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1 Nov 2001 : Column WA169

Written Answers

Thursday, 1st November 2001.

Democratic Republic of Congo: Exports

Lord Gladwin of Clee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there have been any recent exports of military listed equipment for end-use in the Democratic Republic of Congo.[HL1066]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): Following consultations with this department and the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry issued an export licence for a water purification unit to Uruguay for the Uruguayan Armed Forces. The equipment will be used by the Uruguayan army in the DRC where it is part of the United Nations operation. The equipment will provide the Uruguayans with sufficient clean water for their troops operating in the DRC. As part of the United Nations Mission in Congo, these troops, along with other UN agencies and NGOs, will play a role in facilitating humanitarian assistance to the Congolese people. This decision is consistent with and does not affect the Government's continued support for the EU declaration of 7 April 1993 on arms exports to the DRC.

Northern Ireland: Terrorist-related Murders

Lord Laird asked her Majesty's Government:

    How many terrorist-related murders had not been dealt with by the courts on 31 August 1994; how many court cases have been brought as a result of those murders; and how many convictions have been made.[HL176]

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): For the period August 1969 to 31 August 1994, a total of 2,688 terrorist murders were committed in Northern Ireland. Charges have been brought in relation to 926 of these murders (34 per cent of the total).

Statistics in relation to convictions in these specific cases are not readily available.

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many terrorist related murders have taken place each year since 1995; how many court cases have been brought as a result; and how many convictions have been made.[HL177]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: For the period 1 January 1995 to 31 October 2001, a total of 134 terrorist murders were committed. Charges have been brought in relation to 34 of these murders (25 per cent of the total).

Statistics in relation to convictions in these specific cases are not readily available.

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The detailed breakdown for these murders is as follows:

YearNumber of Murders
*2001 (to 31 October)12

* Please note that the 2001 data are provisional at this stage.

Northern Ireland: Baton Rounds

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to the proposal in the report of the Defence Scientific Advisory Council, cited by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in its call of 18 July for the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, to stop using "plastic bullets."[HL662]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Government would be delighted if the public order situation improved sufficiently to remove the need to resort to baton rounds. The whole community has a contribution to make to the achievement of that aim but, sadly, we are not there yet. Until then, it is our duty to ensure that the police are provided with equipment that is commensurate with the level of threat with which they have to deal.

However the Government have accepted the Patten recommendations to look for alternatives to the baton round and, to that end have already published the outcome of the literature review which represents the first phase of the project to look into alternatives for baton rounds.

The Government have published strict guidelines in the use of baton rounds.

The Chief Constable of the RUC has also publicly stated that baton rounds are used only when there is a risk to life that cannot be countered by other means. They are not for crowd control.

Like the Government, the Chief Constable looks forward to a time when they would no longer be needed.

During the past weekend, over 40 security force personnel were injured as a result of public order disturbances. No baton rounds were discharged.

Omagh Bombing Inquiry

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In view of the current moves against international terrorism, what representations they have made to the Government of the Irish Republic concerning the handing over of those Real IRA members who are suspects with respect to the Omagh bombing of 15 August 1998.[HL850]

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: There is the closest co-operation between the relevant authorities in the two jurisdictions in seeking to bring to justice those responsible for the Omagh bombing, so the question of making representations does not arise. One person has been charged in the Republic of Ireland in connection with the inquiry into the bombing.

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission: Freedom of Speech

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps have been taken by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to ensure free speech following the recent murder of a journalist.[HL930]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: This is a matter for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. The Chief Commissioner has been asked to write to the noble Lord. A copy of his letter will be placed in the Library.

Committee on Standards in Public Life

Baroness Billingham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any new member has been appointed to the Committee on Standards in Public Life.[HL1101]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am pleased to announce that the Prime Minister has appointed the Rt. Hon. Chris Smith MP as a member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life with effect from 15 October. He is the member nominated by the Labour Party and takes the place of Lord Shore of Stepney, who sadly passed away over the summer.

Human Rights Act 1988

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Chancellor of 14 September (WA 38), whether they consider that the Human Rights Act 1998 will be sufficiently bedded down after it has been in force for two years so as to cause them to review the case for allowing the right of individual petition under the United Nations human rights instruments; and, if not, what is their estimate as to how long the process of bedding down will take before they undertake such a review.[HL863]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): We have announced that a review will be undertaken. I hope to announce shortly what the timing will be.

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Magistrates' Courts Service

Baroness Serota asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to publish the annual report of the Chief Inspector of the Magistrates' Courts Service. [HL1031]

The Lord Chancellor: Copies of the chief inspector's annual report have been placed in the Library.

The chief inspector's report describes the work of the inspectorate over the past year and reports some of its principal findings. Magistrates' courts committees (MCCs) are seen to have made improvements in many areas. In particular, the co-operation between the courts, police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) at an operational level has strengthened further. The progress made on the operation of the Narey reforms aimed at reducing delay in the magistrates' courts and the Government's pledge to reduce the time taken to deal with persistent young offenders are examples of the benefits of close working.

There have been advances made in the collation of performance information and in the way it is presented to the MCC, but effective analysis of this information remains a weakness for a number of MCCs. This is in spite of the situation being highlighted in last year's report. MCCs are, however, demonstrating a better awareness of the need to provide the strategic direction and of leaving operational matters to their officers.

Exceptional Community Legal Service Funding

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to change the way applications for exceptional Community Legal Service funding are handled. [HL1102]

The Lord Chancellor: I have today announced a number of changes to the way applications for exceptional Community Legal Service funding will be handled. These changes are designed to make it easier for applicants to obtain funding in cases that would normally be outside the scope of the CLS. They follow on from the recent case of R v the Legal Services Commission and the Lord Chancellor ex parte Jarrett, and from our experience of handling exceptional cases.

The main changes are as follows. A new test has been added to the existing criteria for obtaining exceptional funding. Previously, apart from satisfying the standard funding code criteria, applicants had to show that their cases raised matters of significant wider public interest or were of overwhelming importance to them. Now, it will also be possible to get funding if, without representation, it would be practically impossible for the applicant to proceed or there would be obvious unfairness.

Different criteria have been developed for inquests. This is because these cases are different from standard court cases, the criteria for which are not always

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suitable. For example, there is no need for a test of overwhelming importance, since the death of a loved one will always be of overwhelming importance. The test for inquests is instead whether the family of the deceased need representation in order to help the coroner carry out the task of determining the cause of death.

I have authorised the Legal Services Commission to grant funding in certain types of inquest without having to seek my authority in each individual case. This will make the application process shorter and more convenient for the bereaved. The cases in question are those where the death has occurred in police or prison custody, or during the course of police arrest, search, pursuit or shooting.

These changes reflect the Government's continuing commitment to human rights. Although the court did not find against the Government or the Legal Services Commission in Mrs Jarrett's case, it encouraged us to reconsider our guidance on exceptional cases, which I have been happy to do. The new test for obtaining exceptional funding will make a major contribution towards achieving access to justice for people whose cases are complex or difficult, or who have particular problems that legal representation can help with. At the same time, the new arrangements for handling applications in inquests will improve the service we are able to give bereaved applicants, at a time when it is important for us to be as supportive as possible.

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