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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, while I do not disagree with what the Minister has just said, I wonder whether he would deal with the questions put to him by my noble friend and by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Essentially, they are asking whether the Government will be sympathetic to plugging the loophole in some form of amendment in the pending Bill.
Lord Brett: My Lords, I will resist the temptation to move in that direction, other than to say that there have been quite wide discussions with the Minister, my noble friend Lord Bach, who is carrying forward the legislation in this House. The Government are actively considering a way to move forward in strengthening UK law and I am sure that next week's debate will be illuminating.
Lord Brett: My Lords, there is a danger of drawing moral judgments in situations where we do not have all the information and knowledge to hand. We are outraged by what we can clearly see is genocide in Rwanda and other countries but we have a legal system which requires us to conform to providing evidence, which is difficult; and to having a prosecution which can be successful, which is difficult. We also have an independent judiciary who will judge whether deportation, as in this case, will take people to a country where they will get a fair trial, where witnesses will be protected and where the human rights of each individual will be protected.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, can the legislation that the Minister is contemplating be retrospective so that we can get rid of the Rwandan war criminals and any others who may be sheltering in our territory?
Lord Brett: My Lords, the Liberal Democrat Benches often tempt me. On three occasions they have tempted me. Over the years in this House, fascinated as I am by the Liberal Democrat contributions, I have learned to resist temptation.
Lord Brett: My Lords, we all believe that it is much better that those families who have been found by the courts not to need our protection should go home under their own steam, and we provide help for them to do so. We detain families only as a last resort and
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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I trust the Minister will be tempted when I say that many families are affected by the inability to return home to areas of great danger to themselves, of which Zimbabwe is just one example.
The Children's Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, has made it clear that the detention of children is "harmful to their health and wellbeing". Furthermore, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, on her recent visit to Yarl's Wood and other detention centres, found that in the past four months alone no fewer than 83 children had been detained for either 28 days or longer, with no clear indication when they would come out of detention. Therefore, will Minister consider looking at community-based schemes for families who are awaiting return to their homes or who may not be able to be returned to their homes, as has happened in other countries? Will he also consider that those families who have been in Britain for many years, in some cases with children born and entirely educated here, might be eligible for a humanitarian system of amnesty, because it is difficult to return people who from birth onwards have had no links with any country except our own?
Lord Brett: My Lords, I and the Government have much sympathy with those points of view, which is why the UK Border Agency seeks to deal with these things sensitively and systematically, to take on board criticism when it is offered and to make the situation fair. The facts are that in the first quarter of 2009, 95 children were removed on leaving detention. Of those, 30 children were in detention at 31 March, with 20 detained for seven days or fewer; five for 15 to 28 days; five for 29 days and fewer than two months; and five for two months. However, I agree entirely that we should look for community-based solutions. There is a further experimental project in Glasgow, which is moving in that direction.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, have the Minister and his noble friend Lord West of Spithead plans to visit the immigration detention centre at Yarl's Wood where these families are held? Will he consider consulting the Tavistock and Portman NHS trust, which is expert in this area, on what support it might be prepared to offer to families and staff who manage these distressing experiences at Yarl's Wood?
Lord Brett: My Lords, my noble friend Lord West intended to visit Yarl's Wood and was prevented by an outbreak of chicken pox which placed the centre in quarantine. I believe that he intends to complete that visit at an early opportunity. I myself intend to visit, having had to deal with several questions on Yarl's Wood. It is always much better to deal with things that you have seen for yourself. As for the Tavistock trust and other organisations, we are always happy to discuss how we can improve the situation. However, at the end of the day we are dealing with people who can leave
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Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, while I recognise that there is difficulty surrounding immigration, I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, makes a powerful point about children who have lived with Christian asylum-seeker families in this country for a number of years. They have been educated here and would, in chaotic situations such as those in Peshawar or the Swat valley, instantly be identifiable victims for religious extremists. Are the Government prepared to ignore that reality?
Lord Brett: My Lords, much of the reality is set by the appeals that asylum seekers have and the legal process that they go through. On the circumstances that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord have mentioned, when people have been born in this country, individual case officers look at the situation. We do not have a cold, hard heart towards the children of asylum seekers, failed or genuine, and we try to treat them with the sensitivity that they deserve. However, we come back to the point that if we are satisfied that there is not to be persecution in the country to which they would return and there is a country to which they can be returned, it is the right thing to do.
The Lord Bishop of Bradford: My Lords, I am grateful for that particular answer and to hear that the Government do not have a "cold, hard heart" towards children. I have an interest in this matter, particularly as someone who was told that he would have been arrested, if he had not been a bishop, for my involvement in causing a dawn arrest to be bungled. These dawn arrests happen at six in the morning, with teams of people who are almost exclusively male coming in like storm troopers wearing protective jackets. I shall come to the question in a moment, but I know of a case in which there was only one female officer for a mother with three children, who had to be supervised by males. I think of other cases in which children were left in their nappies for six hours and in their bedclothes with no ability to be changed. What guidelines are there for allowing such treatment and are there are any plans for ending those dawn raids?
