Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Mr. Hunter: I shall be equally brief, but I want to put on record concerns about the concept of ''reflective of the community''. On Second Reading, several hon.

Column Number: 18

Members made the point that the experience of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland does not lead it to respond favourably, on first hearing, to such expressions as ''reflective of the community''. One need only look at the composition and working of the Parades Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the former Police Authority for Northern Ireland as well as recent appointments to the Independent Monitoring Commission. Such instances give rise to grave concern among Unionists as to the true purpose and intent of concepts such as ''reflective of the community''.

What precisely is meant by ''reflective of the community''? It is now a fact of life that Sinn Fein is the largest non-Unionist party in the Province. Sinn Fein remains inextricably linked with—indivisible from—the IRA. Is it seriously being suggested that a commission should be ''reflective of the community'' if that community includes representatives of a political movement that has total disregard for the judicial process?

Mr. Spellar: As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield said, the amendment would increase the number of judicial members and decrease the number of lay members of the new Judicial Appointments Commission. However, he then commented on the balance between lay members and those with a legal background. The commission will have two members from the legal profession: a barrister nominated by the General Council of the Bar and a solicitor nominated by the Law Society. Moreover, the Lord Chief Justice is the chairman of the commission.

Mr. Grieve: Perhaps I expressed myself badly. I used the word ''lay'', when I should have used ''non-judicial''.

Mr. Spellar: I can only be guided by what the hon. Gentleman says, in the same way that I can be guided only by the amendments he tables.

Mr. Robathan: Read his mind.

Mr. Spellar: It is probably easier to read his mind than the mind of the hon. Member for Blaby.

There was debate on the matter when the 2002 Act was going through the House and the House of Lords. The Bill does not alter the composition of the commission, nor, if I may say so to the hon. Member for Basingstoke, does this relate to the question of reflectivity, which we will deal with later.

The criminal justice review tried to strike a careful balance in terms of the commission's membership. We thought it right to identify the useful contribution that lay members could make to the appointments process—for example, the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland has a lay chair. I believe that we have the right balance, and I ask the hon. Member for Beaconsfield to withdraw the amendment.

10.15 am

Mr. Grieve: I shall not withdraw the amendment; I shall test the opinion of the Committee and press it to a vote. The debate in the Lords on the matter, albeit brief, highlighted concerns, which were expressed from a number of quarters, that the composition of the

Column Number: 19

commission makes no sense and that it would be better to ensure greater judicial involvement.

My assessment of how Northern Ireland works, as limited as that might be, is that there is much to be commended in the view that a judicial majority is worthwhile, and I would like to register my vote on that.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 13.

Division No. 1]

AYES
Grieve, Mr. Dominic Hunter, Mr. Andrew Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond Swire, Mr. Hugo Trimble, Mr. David

NOES
Barnes, Mr. Harry Carmichael, Mr. Alistair Clarke, Mr. Tony Coaker, Mr. Vernon Harris, Mr. Tom Hepburn, Mr. Stephen Irranca-Davies, Huw
Lucas, Ian McGrady, Mr. Eddie Palmer, Dr. Nick Spellar, Mr. John Taylor, Ms Dari Thomas, Gareth

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 1, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 1, leave out from 'Chancellor' to end of line 3.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 30, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 1, leave out from 'Chancellor' to end of line 7 and insert

    'to ensure those persons appointed to be lay members must so far as possible have a sophisticated understanding of legal issues as well as proven experience in selection procedure.'.

No. 2, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 4, leave out 'their' and insert 'his'.

No. 3, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 7, at end insert—

    '(9) Those responsible for making appointments under subsection (8) shall carry out their duties with due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in relation to—

    (a) religion and political opinion;

    (b) gender;

    (c) race;

    (d) disability;

    (e) age;

    (f) marital status;

    (g) dependants; and

    (h) sexual orientation.'.

No. 49, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 7, at end insert

    'At the beginning of subsection 8 of section 3 of the 2002 Act, insert ''The lay members should be selected on the basis of the additional value they would bring to the Commission's deliberation, including such qualities as experience of selection processes, the court users' perspective and the utility to assess the personal qualities of candidates.''.'.

