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I have pressed for some time my colleague in another place, Owen Patterson, to be more critical of the way in which the Province is being led, both by its Secretary of State and the PSNI leadership. The chief constable is leaving; he has been known to be leaving for some considerable time; a replacement has not yet been found. The PSNI replaced its deputy, who left some time ago, before replacing the chief, knowing that the two were going to go together, which was ridiculous. It had a wonderful opportunity to pick the No. 1 and let the No. 1 have influence in who his No. 2 was going to be-but, no, they did not do that, because they knew better, didn't they? That sort of thing is going on in Northern Ireland. It intimidates people and prevents their devolving justice and policing. I would find it very difficult today to vote for devolution of policing and justice-that is a personal issue; where my party stands on it is probably slightly different.
As the Minister said, there is also a serious risk of juries being intimidated-in fact, they are being intimidated from time to time-and it is even more difficult to bring witnesses to court, because they, too, are at serious risk of intimidation due to the family structure of the little Province, where everybody knows everybody, criminal gangs operate in particular communities and it is extremely hard to find witnesses to come forward. I met some potential witnesses after the young police constable was killed in Craigavon. I was there the morning after. It is easy to understand that attitude when you stand on the ground, see the sight-lines and know who lives there. If I was in one of those houses near to where that poor young man was killed, I would not be too keen to go into court as a witness and say, "I saw Bloggs; that was him". I am making the Government's case here, in outlining where I believe there is a need to continue, sad as it is, with what I call the Diplock, or non-jury, courts.
What is perhaps more worrying and more interesting is something that I have not actually read, but my noble friend Lord Trimble told me about it. In today's Irish Times it is reported that the Republic of Ireland, or Ireland as it is now correctly known, is also debating in both Houses of the Dail a proposal to bring in non-jury trials. That is for similar problems to those we have in the north. Much as I would love to see non-jury trials come back to my Province in the next year or two, by the time this order runs out, it depresses me to think that it will not happen. Therefore, I must support the Government's action in extending the Act.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: I, too, thank the noble Baroness for introducing this order in her usual clear and precise way. I want also to place on the record my thanks for the meeting yesterday with the Northern Ireland Office. The officials were extremely helpful and we had a useful exchange of views and ideas. However, it is frustrating and disappointing that the Government did not hold a full public consultation on the immensely important extension of this order.
The noble Baroness referred to a light-touch review being undertaken. It means that neither this Committee nor anyone else in Parliament can scrutinise the basis on which the Secretary of State has taken the decision to extend these provisions.
As we have heard, the primary justification by the UK Government for non-jury trials in Northern Ireland is to avoid paramilitary and community-based pressures on jurors. The Government say that it is difficult to judge the level of juror intimidation in Northern Ireland yet conclude that it remains prevalent, and indeed we have heard the noble Lord explain that. What is happening in Northern Ireland is extremely difficult, but should not be used as an excuse for the police not to look after jurors, although intimidation appears to be a growing problem. However, the Government have failed to provide any substantial evidence to this end. Can the Minister give examples or cite evidence that she may have as opposed to that of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran?
We also cannot tell whether the Secretary of State considered any revisions to the scheme. For example, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, recently raised concerns regarding the use of non-jury trials and the lack of a sufficient appeal mechanism for challenging a decision by the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland to hold a trial in the absence of a jury. The HRC has noted the lack of obligation on the director to provide "objective and reasonable grounds" when applying different rules of criminal procedure, which is contrary to Article 14 of the ICCPR. The right to legal challenge, particularly judicial review, is a basic right that was acknowledged by the Northern Ireland Office in its 2006 consultation paper regarding the replacement of the Diplock courts. It stated that,
We are further concerned that by continuing with provisions for non-jury trials in Northern Ireland, the Government are sending the wrong signals to the public. Mr Eddie McGrady, the SDLP MLA for South Down, told the House of Commons General Committee on Delegated Legislation:
"If we want to send the message of the return to normality, this is not the message to send. However the proposal is refined by using the phrase 'non-jury trials' ... in Northern Ireland, they are seen as the continuation of the Diplock courts and the continuation of the oppressive system of justice".
Northern Ireland is not experiencing an emergency as defined by Article 15 of the ECHR, and to continue to trial provisions in Northern Ireland as if there were an emergency perpetuates a lack of confidence in the rule of law. It may be argued that judges sitting alone can impartially and independently hold trial and therefore non-jury trials are not a breach of the right to a fair trial, but jury trials are inexorably linked to the common law system in legislation, so non-jury trials undermine this principle and weaken public confidence in the justice system and the overall peace process in Northern Ireland.
According to the criminal justice review, more than three-quarters of the population of Northern Ireland believes that juries are better at deciding cases in the
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The HRC stated that the Government should carefully consider whether the situation in Northern Ireland warrants judicial procedures that are intrinsically different from the rest of the UK, with a view to abolishing such distinctions. The introduction of jury trials for all cases would be a way to acknowledge and commend the enormous political and social strides that have been made in the past decade, furthering reciprocal confidence between the people and the state. The original legislation provided for special measures to protect jurors. Will the Minister tell us how these are working?
