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Amendment agreed to.

 
1 Mar 2005 : Column 856
 

Government amendment made: No. 492.

Clause 13, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 4

Other functions of the Lord Chancellor and organisation of the courts

Government Amendments made: Nos. 376, 377, 493 to 498, 378, 499 to 501, 379, 502 to 507, 380 to 385, 508, 509, 386 to 395, 510 to 512, 396 to 400, 513, 401, 514, 402, 404, 405, 515, 406 to 408, 516, 409 to 411, 517, 412, 413, 518 to 527, 415 to 420, 528, 421 to 425, 529, 530, 427 to 429, 531 to 534, 430 to 433, 535 to 538, 434, 435, 539 to 544, 436 to 453, 545 to 556, 454, 557, 456 to 459, 558 and 460 to 462.

Question proposed, That the schedule, as amended, be the Fourth schedule to the Bill.

Simon Hughes: The schedule is important in at least one respect; I want to raise a matter relating to habeas corpus. The first amendment in part 1 of the schedule refers to the Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and, understandably, removes the reference to

During my 22 years in this place—it is 22 years today—I had never had occasion to go into the No Lobby and pull out the volume of statutes that includes habeas corpus. It is exciting to do so. I remember looking at it when I was at school, at university and at other times. It is a wonderful volume, containing the earliest statutes that we have. It goes back to the very first statutes in 1235–36 during the reign of Henry III. The page is well thumbed and almost falling out, so I shall talk to the Library staff to ask if it can be put into good order.

Mr. Bercow: I congratulate the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) on his 22nd anniversary in this place. I hope that I will be in order, Mr. Gale, if I gently suggest to the hon. Gentleman that it would be entirely fitting for him to have a photographic representation of the way he is so painstakingly perusing the book in front of him. It is emblematic of the way in which he goes about his business in this place.

Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is very kind. There are little excitements in life. A commendation the other day said how much better people do if they are brought up to read and explore books and to understand them. This is one example, which I share, of the excitement of finding an item of constitutional importance in a book. I commend it to the Committee.

The schedule would amend clauses 1 and 2 of the Habeas Corpus Act 1679 by removing the references to the "lord chauncellour". Those clauses are very long. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell me what is left to us by way of protection. That was a huge issue yesterday, and it will properly be a huge issue for the Lord Chancellor and the judges of the supreme court and others in the future. It is very important to ensure that at any stage a judge can order that someone who has been detained is brought to court to give them a chance to have their say. I ask out of ignorance, because I have not investigated what amendments have been
 
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made to the Habeas Corpus Act 1679 before. I guess that we do not amend it often and that this is a rare moment in history, hidden away in schedule 4.

The 1679 Act is

In essence, clauses 1 and 2 provide for the body—the person—to be brought before a judge to ensure that they are detained lawfully. After the amendment of the Act by schedule 4, which will remove the most senior judge, the Lord Chancellor, what will we be left with in terms of the judges in front of whom a person detained can be brought? Which judges will have power to call for someone to be brought before them?

The phrase that will be left in the Act appears to include judges generally. Does that mean, in the phraseology that the Minister used earlier, junior judges, such as a magistrate, a district judge or a local county court or Crown court judge? Would it include High Court judges? I hope so. Would it include Appeal Court judges? I suppose that it might. Would it include the Lord Chief Justice? I hope that it would, because we need to know that the most senior judge in the land has the power, if necessary, to use habeas corpus to ensure that citizens of this country retain their liberty.

Mr. Cash: I am impressed by the hon. Gentleman's erudition. The issue he raises has significance for the Bill that we discussed yesterday, in confused and farcical circumstances. I was glad that the Home Secretary, in answer to my intervention, confirmed that habeas corpus would be retained under that Bill.

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that habeas corpus has often been described as

In the case of Cheblak, in 1991—fairly recently—it was said:

Simon Hughes: I am sure that we are united in wishing to ensure that we do nothing to reduce the protection of the citizen's liberty by the courts.

I have three further questions. First, I seek the Minister's confirmation, possibly on advice, that the provision remains a United Kingdom provision. I ask that conscious of the presence of Scottish Members. Whatever the mechanisms involved, the same right should apply in each of the four countries of the UK. Secondly, is it still the case that the law provides that people may also be brought before "barons of the said court", as well as before a judge? If so, who are those barons? Some judges are barons, in that High Court judges are knighted, but there are also barons by inheritance. I may be getting beyond my depth in matters of the honours system, but I ask out of ignorance.

Thirdly and very importantly, there are provisions in the Act that relate to the nearness of the judge to the person detained. One of the big issues in criminal justice recently has been the concern to ensure that magistrates courts are near the communities that they serve. That
 
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applies as much in the Minister's home area as it does in mine. Do the habeas corpus rules apply in the same way as was originally drafted back in 1679? In the proposals to change the distribution of courts, have the Government taken into account the consideration of distance, as provided in the 1679 Act? The Act states that

those are the words that will be deleted—

Then comes the distance provision:

It would be no consolation to me if I were being held unlawfully in 2005 to be told that the reason I did not have to be brought before a court for 10 or 21 days was that the court was more than a certain distance from where I was being detained. That provision may have been practical 500, 600 or 700 years ago, but it should no longer apply. I would be interested to know whether the provisions have been changed to allow people the speediest possible justice. Will there always be a court near enough so that someone can be brought before a judge at the first available opportunity?


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