Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Sir Patrick Cormack: The Secretary of State is being generous in giving way, but he has heard the unanimity of view on both sides of the House, so will he give an undertaking to accept an amendment, which I will table,
23 Nov 2005 : Column 1548
so that people appear in open court before a judge—not a retired one—to answer for their crimes? Will he accept such an amendment?

Mr. Hain: I acknowledge the strength of feeling in the House. That is why I have accepted interventions. I cannot anticipate what amendments will be tabled. We shall have to see them, and they will be debated in the normal way.

Any prosecution for a certified offence will take place in a special tribunal set up under the legislation. Detailed provisions are set out in schedule 2. The special tribunal will have all the powers, authorities and jurisdiction of the Crown court sitting without a jury. The defendant will not have to attend the trial, but otherwise the trial will follow traditional procedures.

In the event of a conviction, the person will receive a licence, subject to certain conditions.

Mr. Dodds: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hain: No, I need to make progress.

A person given a life sentence will not be granted a licence if he is deemed to be a danger to the public. No licence can be granted until the person has provided the necessary fingerprints and non-intimate samples. If licence conditions are broken, the licence can be suspended. The person must then begin to serve their sentence in prison. The case is then passed to the appeals commissioners, who will take the decision to confirm or revoke the licence. If the licence is revoked, the person will remain in prison to serve his or her sentence.

Clauses 12 to 17 set out the routes of appeal for decisions made in the scheme. Challenges at the certification stage will go to specially appointed appeals commissioners. The terms of those commissioners and the procedure they will follow are set out in schedules 3 and 4.

Conviction and sentence before the special tribunal may be appealed before a special appeals tribunal, also established by the legislation. The special appeals tribunal will attract to itself all the powers of the Court of Appeal, and detailed provision is set out in schedule 5.

Mr. Peter Robinson: The United Kingdom has obligations under several human rights conventions. Under the United Nations convention against torture, the Government have a responsibility to prosecute those responsible for torture. Will the Secretary of State have the Bill amended to ensure that that obligation is in it?

Mr. Hain: The issue has been raised with us and we are looking into it, but as I said, the Bill is in full compliance with human rights legislation.

Lady Hermon: I assume that the Secretary of State occasionally speaks and listens to the Home Secretary—at least I hope he does. The Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor invariably tell the House and another place that we must make every effort to instil public confidence in the criminal justice system. Will the Secretary of State explain to the House how the dreadful procedure set out in the Bill can in any way enhance public confidence in the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hain: The name of the Home Secretary appears on the Bill as one of its sponsors, along with my name.
23 Nov 2005 : Column 1549

Clause 18 establishes the special prosecutor, who will bring prosecutions in the special tribunal. The special prosecutor will also have responsibility for liaising with victims to ensure that they are properly informed of the progress of cases that reach that stage. Further details are in schedule 6.

Clauses 19 to 27 contain ancillary provisions, which include protections for information provided to the certification commissioner and the power to suspend and repeal provisions of the scheme. Of course, I would prefer it if the normal processes of the criminal law could be applied in all those cases, but those who are outside Northern Ireland will not return on that basis.

Mr. Andrew Turner: The Secretary of State will appreciate that he is proposing a new but parallel system, which he may describe as justice, for the people who apply for those certificates. I do not understand why, if the system is as good, they will not be taken before the normal courts, allowed to appeal to the normal Court of Appeal and prosecuted by the normal prosecutors. Why is that?

Mr. Hain: I can explain very simply why. I do not want this process to jam up the existing courts. [Interruption.] If I am allowed to answer the hon. Gentleman's point, I do not think that it would be right—and I do not think that the citizens of Northern Ireland think that it would be right—to obstruct the timing and momentum of the normal criminal proceedings that are going through our Crown courts, possibly including cases following the Good Friday agreement. That is why we set up the parallel procedure.

Mr. Robathan rose—

Mr. Dodds rose—

Mr. Hain: I am sorry; I need to make some progress.

