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Mr. Garnier: Further to that point of order, Mrs. Heal, I wish to explain to you that what I thought was a shame was precisely what my hon. Friend has just said. Vast sections of this important Bill will never be discussed by the House. What is the point of the House if it is not allowed to discuss anything that the Government wish to impose on the people of this country?
Mr. Heald: On a point of order, Mrs. Heal. The role of the Master of the Rolls and the effect of the provisions on his role in the courts of England and Wales has not been mentioned. Perhaps it would be possible for the Minister to consider whether, in commenting on some of the other clauses that deal with judicial matters, he might reflect on the position of the Master of the Rolls.
Clause 5 substitutes a new section for section 1 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002, to ensure that provision made by that Act in relation to Northern Ireland is consistent with provision made in clause 4. Section 1 of the 2002 Act has not yet been commenced, and it already contains provision designed to place those with responsibility for the administration of justice in Northern Ireland under a duty to uphold the continued independence of the judiciary.
New section 1 specifies and extends the range of persons on whom the duty is imposed. Under the provision, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, Northern Ireland Ministers, and anybody with responsibility for the judiciary or administration of justice specific to Northern Ireland will be subject to a duty to uphold continued judicial independence. New section 1 also provides that, in upholding judicial independence, Ministers must not seek to influence particular judicial decisions through any special access to the judiciary. As I said earlier, we concluded that the term "special access" is essential to ensure that Northern Ireland Ministers remain free to seek to influence a particular judicial decision when appearing as a party to a court case. That answered the points raised by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), the former First Minister, who asked about the normal access arrangements. We need to ensure that the
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Administration would quite properly be able to make its own representations in a normal case in the normal way, if it were involved as a party to the case.
Mr. Trimble: I appreciate that the Minister is trying to respond to the point that I made, which I was going to repeat. What he is saying, however, seems rather strange. He is referring to enabling the First Minister or other Ministers to make representations if they are parties to an action, but that is not access. I think that the word "access" has a different meaning. There is still a problem in using the term "special access", because it must be special in contradistinction to other things. Representation is quite different from access.
Mr. Leslie: Even then, representation in a court is also access to it. We hope that the phrase "special access" strikes the correct balance between Ministers' legitimate activities while protecting the independence of the judiciary and ensuring that when there are special circumstances in the course of their duties requiring access to Ministers, those cannot be abused. Moreover, by virtue of clause 5(2), the new duties imposed by new section 1 to the 2002 Act have UK-wide territorial extent, so protection extends to the judiciary throughout the United Kingdom.
Mr. Trimble: I welcome new clause 1(1), particularly its reference to the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and Northern Ireland Ministers. It is particularly desirable to put clearly on the record the duty of Northern Ireland Ministers generally to uphold the continuing independence of the judiciary. I merely reflect that this underlines, too, how crazy it would be to have certain persons who were so closely linked with the greatest bank robbery in British history as Ministers.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): Some of the points that arise on the clause arose in the debate on clause 4. No one can argue with the general principle of the guarantee of continued judicial independence in Northern Ireland, but I am slightly concerned and puzzled as to why it should be thought necessary to have a reference in new section 1(4)(c) to "international court" when the provision refers to Northern Ireland Ministers and the judiciary. That point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) during the previous debate.
More generally, I come to some of the issues that arose during the previous debate about European law and its impact on domestic law. In Northern Ireland, some of the implications of that have been to our detriment. Section 24 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 states:
At the moment, there is a considerable threat to planning law in Northern Ireland from a number of European directives and that has raised a number
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of concerns. We would strongly resist anything that increased that threat or undermined domestic law and jurisdiction of the courts.
More generally on judicial independence, in the light of our experience since the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985, the notion of a duty on the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to uphold the continued independence of the judiciary in Northern Ireland is worth mentioning. Since that agreement, it seems to many people that it has been commonplace for the Government of the Irish Republic to have a say in the process of judicial nominations in Northern Ireland. Indeed, it is widely accepted that on at least one occasion, the Republic's view that someone should not be nominated prevailed. Viewed in that light, the concept of an independent judiciary seems somewhat abstract. If and when the Northern Ireland Assembly returns, it is unlikely that the process would be any less contentious or political because although removing the power from the Lord Chancellor more generally might make the process more transparent, only time will tell what the longer-term implications are.
Mr. Leslie: During my earlier comments, I explained the broader principles of why we advocate clause 5 as part of the Bill, and nothing that I said was undermined by the comments of the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds). Far be it from me to become too deeply involved in some of the points that he raised. They are on the record and my ministerial colleagues will see them. I stand by my assertion that clause 5 should stand part of the Bill.
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