|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Sir Patrick Cormack: I want to be helpful. I understand my hon. Friends concern, and I admire his assiduous work for Northern Ireland considerably, but we are in a very unsatisfactory situation. The timetable is ridiculous. Would it not be sensible to confer with our friends in the other place, and then perhaps table an amendment? [Interruption.] If I could have my hon. Friends attention for half a second, if there is to be a Division, let it be after further mature consideration in the other place.
Mr. Robertson: I understand my hon. Friends concerns on the matter. We have carried out a great deal of consultation on the subject. The advice that we were given, which may contradict the advice in the document to which the Secretary of State refers, was that we really should revisit a situation in which the DPP is unsupervised and unprotected.
Mr. Woodward: I genuinely really want to help the hon. Gentleman. With huge respect, again, the criminal justice review is not just some document, or some piece of consultation. It is the document on which much of the present and future judicial system in Northern Ireland is based. If the hon. Gentlemans advisers have failed to consult the documentthey have had seven years to do so, and not just the afternoonI honestly advise him not to press the amendment. It is in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland that he gives himself and his advisers time to reflect on the matter.
Mr. Robertson: I understand that we have 17 minutes left, and I know that one or two other hon. Members wish to contribute to this debate. Of course, we will listen to what they have to say, but I think that I have made the case for what we are proposing, and I shall leave the matter there.
Mr. Carmichael: I will not detain the House long. I have a lot of sympathy for the predicament in which the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) finds himself. The Secretary of State is right that the review has been around since 2002, but it is only 10 days ago that we knew how it would affect the legislation. I do not think that the hon. Member for Tewkesbury is to be criticised for probing the issue in the way that he has done.
I come to the question as a former career prosecutor. My experience informs me that the independence of the prosecution service is important. The reasoning behind the conclusions of the review were sound, and they ought to be supported. They should not be dismissed lightly. There is certainly a case to be made for ensuring proper accountability for the Public Prosecution Service, particularly in respect of its use of resources. That accountability is best done as it is in the Scottish model by the Lord Advocate answering questions in Parliament. I do not know whether the DPP has some audience rights within Stormont. If not, that would be the obvious cure for the defect identified by the hon. Gentleman and by others. Beyond that, the independence of the prosecution services in going about their work is of supreme importance and I would caution the hon. Gentleman against pursuing this matter too far.
Mr. Peter Robinson:
It is sufficient to say that I am not entirely persuaded by the argument that has been advanced so far. I will speak for only a few minutes,
which may give the opportunity for a strategic withdrawal to be arranged, which would be sensible in the circumstances.
The amendment that I want to touch on relates to the Attorney-General. The Opposition spokesman is right that I intervened earlier to say that the Lord Chief Justice would be put in a difficult position by that proposition. The Lord Chief Justice would be asked to appoint an Attorney-Generalone of the QCs, no doubt, who would be a member of the Barand any time that the Attorney-General would appear before the Lord Chief Justice, the Lord Chief Justice would be hearing the case from his chosen one, the one whom he had favoured, and unquestionably there would be people who would doubt the independence of any decision that would arise therefrom.
Mr. Robinson: That would mean removing the Lord Chief Justice, the most senior Law Officer, from the most important cases; no doubt, those being taken in defence of the Government. That would not be a wise move.
Much of todays debate has been on what appeared to be the unanimous decision of the House that greater independence was needed and that politicians should not be in the job of appointing judges. Now we have the proposition that the judges should appoint those who will go into the political arena to answer questions in the Assembly and to represent the politicians in the Government, and that is not a good way forward either.
The actual outcome was one of the easiest for the Deputy First Minister and I to come to an agreement on. I think it took only a few hours for us to agree who the best person might be for the post of Attorney-General when the moment came to make such an appointment, and we publicly said that our choice was John Larkin, QC. I have not heard one word of disagreement from any section of the community about that choice. The politicians were able to make that choice in a way that was responsible and would have merited confidence in the community. I suspect that the proposition offered by the Conservative party would not do that.
The Chairman: I am sorry to have to say it in open Committee to the hon. Gentleman, but it is not permissible for two members of the Front-Bench team to speak in the debate or to intervene, so it is rather unusual for him to seek to speak when the amendment has already been moved from the Front Bench.
The Chairman: The instruction given on the Bench Note is that the Committee stage Front-Bench team would comprise the hon. Members for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) and for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly). As the amendment has been moved from the Front Bench, we must rest at that.
Sir Patrick Cormack: My hon. Friends the Members for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) and for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), who speak from the Opposition Front Bench, are being given advice by their adviser, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly), who sometimes speaks from the Front Bench, so they cannot hear the advice that I am trying to give them, but I earnestly beseech them to recognise that, after due consideration, they have hit upon an important point, which clearly merits further consideration. I hope that, having heard what the First Minister saidI am sure they didthey will take carefully to heart his gentle, persuasive advice, have further discussions with our noble Friends who will debate this Bill for two whole days and arrange for a proper debate on a similar amendment in another place.
In the meantime, due consideration could be given to all the literature on this subjectparticularly to the seminal document to which the Secretary of State referred. It can then be decided whether the proposal is sensible or whether it would be better to make another one. I urge my hon. Friends to ponder those points, and not to press for a Division.