Those who may be suspected in the future may well abscond if criminal proceedings were initiated against them, leaving both groups beyond the reach of the criminal process altogether and victims haunted by the fact that they will never be confronted by the justice process for their crimes. In this context, the work of the historical inquiries team—the cold case review—is important. There will be those who say that they will be denied justice if someone charged and convicted does not serve a prison sentence—I understand that—but I hope that the House takes note of the fact that there will be others who will want to find out as much as possible about what happened to their loved ones, and if the review of cases helps to bring them nearer to closure, it is worth doing.

Mr. Dodds: Can the Secretary of State confirm that, under the special procedure, the defendant does not have to turn up, that it may well be that their details will not be made known to anyone—the anonymity provisions can apply—and that they will be able to get to legal aid as well? So the defendant will not have to turn up and will be anonymous, but can he confirm whether they can get legal aid to fight those cases?

Mr. Hain: If people are eligible for legal aid, of course, they will get legal aid, but they must be eligible for it.
23 Nov 2005 : Column 1550
I have already explained the processes involved in the procedure—[Interruption.] I repeat that there is no prospect at all of bringing on-the-runs to justice if we do not proceed with the process.

In an intervention in the recent debate on the renewal of aspects of the prevention of terrorism legislation, the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) said:

He suggests that it is a case of paradise or perdition. I do not agree with that stark either/or analysis. Things are immensely better in Northern Ireland than they were—nobody contests that—but, of course, that is not good enough.

The reality is that we are coming to the end of a long period of transition in Northern Ireland that began with the ceasefires of the early 1990s and the negotiations conducted, including with the IRA, by the then Conservative Government. However, we will only get to that end once all the outstanding issues are resolved: the issue that we are discussing today; Sinn Fein's unequivocal endorsement and support for policing arrangements; an end to all paramilitary activity and criminality, by all paramilitary groups—the UDA, UVF, LVF and the dissident republicans included. Then stable and inclusive institutions can be restored and the promise of the agreement can be realised.

Mr. Donaldson: The Secretary of State has today placed in the Library a written statement confirming that he has changed the nature of the inquiry into the murder of Billy Wright in the Maze prison. Can he give an absolute assurance to the House that, as a result of the change in the nature of that inquiry, no information will be withheld from the inquiry by his office and that those involved will not seek to shelter behind the provision of the new legislation to prevent information and evidence from being provided to the inquiry to enable it to reach a conclusion?

Mr. Hain: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue and seeking clarification. He brought Billy Wright's father, David Wright, with him to see me, and I was able to hear Mr. Wright's views that he did not want the inquiry converted as Lord MacLean, the presiding judge, has requested of me. I looked into this in great detail and sought to take careful account of all the relevant factors and to arrive at a reasoned decision. David Wright has suffered grievously—he is another victim—and I was very impressed with the strength of his conviction and his demeanour at that meeting.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman and Mr. Wright will be reassured by the fact that Lord MacLean and I strongly share their wish that the full facts in relation to the murder of Billy Wright should be established. It is Lord MacLean's belief that the conversion is necessary for the inquiry to be as thorough and effective as possible. He will do all that he can to ensure that the concerns expressed by the hon. Gentleman, Mr. David Wright and the family about the conduct of the inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 are addressed.

I, too, am only interested in finding out the truth about what happened. I can promise the hon. Gentleman and, through him, David Wright that the
23 Nov 2005 : Column 1551
Government will fully co-operate with the inquiry. We will not seek to limit its scope or to withhold material from it. I can also assure him that I have no present intention to issue a restriction notice with regard to the Billy Wright inquiry.

The decision to propose the Bill was not taken lightly. I therefore commend it to the House not with a spring in my step, but because I firmly believe that it is an absolutely essential part of the process of Northern Ireland not being trapped in a past of horror and violence, but looking to a future where there are no victims any more, where every child has the best start and every citizen can walk out from under the shadow of fear, intimidation and brutality.

2.37 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page