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Lord Kingsland: I apologise to the noble Baroness for interrupting her. I rise in support of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and his observations about the Law Commission. It is true, of course, that the Government have followed the Law Commission in certain respects. But in other respects the Government have chosen to ignore what the Law Commission saidmost importantly, in relation to Clause 93 and the way in which the bad character evidence can be admitted. I say with great respect to the noble Baroness that, far from echoing the Law Commission, the Government have reversed the way that the Law Commission believes these issues should be dealt with, at least so far as concerns matters of admissibility.
Of course, this is a matter for debate under Clause 93. I do not want to anticipate that debate by getting into the detail; but I hope that the noble Baroness recognises that, so far as concerns Clause 93, the Government and the Law Commission are a long way apart.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hear what the noble Lord says. He is right: we shall have an opportunity to debate both Clause 92 and Clause 93. I anticipate that, if the earlier debates foreshadow the latter, we shall debate those for quite some time.
The scheme introduced in this part of the Bill sets out clearly the circumstances in which the evidence of bad character can be given. The Bill will therefore provide greater certainty and clarity to the law and encourage the admission of such evidence where it will properly assist the courts. I believe that we need to take on board very powerfully what was said about the need for juries to have proper information available to them so that they can make an informed judgment. We believe that the Bill will do that.
I am sure that noble Lords will have different views on the circumstances in which this type of evidence should be admissible and, as I said earlier, I look forward to that debate. But while the circumstances in which evidence of bad character is admissible under the current law have informed our proposals, the scheme introduced by the Bill is intended to create a new statutory regime.
Clearly, to enable the scheme to be the authoritative statement of the law in this area, it is necessary to abolish the current common law governing the admissibility of such evidence. Therefore, Clause 91 abolishes the common law rulesnot the common law but the common law rulesgoverning the admissibility of bad character evidence. That will include the abolition of the general exclusionary rule prohibiting the use of evidence of a defendant's previous misconduct or other disposition, as well as the rules providing exceptions to this principle, such as the "similar fact" doctrine.
Obviously, not only the common law but also statute deals with the admission of bad character evidencein particular, Section 1(2) of the Criminal Evidence Act 1898, which governs the cross-examination of the defendant on his bad character. These, too, need to be repealed in order to complete the process of putting the law on a new footing, and that is dealt with in Part 4 of Schedule 31. I hope that both the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Kingsland, will agree that the Law Commission believes that such a replacement of the rules was merited and well founded. That is all that Clause 91 seeks to do.
Lord Ackner: Your Lordships have been most patient and must, by now, be very hungry. I wish to say only that nothing in my proposal in any way suggests that there should not be amendments. Clearly much
[*The name of a Lord who voted in both Lobbies has been removed from the voting lists.] Resolved in the affirmative, and Clause 91 agreed to accordingly.
The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, as your Lordships know, following suspension on 15th October, Section 1 of the Northern Ireland Act 2000 came into force. By virtue of the schedule to that Act there is a power to legislate by Order in Council. That power was limited to the first six months of suspension but can be extended for a period of six months at a time. The House agreed an extension in April. This second order, therefore, provides for a further renewal of these powers for six months from 14th October 2003.
A number of your Lordships who have an interest in Northern Ireland made very firm representations, to which I hope I paid careful attention, that we need a sensible period of time to be able to reflect on and discuss, if necessary informally, new legislation before it comes before Parliament as an Order in Council.
We have done our very best, where practicable, to allow a twelve-week consultation period, as I promised your Lordships earlier, for new legislation before it is laid before Parliament as an Order in Council. As your Lordships know, that has already been done in respect of proposals for draft orders on employment and partnerships, and similar consultation is underway with draft legislation on gambling and licensing. Such an approach will give your Lordships ample opportunity to influence legislation before it is finalised. I recognise that many noble Lords will regard this further continuance as a regrettable necessity; a necessity I suggest it is. I beg to move.
Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, we accept that this is a consequential effect of the suspension of the Assembly. We express our thanks and appreciation to the Lord President of the Council for giving us this substantial consultation period. We have no objections.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, we too thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for the consideration he has always shown in matters concerned with Northern Ireland. However, for the second time we find ourselves having to renew this order. It is most unfortunate that we have to do so. It is our fervent hope and expectation that this will be the last time we have to renew it.
The order runs to 14th April 2004. Long before then we anticipate that elections will have been held and that the Assembly is once again sitting in Northern Ireland and dealing with its own devolved legislation.
As my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton reminded the House last Friday, we on these Benches supported the Government's case, albeit reluctantly, to postpone elections in the spring of this year. We gave fair warning then and subsequently that we would not be willing to do so again. Can the noble and learned Lord give us any idea when those elections might be called? It is vital that we are able to give all the people of Northern Ireland hope that very soon they will once again be able to manage their own affairs without having continually to look towards Westminster.
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