Paul Goggins: It is time for a pause, to breathe and reflect. If the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) wishes to intervene to tease this issue out a little further, I will be more than happy to give way. However, like the Secretary of State, I have to put it to the hon. Gentleman that if he were to insist on a vote, he would seek to overturn a fundamental principle and part of the Northern Ireland criminal justice review of 2000 and the subsequent legislation. That would be a significant step.
Mr. Laurence Robertson: The fact that there was a review several years ago does not bind us today. That said, we try to deal with these matters on a cross-party basis. Given the advice of the Secretary of State, the Minister, the First Minister and the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committeeand given the misunderstanding, no doubt our fault, that led to my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon not being able to contributewe would like to reserve the right to return to the issue in another place. I will not press the amendment to a Division.
Paul Goggins: I am grateful for that. The hon. Gentleman and I spend a lot of time in Committee together, and I have always found his approach to such issues entirely practical. I thank him for that. The issue is as significant as I have set out, so I am pleased that he is taking further time to reflect. As Members of the other place consider the issue in the days ahead, I am sure that they will look at what the review document says.
Mr. Djanogly: The Minister keeps referring to the review. Although we appreciate that there has been a review and although, in contrast to what the Secretary of State said, we did read it, does the Minister not appreciate that we are still entitled to debate the issue? The Minister speaks as if we are not allowed to.
Any party is, of course, entitled to raise debate in this place; that is what this place is about. However, we also have to respect and recognise that in the process of improvement and change towards peace and progress in Northern Ireland, certain key staging
posts have been reached. A very important staging post was the criminal justice review in 2000 and the subsequent legislation that went through the House. We have to respect that. Without that settlement, much development of the criminal justice process in Northern Ireland that has happened since would not have happened.
in the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, we believe that this independence should be further strengthened, by ensuring that the relationship between the Attorney General and the head of the prosecution service, while containing elements of oversight, is consultative and not supervisory. In other words, there should be no power for the Attorney General to direct the prosecutor, whether in individual cases or on policy matters.
Given the highly charged atmosphere of Northern Irelandto use a well-chosen word that appears in the reviewit is important that this enormously invasive prosecution arm of the state should be exercised in Northern Ireland by an official who is entirely independent. That is a departure from the current system in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland.[ Official Report, House of Lords, 13 June 2002; Vol. 636, CWH 93.]
So it is a different system, but a system that, following the review, was felt to be highly appropriate for Northern Ireland. That does not mean that the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions do not have a relationship: they do; it is a very strong relationship that is bound by statutory consultation. As I said earlier, there will be robust exchanges between the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions in drawing up the code of practice for prosecutors. They have a statutory relationship in terms of consultation but not in terms of superintendence or direction.
Mr. Djanogly: I am pleased that the Minister is admitting that we will now be pulling away from the system that exists in this country, which did not seem to come across in his earlier remarks, but who is the DPP going to answer to?
Paul Goggins: The DPP will be answerable to the Assembly for the use of resources and the administration of its officethat is very clearbut not for individual prosecution decisions, which are entirely for the independent DPP. It is important at the point of devolution that that is made absolutely clear and enshrined in the institutions.
Mr. Donaldson: I chaired the Assembly and Executive Review Committee for a time. When we considered these matters, it was our understanding that when the Director of Public Prosecutions presented his annual report he would come to the Justice Committee in the Assembly and be subject to questioning, and the Committee would have the opportunity to consider his report. A degree of accountability is therefore built into the system.
Paul Goggins: The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right. This does not apply only to producing the annual report. If a Committee, particularly the Justice Committee, wished to take evidence from the DPP, the DPP could be invited to attend and such evidence could be given. Indeed, the DPP gives evidence to Select Committees in this House, as the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will know.
Mr. Dodds: It is also worth pointing out, further to the intervention by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson), that when all these issues were considered in the Assembly, I do not remember a single Member or party raising any concern on this particular point. The issue of independence, which we discussed in relation to a previous clause, has been accepted in Northern Ireland.
Paul Goggins: Indeed, it is broadly accepted, certainly in the conversations that I have with the Lord Chief Justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions, or anybody else. The issue of independence is absolutely written through the whole system and is seen as highly significant.
It is not only the DPP who may be invited to give evidence and have to produce an annual reportthe Attorney-General, too, may be so invited. Indeed, both will have speaking rights in the Assembly and be able to speak to and respond to Assembly Members, whether in the Assembly or in Committee. There is a very clear structure of relationships both between the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions and between those office holders and the Assembly.
The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) touched on the appointment of the Attorney-General and pointed out the difficulties that would be faced were the Lord Chief Justice to make that appointment. There would also be a difficulty given that the Attorney-General has always been seen as somebody who would have a wider advisory role in giving legal advice, perhaps advising the Executive on certain key issues. It would be very uncomfortable, I suggest, for the Lord Chief Justice to appoint the person who would then advise the Executive. Any Lord Chief Justice would approach such a scenario with extreme caution. Of course, it is very important that the Attorney-General has independence, which should be safeguarded from inappropriate political pressure. The appointment of the Attorney-General, therefore, is made jointly by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, and the choice of John Larkin is, as far as I can tell, generally and widely welcomed.
Mr. Laurence Robertson: As previously indicated, and for the reasons that I gave, we will not press the amendment to a vote. We reserve the right to consider it further over the next few days, but we will not press it to a vote tonight.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|