No. 50, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 7, at end insert—

Column Number: 20

    '(1) In Schedule 2 to the 2002 Act in paragraph 11 (Delegation) for sub-sub-paragraph (1) leave out from ''functions'' to end and insert ''except the function of selecting a person for appointment, or recommendation for appointment, to an office, to any of its committees.''.

    (2) In Schedule 2 to the 2002 Act, leave out paragraph 12.'.

Mr. Carmichael: I shall speak to amendments Nos. 1 to 3, which stand in my name, although I note that I have the support of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann on amendment No. 1.

These are probing amendments, the genesis of which lies in my consideration of the explanatory notes. They are helpful, but slightly misleading in stating:

    ''The Criminal Justice Review recommended that the Commission should be representative of the community in Northern Ireland (recommendation 79, paragraph 6.104).''

When one reads that paragraph, it becomes apparent that the review recommended that the lay membership of the commission be representative of the community as a whole. The Government proposals go beyond that, as they would make the entire commission representative. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 would restrict the duties under subsection (1) to the Lord Chancellor and restrict the ambit to lay members of the commission, so that only the Lord Chancellor could appoint those members.

As the Government have taken a different position from that outlined in the criminal justice review, I thought it appropriate to table these amendments to find out why. In principle, I have no objection to the whole commission being reflective of the community, but I wonder whether that is slightly ambitious when one considers the nature of people who become lawyers. Most people will have heard my declarations of interest in that regard.

Mr. Hunter: I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman's amendments are probing, but will he clarify one aspect of his thinking on amendment No. 3(9)(a)? Before any restoration of devolved government, which has been suspended due to ongoing violence and non-decommissioning, would he envisage Sinn Fein being entitled by statute to places on the commission?

Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which I could probably play around with for 15 or 20 minutes without drawing breath. However, I shall resist that temptation, particularly because the Independent Monitoring Commission report will be published in the next couple of weeks and anything I say about that today will probably be irrelevant after its publication.

Paragraph 6.104 of the criminal justice review contains an express reference to the absence of political input in the appointments process:

    ''In the Northern Ireland context it is important to keep any hint of political input out of the appointments process. The lay members would be selected on the basis of the additional value which they would bring to the Commission's deliberations, including such qualities as experience of selection processes, the court users' perspective and the ability to assess the personal qualities of candidates.''

Appointing people because they are members of Sinn Fein, or indeed of any political party, does not seem to

Column Number: 21

have been part of the Government's thinking and I am content to go along with that.

In tabling amendment No. 3, I hoped that a very small part of a very small community—legal professionals in Northern Ireland—could be reflective of the wider community. Perhaps that is slightly ambitious, but I am more ambitious in that regard than the Government, who have not defined the term ''reflective of the community''. If the wording sounds familiar, there is a reason for that. It is more or less directly lifted from paragraph 3 of the section of the Good Friday agreement entitled ''Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity'', which states:

    ''Subject to the outcome of public consultation underway, the British Government intends, as a particular priority, to create a statutory obligation on public authorities in Northern Ireland to carry out all their functions with due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in relation to religion and political opinion; gender; race; disability; age; marital status; dependants; and sexual orientation.''

If that is good enough for the ''Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity'' section of the Good Friday agreement, it is good enough for the Bill. There would be a workable framework to define a commission that is ''reflective of the wider community''.

For the interest of the Committee, we have established from the 2001 census that 40.3 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland claim to be Catholic, 39.5 Protestant and 6.1 per cent. other Christian. I am not sure what the theology of ''other Christian''—neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant—is, but we shall pass on that. Other religions are 0.3 per cent. and none or not stated are 13.9 per cent. By gender, 48.7 per cent. of the population are male and 51.3 per cent. female. By ethnicity, 99.2 per cent. are white, and 0.8 per cent. non-white.

By age, the population are roughly the same as the rest of the country—26.8 per cent. under 18, about 60 per cent. aged 18 to 64 and 13.3 per cent. 65 years and older. The information is available for those who want to check the Government's performance in establishing a commission that reflects the wider community, if that is what they choose to do.

 
Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index


©Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 25 March 2004