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The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): In March 2004, the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Northern Ireland was asked by the then Secretary of State, my right hon. friend Paul Murphy MP, to conduct a review of current systems for carrying out checks on individuals working with children in Northern Ireland. I have received the review report, which will be published by the Commissioner today. Copies of the report will be placed in the libraries of the House.
The review was chaired by Ruth Lavery, a Barrister at Law, and was commenced following publication of the Bichard Inquiry report into the tragic events at Soham, which resulted in the deaths of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells. Taking into account the findings of Sir Michael Bichard, the aim of the review was to identify deficiencies in the present system and opportunities for reform, with a view to providing greater protections to children in Northern Ireland.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome this report, which supports and endorses the huge amount of work being taken forward across Government, both in Northern Ireland and in partnership throughout the United Kingdom. There have been a number of significant developments in Northern Ireland within the last number of months, including the commencement of legislation, the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults Order in April 2005, which aims to strengthen safeguards for children and vulnerable adults. In addition, implementation of the Police Act later this year will create a statutory system of disclosing information, relevant to employment decision-making. The report makes 37 recommendations. Of the 36 that are targeted at government, 30 (more than 80 per cent.) have already been acted on, are being acted on, or are actively being considered. The remaining six will require either clarification or further consideration.
The Commissioner has also identified five important areas for action that he believes should guide and underpin the current reforms. In the main, they relate to establishing mechanisms or methods of ensuring that policy and legislation are translated effectively in practice. I am extremely grateful to the Commissioner for bringing forward this important work. I would like to pay tribute both to him and especially Ruth Lavery for her report. I can assure the House that these crucial issues will be taken fully into account as the Government deliver stronger safeguards to protect children.
I have agreed with the Commissioner that I will provide him with a written report on progress by government on all recommendations within three
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months. I have also agreed that he will review implementation of the actions after 12 months. On a final point, it is my intention to appoint a Minister for Children from my ministerial team. The designated Minister will have responsibility for all issues affecting children in Northern Ireland, including child protection. I will ask the Minister for Children to keep me fully informed of progress on all of the vetting review recommendations.
"The Government have decided that after the summer recess it will seek affirmative resolutions from both Houses of Parliament in order to implement section 43 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Section 43 made provision for serious and complex fraud trials to be conducted by a judge sitting without a jury. The provision can operate only where the
This decision has been taken in the light of discussions at a seminar held in January of this year, following a commitment to further consultation that was given by the Government when the 2003 Act was passed, at which Opposition spokesmen, the judiciary, prosecuting authorities and the legal profession were amongst those represented. I am placing a record of the seminar proceedings in the Library of the House.
A protocol for dealing with lengthy trials, which was issued by the Lord Chief Justice on 22 March 2005, emphasises the need for robust and well-informed case management to enable the court to focus on the real issues, and it is hoped that this approach will contribute towards reducing the length of trials. The Government consider, however, that better case management will not of itself be sufficient to confine the duration of the most complex serious fraud trials within reasonable bounds, or prevent such trials from imposing an intolerable burden upon the jury.