Finally, although the Government will have decided to renew the non-jury trial provisions before the acts of decommissioning by loyalist paramilitaries last weekend, which are very welcome, do they not agree that non-jury trials must be looked at in a different context? Will the Minister consider withdrawing the order and replacing it with a provision to extend the provisions for just one year, as proposed by my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew?
The Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, in considering the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 (Extension of duration of non-jury trial provisions) Order 2009, said under the heading "Who supported the extension, and why?":
"Lord Carlile met and discussed the issues with a wide range of practitioners and stakeholders, including political parties and interested NGOs throughout Northern Ireland. His conclusion, on the basis of the discussions he had, was that the case was made out to extend the provisions for a further year".
That is not quite what the Minister said, although we know that the provisions in the order are for two years. Perhaps she would consider an extension for one year rather than two years, so that both she and the Committee can reflect on the changed circumstances more promptly. The extension under this order is profoundly regrettable.
I strongly support the instrument in the terms in which it has been laid out. I wanted to pose a question but, having listened to the Minister, I have changed my mind about what the most burning question is. I had wanted to ask why the Government reasonably believed two years ago that it might be possible at this stage to dispense with non-jury trials as an element in the justice system in Northern Ireland. Listening to her, I accept that the reasons she has given provide an answer, in a way-we are dealing with unprecedented and unpredictable circumstances in the recent revival of republican violence.
I find myself with another question, though: why do the Government believe that two years from now they will not be coming back to this House and asking for a further extension? I want to develop a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, when he referred to what is happening in the Irish Republic. In fact, the Dáil has moved beyond the point of discussion of this idea; last night the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill in Dublin passed its committee stage and it is
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We accept that much of this crime in Ireland has a cross-border basis. Is it realistic to suggest that the Irish Republic is moving towards a system where it accepts that it is not going to be using jurors because of the prevalence of intimidation in many of these cases while a few miles away in Northern Ireland, which is an equally fraught terrain, two years from now we will move completely back to jury trials? My suspicion and my fear-I regret this, because I understand exactly the underlying philosophy motivating what the Minister has said, and I accept the desirability of jury trials-is that, in such circumstances, it will not be possible two years from now unless things develop in Irish society in a way that is more benign than we might believe, or than the Irish Ministry of Justice seems to believe as it lays out the rationale for this major change in Irish law.
I have a question about the relationship between the Northern Ireland Office and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in Dublin. Going back to the days when Sir John Chilcot was the Permanent Under-Secretary, if not before, the relationship between those two offices has traditionally been a close and friendly one-perhaps closer and more consistently friendly than that with other departments of state in Dublin. I wonder whether the Minister is in a position to say anything about whether these current proposals have been discussed with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in Dublin in the light of what that department is doing with regard to the Irish Republic, where we are with that relationship and the type of discussions that go on.
Lord Glentoran: I would just like to point out that the noble Lord, Lord Bew, and I have not discussed this particular situation at all. Although he was saying similar things to me, they are two totally independent views.
Baroness Crawley: I thank the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Bew, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. I note the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, about which he has been very frank, and I will take them back. He quoted the recent dreadful attack on the Romanian people, and I agree with him that hate crimes and racism have no place in Northern Ireland; those who carried out the attack have no real place. Racist attacks are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. As the noble Lord knows, the police have arrested six people in relation to those attacks. Three have been charged, of whom two were released on court bail and a third was remanded in custody. The other three arrested have been released on police bail pending further inquiries.
I again take note of the observation made by the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Bew, that the Irish Government are expanding the Special Criminal
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I hope that noble Lords will bear with me because I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, deserves a fairly detailed response to several of her questions. I know that she was not satisfied, and certainly her colleagues in another place were not satisfied, with the length of replies to this order. She asked about the rationale for extension. Paramilitary-based and community-based pressures on a jury mean that there is still a risk of perverse verdicts in certain cases. These arrangements are designed to ensure that a fair trial can be provided in all cases where there are ongoing risks to the administration of justice. Where there are ongoing risks, the administration of justice might be impaired, and we must act.
The non-jury trial system targets the particular risks posed by cases involving paramilitaries and serious sectarianism. Sadly, these types of cases continue to arise in Northern Ireland, as shown by the recent murders of Kevin McDaid, Constable Stephen Caroll and Sappers Quincy and Azimkar. We are all aware that the level of threat in Northern Ireland from dissident republicans is now higher than when the Parliament considered these arrangements in detail in 2007 and concluded that they were necessary and appropriate.
If we are looking at the rationale for extension, risks to jurors remain significant. Even with the changes that have been made to the jury system and the ability to hold non-jury trials in certain cases, I am aware of four reported cases of attempted jury intimidation. In one case a juror had to be discharged and in another a whole jury was discharged. Noble Lords referred to witness intimidation; 159 such cases were recorded by the PSNI in 2008. We know that intimidation is significantly underreported, so the real figure is likely to be much higher.