Lord Brett: My Lords, the pejorative term "dawn raid" is not one that we recognise in the UK Border Agency's activities. No visit is made before 6.30 in the morning and it is normally preceded by seeking entry in the normal, peaceful manner of ringing the bell or knocking on the door. I am distressed to hear of the right reverend Prelate's experience. If he cares to write to me with chapter and verse-I am sorry about the pun-I would be more than happy to look at the matter. But it is not the policy of the agency and certainly not the Government's policy that we put people in that situation. When a team goes to visit, it is made up as determined by risk assessment. If there is no criminal element involved, it is not thought necessary to do it team-handed. I am surprised by what the right
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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend Lady Morgan of Drefelin will repeat the Statement on 21st Century Schools immediately after government Amendment 149 on the Coroners and Justice Bill, which is at the end of Part 1 of the Bill.
This may also be a convenient moment for me to set out how we intend to proceed with consideration on the Parliamentary Standards Bill, which is currently being considered in the other place. The Bill is expected to arrive in this House for a First Reading this week. The usual channels have agreed to take Second Reading on Wednesday 8 July, Committee stage on Tuesday
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Bill Main Page
Copy of the Bill
7th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
8th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights
16th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: Amendment 129 is a probing amendment. It has been tabled following queries raised by Inquest with the Ministry of Justice. As a general feeling, the new simplified appeals procedure is welcome. It affords an opportunity for bereaved people to raise concerns in a more informal manner than they were previously able to do. However, a concern arises from the way the Bill appears to be worded. The concern is that the only further appeal is to the Court of Appeal on a point of law. What exactly does that mean? Does it mean, as it would appear, that the possibility of any challenge by way of judicial review in respect of most, if not all, coronial decisions would no longer exist? Does it mean that where there has been a question of process no appeal would be applicable? Does it mean that if clinical information has not been provided to the inquiry no appeal could be undertaken?
Inquest queried the matter with the Ministry of Justice because it wanted to know whether it would still be an option judicially to review a coroner's decision or whether someone would have to go directly to the Chief Coroner for that type of decision. Interestingly, it received two conflicting replies. One said that judicial review remains an option; the other said that it had to go to the Chief Coroner. I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify the position for the Committee. Will funding be available to families? Will judicial review remain an option and in what circumstances; and, if not, what will the process actually entail? I look forward to the Minister's reply. I beg to move.
Lord Tunnicliffe: Amendment 129 is about appeals. Under the Bill's new appeals system, an interested person appeals against a coroner's decision, first, to the Chief Coroner. If dissatisfied with the Chief Coroner's
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The purpose of Amendment 129 is to enable interested persons to appeal to the Court of Appeal on the merits of the decision made by the Chief Coroner when he or she was determining an appeal against a senior coroner's decision. This would be in addition to appealing the Chief Coroner's decision on a question of law and may be prompted by a wish to give bereaved people a greater right of appeal.
The new system of appeals will radically change and simplify the procedure for bereaved people and other interested persons to appeal against many coroners' decisions and ensure that any bereaved person who is dissatisfied with a coroner's decision will receive a fair hearing from the Chief Coroner-who will be a circuit or High Court judge-or one of his deputies. At present, the decisions of coroners can be challenged only by way of judicial review and so the new appeal route is a great improvement on this. We do not believe that it is necessary to widen this even more so as to enable the Court of Appeal to review decisions made by the Chief Coroner unless a question of law is involved. To do so is likely to overburden the Court of Appeal with appeals from interested persons in relation to decisions which have already been reconsidered by the Chief Coroner and where, for the reason I have given above, the appeal stands little prospect of success. There is also the need for finality so that decisions are not being reviewed endlessly.
There is only one exception to this process: where, under Schedule 8 to the Bill, a coroner's investigation is carried out by a High Court judge or retired Court of Appeal judge. If an interested person wishes to appeal their decision, the first appeal will be to the Court of Appeal, under Clause 32, because of the seniority of the judge who carried out the investigation. There may be some circumstances where an interested person has concerns about a coroner's decision not listed in Clause 32. If this occurs, then, again, the remedy would be judicially to review the decision as at present although the new bespoke appeal system should mean that this rarely happens.
Judicial review has not in any way been ruled out. However, we would expect an interested party to appeal to the Chief Coroner before bringing proceedings. As to the possibility of legal aid support for judicial review, I have no reason to believe that it would be handled any differently from any other judicial review. If there is a difference, however, I will write to the noble Baroness. In view of this explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing her amendment.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the procedure. Indeed, I found it difficult to follow the procedure during the description. I hope that in simplified guidance there may be an algorithm provided for the bereaved to take them through the different options available.
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