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Lord Desai: I always thought that ethnicity was part of the character of a person, an individual, regardless of who he or she was married to. However, Members of the Committee will be aware that a great deal of debate in Northern Ireland concerns one part of the community feeling that somehow they are not getting proper justice from the system. The circumstances should be more open and information should be gathered. That is what we would do in England, Wales or Scotland. It is not mysterious or something that I would seek to impose, as it were.

More information is good. Furthermore there is a provision in subsection (4) of the clause which would allow the Attorney-General to prevent publication of parts of the report if he felt that such publication would be against public interest. Any potential difficulties are provided for. I am not saying that this is likely to inflame passions. However, surely that community, if it is going to stay together, needs more information. No doubt there will be swings and roundabouts, but I think more information is always helpful.

Baroness O'Cathain: Perhaps I may point out to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that both parts of the

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community in Northern Ireland feel they are not getting justice. That feeling is not restricted to one part of the community.

Lord Desai: I agree absolutely with the noble Baroness.

Lord Goldsmith: This debate has highlighted some of the difficulties in the rather stark proposal put forward by my noble friend Lord Desai. What the review recommended—this was accepted by the Government—was that a strategy for what is described as "equity monitoring" should be developed and implemented in the criminal justice system. In other words, the review sought to be satisfied—I cite the language used in the report, not my own—that people would consider that the justice system was treating equitably and in a proper fashion different members of the community. The results of such monitoring emanating from the strategy should then be published. That was the recommendation of the review and the Government accepted it.

However, I would suggest to my noble friend, Lord Desai, that it is not a simple matter of one criminal justice agency publishing some statistics about what it itself has done. The Criminal Justice Board, comprising the heads of the six organisations which make up the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland, is currently considering how equity monitoring could operate in practice. For the reasons given by noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Laird; namely, that it is a complex task, it is important that the process should not compromise the independence of the judiciary; it should not compromise the independence of the prosecution; and it should have regard to individuals' rights to privacy.

The amendment, if passed, would have two effects. First, it would pre-judge the results of the work. However, that work may result in a scheme which my noble friend Lord Desai might find entirely satisfactory, innovative and practical. Secondly, to impose this obligation on a single agency and require it to produce a single set of statistics in its annual report would go against the trend of having a joined-up criminal justice system. For those reasons, the Government could not accept this amendment. I hope that, on reconsideration, my noble friend will see the force of the points that I have made.

Lord Desai: I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for his detailed reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 38 and 39 agreed to.

Clause 40 agreed to.

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Clause 41 [Independence of Director]:

Lord Desai moved Amendment No. 173:

    Page 24, line 5, at end insert "and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission"

The noble Lord said: In view of our previous debates, I will simply say that the amendment is straightforward and makes a great deal of sense. I beg to move.

Lord Laird: It will not surprise anyone to hear me say that we will not be supporting the amendment. I take the opportunity to say that it is not that I have a bee in my bonnet about the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Nothing would suit me more than to be totally in support of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. However, its record to date is extremely bad and it does not represent the entire community. That issue has to be addressed at some stage. It would certainly be appropriate to refer to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in a clause dealing with independence.

Lord Goldsmith: My noble friend Lord Desai moved the amendment with considerable brevity. I will respond with similar brevity. We would suggest that there is no reason to put the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission into a special position in relation to consultation on the best code of practice. It is right that the two law officers, the attorney and the advocate, should be specifically consulted because they have specific responsibilities, including, as my noble friend noted, the ability to exclude certain matters from an annual report. It makes sense for them to be consulted.

No doubt, in drawing up the code of practice, many others will be consulted. The Bar Council and the Law Society come to mind—the views of those two bodies on the code of practice will be particularly important. I suggest that there is no reason why the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission should be put into a specially privileged position. I have little doubt that its views will be taken into account. That is not the same as imposing a particular statutory duty to consult.

Lord Desai: I thank my noble and learned friend. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 41 agreed to.

Clause 42 agreed to.

Lord Desai moved Amendment No. 174:

    After Clause 42, insert the following new clause—

(1) The Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c. 47) shall be amended as follows.
(2) In section 75(3) after paragraph (c) insert—
"(ca) The Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, the Chief Prosecutor, the Advocate General and the Attorney General.""

The noble Lord said: Again, this is a straightforward amendment which puts the obligation of pursuing equality of opportunity on the Public

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Prosecution Service. Again, it is straightforward because we would like such good things to be pursued by the Public Prosecution Service. I beg to move.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I ask the noble Lord, Lord Desai, to expand a little on the consequences of his proposal. We are all supporters of encouraging equality of opportunity in any areas in which it is possible to influence that by legislation.

Am I right in thinking that this will give the director the duty to promote equality of opportunity, and that there is a possibility of carry-over into prosecution policy? In other words, it is not possible simply to promote equality of opportunity within his own staff. May he not find himself under some obligation to take into account equality considerations when determining prosecution policy? Is that an unrealistic possibility to raise? If so, I should be glad to hear it.

Lord Desai: Not being a lawyer, I would guess that that would not be the implication of this amendment. It does not say that he has to deal with an equal number of cases on gender and ethnicity when he comes to prosecute. In the prosecution service as it is built up, equality of opportunity should be one of the goals in the quality of services.

Lord Goldsmith: What has just passed between the noble and learned Lord and my noble friend shows some of the difficulties with the amendment. I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord that we are all committed to equality of opportunity. I know that my noble friend will accept that the Government are committed to that. However, some thinking needs to be done about the practical implications of imposing this duty in this form on a prosecuting service.

We have the opportunity to add bodies under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 without the need for primary legislation, because that is provided in any event under the Northern Ireland Act. Another body or person can be designated by order made by the Secretary of State. It is possible to continue to consider this question and that will be done.

To take one example, in the broad range of categories referred to in Section 75, age is one of the equality of opportunity considerations. Sadly, statistics show that the majority of offences are committed by young men. One has to consider carefully whether imposing a duty might somehow affect that. The important point is that the Northern Ireland Act contains the ability to add a body. The Government want to keep under review the list of bodies designated under Section 75. The prosecuting authorities obviously need to be considered as well.

Lord Desai: I thank my noble and learned friend for that explanation. I am not seeking a quota system on how many people are prosecuted. However, in building up a prosecution service, there are issues of equality of opportunity to be pursued. Since he assures me that that can be done through another device, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 43 [Interpretation]:

[Amendment No. 175 not moved.]

Clause 43 agreed to.

Clause 44 agreed to.

Schedule 8 agreed to.

Clause 45 [Functions of Chief Inspector]:

[Amendment No. 175A not moved.]

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