally the case that hon. Members suggest that the penalty should be life imprisonment.

The hon. Gentleman rightly points out that Governments of all persuasions seek to put on statute offences found in the common law. Why have they done so? First, common law offences are by their very nature uncertain, particularly at the edges. Offences therefore may be put on statute for reasons of clarity. The common law is open to interpretation, and that interpretation may change over time.

Mr. Carmichael: What particular problems, around the edges or otherwise, relating to the common law offence of attempting to pervert the course of justice have been encountered that have led to this provision being introduced?

Mr. Spellar: It is more a general movement towards rationalising the position. We have considered the offence and the theoretical possibility of a life sentence against the range of sentences that have been imposed, and we will bring the two a little closer together. Secondly, it may be necessary to formalise the range of penalties available for a certain offence. Finally, an offence might be put on statute to ensure that it is fully human rights compatible.

Turning to the specifics of the offence in clause 7, the Government have decided to put it on statute for the sake of clarity. We want to underline the independence of the director by making it abundantly clear that improperly seeking to influence him or her is illegal. The independence of the DPP and the prosecutors is critical to the functioning of the justice system in Northern Ireland. The current director, and indeed the previous incumbent, brought integrity and independence to the job; and have always made their prosecution decisions impartially, independently and objectively.

However, a new system of justice is being created for Northern Ireland, and in that new system, after devolution, the DPP will be an explicitly independent officer. At the moment, the DPP is subject to the superintendence of the Attorney General for Northern Ireland. However, when part 2 of the 2002 Act is commenced, his relationship with the Attorney-General
26 Apr 2004 : Column 699
and the Advocate-General will change and become one of consultation. In those changing circumstances and the circumstances of Northern Ireland, it needs to be made very clear that prosecution decisions will be taken impartially, independently and objectively. The creation of this offence will help further to enhance public confidence in the administration of justice.

Amendment No. 15 would mean that prosecutions of this offence could be carried out without the consent of the director. The subsection the amendment seeks to remove is there to ensure that a prosecution is brought only when there is sufficient evidence and when the prosecution will be in the public interest. It is an important safeguard to ensure that only cases that should be prosecuted are prosecuted.

I ask the hon. Member to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Carmichael: In circumstances in which all hon. Members agree that attempting to pervert the course of justice by influencing a prosecutor is a serious matter and requires prosecution with the full array of powers available to the authorities and punishment with the utmost vigour, I find it hard to believe that we will again divide on the issue. But what alternative does the Minister leave us? We have asked him pertinent questions on three occasions. What problems have the prosecuting authorities encountered? How many cases have been lost, and how many have even been mounted? Why is a problem perceived?

The Minister referred to statistics gathered in the past five years, which have, fortunately, been among the calmer in Northern Ireland's history. What would the story be if we went back 15 or 20 years? Is it not possible that we would find instances of attempting to pervert the course of justice by influencing a prosecutor or other people in the criminal justice system that would merit a sentence in excess of five years?

The Minister has answered none of these questions. When I asked him about cases of attempting to pervert the course of justice in which a sentence of five years or more would be appropriate, he said that they could probably still be liable to the common law offence anyway. Does that not show the futility and nonsense of re-enacting that which is already criminal?

8 pm

The Minister told us that the common law can be problematic because it is open to interpretation. The words

are contained in clause 7. If there is a problem with the interpretation of the common law offence, there will be a problem with the statutory offence that he seeks to create. If I am wrong, I hope that he will intervene to point out to me why I am wrong. He stays firmly glued to his seat; I suspect that I am not wrong. Worse than that and most frustrating of all, he knows that I am not wrong.

Mr. Spellar: I thought I had indicated at some length—although not as much length as I did on a previous clause—why we believe this is a useful
26 Apr 2004 : Column 700
provision. It has the advantages of clarity, ensures compliance with human rights and provides a proper scale of penalty that more accurately reflects the tariff in the courts. That may not satisfy or please the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that he can say that I have not responded.

Mr. Carmichael: I am afraid that I can say that because, yet again, the Minister has failed to answer. He was asked: what are the problems, where has the lack of clarity arisen and what in the Bill will change the situation? He has not answered any of those questions. I shall give him one more chance to respond, but it appears that he will not.

In these circumstances, the debate on this clause has been one of the biggest wastes of parliamentary time that I have seen since I came here. The fault for that lies fairly and squarely with the Minister and with his refusal to engage in proper debate with the House. Accordingly, I will press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 132, Noes 254.

Division No. 146
[8.2 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Amess, David
Arbuthnot, rh James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bacon, Richard
Barker, Gregory
Baron, John (Billericay)
Barrett, John
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Brady, Graham
Brake, Tom (Carshalton)
Brazier, Julian
Breed, Colin
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.
Browning, Mrs Angela
Burnett, John
Burns, Simon
Burnside, David
Burstow, Paul
Butterfill, Sir John
Calton, Mrs Patsy
Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y)
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies (NE Fife)
Carmichael, Alistair
Chope, Christopher
Collins, Tim
Conway, Derek
Curry, rh David
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Dodds, Nigel
Donaldson, Jeffrey M.
Doughty, Sue
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Flight, Howard
Flook, Adrian
Forth, rh Eric
Francois, Mark
Garnier, Edward
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Gidley, Sandra
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Gummer, rh John
Hammond, Philip
Harvey, Nick
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Heald, Oliver
Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Horam, John (Orpington)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Hunter, Andrew
Jack, rh Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Keetch, Paul
Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lamb, Norman
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
Mackay, rh Andrew
McLoughlin, Patrick
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Moore, Michael
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Norman, Archie
Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, John
Redwood, rh John
Rendel, David
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, David
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Selous, Andrew
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Spring, Richard
Streeter, Gary
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Syms, Robert
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Trimble, rh David
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Waterson, Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Weir, Michael
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Ayes:

Sir Robert Smith and
Mr. David Heath


Adams, Irene (Paisley N)
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Allen, Graham
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary
Austin, John
Baird, Vera
Barnes, Harry
Barron, rh Kevin
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Bennett, Andrew
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blizzard, Bob
Borrow, David
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, Jean
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davidson, Ian
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dawson, Hilton
Denham, rh John
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Dobson, rh Frank
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Foster, rh Derek
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hanson, David
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Healey, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Hendrick, Mark
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David
Hinchliffe, David
Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Kaufman, rh Gerald
Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S.
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, David
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Stephen
McDonagh, Siobhain
MacDonald, Calum
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallon, Seamus
Mandelson, rh Peter
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Meacher, rh Michael
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Alan
Miliband, David
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Morley, Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Olner, Bill
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Plaskitt, James
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quin, rh Joyce
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Raynsford, rh Nick
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Roy, Frank (Motherwell)
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Short, rh Clare
Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Soley, Clive
Spellar, rh John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Straw, rh Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Robert N.
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Noes:

Gillian Merron and
Charlotte Atkins

Question accordingly negatived.

26 Apr 2004 : Column 703

Clause 8

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