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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, will the Minister allow me to intervene for clarification? Under Clause 18 the code has legal efficacy as a statutory instrument. That has to be borne in mind; it is established unless it is amended.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, between now and Committee stage the scrutiny committee will have a good look at the whole Bill and its procedures. No doubt, the committee will advise the House accordingly and we shall take seriously what it has to say and consider it.
My noble friend Lord Campbell also referred to an application to quash an indictment. I am grateful to him for raising the point. I can confirm that as regards preparatory hearings the Court of Appeal has held that the judge's power to decide any question of law or admissibility of evidence is confined to questions related to the purposes of the preparatory hearings as outlined in Section 7 of the Criminal Justice Act 1987. Applications to quash an indictment--for example, for abuse of process--do not come within these powers and do not therefore attract an interlocutory right of appeal. So far as binding rulings under Part IV of the Bill are concerned, I shall consider the point that my noble friend raised about appeals from such rulings and I shall write to him shortly setting out the Government's views on this matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, asked whether disclosure rules could be left to the senior judiciary and the common law. No. The courts have significantly developed the law in successive cases. There is no going back from that without legislation. In relation to the case of Keane, for example, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice said that it would be helpful to the court in assessing the significance of prosecution material to have some information about the defence case, but the accused cannot be required to give this information.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, referred to Clause 3(b) and asked how the public interest will be defined. The public interest test will not be changed by this Bill, which merely reflects the current understanding. The term will therefore continue to be interpreted as at present.
The noble Lord also referred to Part I and disclosure in magistrates' courts cases. Disclosure will be made only if the accused pleads not guilty. It would clog up the system seriously if disclosure were to be automatic in every case, even the most straightforward road traffic case where the accused wants simply to plead guilty and have done with it. It is not practicable to require disclosure before the plea because of all the work that the prosecution must do in preparing the case and deciding what needs to be disclosed.
I know that I have not done this debate justice; so many other points were raised. But I think I have covered most of the pertinent ones. Suffice it to say that we are committed to ensuring that the criminal justice system is fair, efficient and effective. I am grateful for the positive manner in which many of the provisions of the Bill were received. It is my impression that we have prepared the ground for a detailed, and I believe productive and constructive, Committee stage. I commend the Bill to the House.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, would it be possible to postpone the Committee stage, or to give consideration, in view of what was said on all sides of the House, to postponing consideration of Part II in Committee, until we have the code of practice?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 16th November be approved [First Report from the Joint Committee].
The two draft orders before the House tonight relate to the valuation for rating of very specific classes of lands and heritages in Scotland. The draft amendment order relating to docks and harbours simply corrects a defect in an earlier amendment order so as to ensure that provisions previously agreed can in fact be implemented with effect from 1st April 1995.
The separate draft order relating to Scottish water undertakings simply updates existing provisions to take account of the forthcoming restructuring taking place with effect from 1st April 1996. It provides for the rateable value of the operational lands and heritages of the new water authorities on the same basis as for their predecessors. It neither increases nor decreases the valuations compared to those applying to the predecessor authorities.
Both draft orders follow a well-precedented pattern and I therefore propose to expand on the detailed provisions only if there are points of concern to those noble Lords who are present. I commend both draft orders to the House.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for explaining the background to the order. I have only one point to raise with him, though he may not be in a position to answer immediately. What effect will this order have on the local authorities in regard to rates? It is rather a large question. I received rather late in the day a question from local authorities as to whether this will cause substantial change. From the Minister's remarks it seems that there will be no change, and I shall be quite happy with that. Perhaps he will check and write to me letting me know whether he has received any representations from local authorities on any finer points. I have received only letters expressing general satisfaction on the main point of the orders.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, as I understand it, there will be no net effects on local authorities. Indeed, the orders were subject to very full consultation with all the affected parties, including CoSLA. If I feel that I have in any way misled the noble Lord with that reply, I shall write to him later. It is widely felt that there will be no net effect on any of the parties involved.
This order will amend the principal legislation governing the county courts in Northern Ireland so as to augment the current powers of those courts to make orders in relation to the disclosure of documents and the inspection of property. At present, unlike the other courts dealing with civil disputes in both England and Wales and in Northern Ireland, the county courts in Northern Ireland are unable to make orders for what is commonly known as third-party and pre-proceedings discovery. The absence of these powers can mean, for example, that a party can obtain access to relevant evidence only by requiring the attendance of a witness at court. This position has been widely regarded as unsatisfactory, and the order I have placed before the House is designed to meet these concerns.
Accordingly, the order will enable a party to specified types of proceedings in a county court to seek access to documents which he knows or believes to exist but which are not under his control or that of any other party to the proceedings. Similarly, he will be able to ask the court to allow him to inspect property which neither he nor any other party to the proceedings owns. In respect of prospective litigation, he will also be able to seek an order for access to documents or other material which is likely to be relevant in proceedings which have not yet been commenced.
I have mentioned that identical powers are already available to the High Court in Northern Ireland. These are set out in Section 21 of the Administration of Justice Act 1969 and Sections 31 to 33 of the administration of Justice Act 1970, and the contents of the order have been modelled closely on the established statutory provisions for the High Court. Because of this, it may not be necessary for me to recount all of the provisions of the order in great detail, but it may be helpful to explain briefly the main features of the order.
The new Article 42B, which deals in essence with disclosure by a person who is not one of the parties to proceedings, provides that in an action for personal injury or death the court may order such third party to disclose and produce any documents under his control which are relevant to the proceedings. The court is given corresponding powers to order the inspection of property which does not belong to a party to the proceedings.
The new Article 42C makes a number of miscellaneous provisions supplementary to Articles 42A and 42B. It specifies the extent to which the new provisions are to apply to the Crown and provides that a county court is not to make an order under the new articles in certain specified circumstances. For example, the court should not order the disclosure of documents if it considers that compliance would be likely to be injurious to the public interest. Article 42C also makes provision in relation to the recovery of costs and expenses incurred by persons who are not parties to proceedings.
In accordance with the standard procedure for Orders in Council under the Northern Ireland Act 1974, the draft order was subject to a period of public consultation. The proposed enhancement of the powers of the county courts has been widely welcomed in Northern Ireland by the senior judges, practitioners and several other persons and bodies who have commented on the draft order.
It is important, I believe your Lordships will recognise, that the county courts in Northern Ireland should have available to them the powers conferred by the order. This is particularly so because the general civil jurisdiction of such courts has been substantially enhanced in recent years, with the result that the county courts are now performing an increasingly significant role in the processing of civil court business. The new powers to be conferred by the draft order constitute a modest but nonetheless valuable improvement in the practice of the county courts in Northern Ireland, and therefore I commend the order to the House.