Intimidation is completely unacceptable. It remains a significant issue that the Government are concerned that removing the ability to try certain cases without a jury would expose jurors to a risk of intimidation that is completely unacceptable. If paramilitaries are prepared to use these tactics against witnesses in order to frustrate police investigations and prosecutions, it seems to me that they would be willing to intimidate jurors as well as witnesses. Sadly, Northern Ireland society remains vulnerable to intimidation. People live in small, close-knit communities, as noble Lords have said, where it is much easier to identify those on jury service.
The number of non-jury trials, as I have said, is diminishing. There were 125 Diplock cases in the last two years of that system, which represents 6 per cent of Crown Court cases. In the most recent two years, the DPP has issued 41 certificates for non-jury trial, and 1 per cent of Crown Court cases have been heard been heard without a jury. This is a welcome change and I hope that the numbers continue to fall, but the
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The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, asked what right of appeal exists to the DPP's decisions. She will know that decisions are judicially reviewed where there has been bad faith, or in other exceptional circumstances. However, a defendant will suffer no detriment from being tried without a jury-in some cases, it may even be fairer-and we see no need for other avenues of appeal. Perhaps I could write to the noble Baroness to expand on that.
The noble Baroness also asked whether we were considering amending the legislation. The 2007 Act does not permit amendment, only extension, but the Government have committed to examining the system in detail, with a public consultation, before the next extension in 2011. This issue can be considered then.
The noble Baroness asked about judicial review of juror protection measures. Juror protection measures, including juror anonymity and the abolition of peremptory challenge, were challenged in the McParland judicial review. The court rejected the challenge and ruled that the jury provisions in the 2007 Act did not violate Article 6 of the ECHR. The jury made clear in McParland that the new arrangements pursue a clear and proper public objective and represent a fair balance between the general interests of the community and the personal rights of the individual.
The noble Baroness asked whether the measures could be extended for one year. Our response is that it is not possible under the Act. We have subsequently spoken to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who confirmed to us that he supports the extension for two years.
The noble Baroness said that returning to jury trial would be a mark of a return to normality, with which we of course agree-I said in my opening remarks that we would want to return to it as soon as possible. We are on a journey towards a more normal Northern Ireland, although many aspects of the past continue. We all hope that these measures can be ended as soon as circumstances allow.
The noble Lord, Lord Bew, asked why we thought that circumstances would have changed in two years and whether two years would be enough. We do not know at this stage-it is a question of whether the glass is half empty or half full. We hope that the situation is more optimistic in two years' time. We shall need to consider the situation carefully as part of a thorough review, which will include the views of the public. By 2011 there will be a greater body of evidence on which to make the decision. We talked about the light-touch review in January or February of this year, but the thorough review, in which we consult the public and stakeholders, will give us a clearer picture of the risks and the opportunities involved.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Children Act 1989 (Higher Education Bursary) (England) Regulations 2009.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): These draft regulations set out arrangements for payment of a bursary to care leavers who are over 18, referred to in the Children Act 1989 as "former relevant children", who go on to pursue a course of higher education. Section 21 of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 requires local authorities to pay a higher education bursary to those young people, and these draft regulations deliver the commitments that we made during the passage of the Children and Young Persons Bill.
The draft regulations provide for four aspects of these arrangements. Actually, I am not sure whether technically they are still draft regulations when they are laid. If they are, then I shall carry on saying "draft". They set the amount of the bursary at £2,000 in total for each eligible young person, prescribe the meaning of "higher education", specify arrangements in relation to the timing of payments of the bursary, whether it is paid as a lump sum or by instalments, and specify the circumstances in which payments can be withheld or recovered by the local authority. The bursary is a key part of the Government's strategy for improving outcomes for care leavers.
Currently, only 7 per cent of former relevant children aged 19 or over go on to higher education. If we want to see improvements in participation rates and in the number of these young people who go on to complete their courses, we must address the financial disadvantages that many of them face. Research suggests that students from a care background leave university with an average of £2,000 more debt than their peers. The bursary will ensure that those care leavers who go on to higher education receive additional financial assistance. Many local authorities already provide such support, but not all do. By placing a duty on local authorities to pay eligible care leavers a £2,000 bursary, we will remove this financial disadvantage in future. Since April 2008 we have provided local authorities with the money to do this through their area-based grant.
In drafting the regulations we have been at pains to ensure that the arrangements for payment of the bursary are as straightforward as possible. We have therefore aligned the meaning of "higher education" for the purpose of determining eligibility for the bursary with the definition in regulations made under Section 22(1) of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998. Section 4(4) of the Act was amended to make it clear
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There are two limitations placed on the timing of payments. First, where the young person and local authority agree that it would be more appropriate to pay the bursary in a lump sum, it should be paid by the end of the first term. Secondly, where the bursary is to be paid in instalments, the first instalment must be paid during the first term of the course and the final instalment must be paid before the end of the course.
These regulations build on the existing provisions under Section 23C of the Children Act 1989. The new bursary must be paid in addition to any assistance that the young person may be entitled to under Section 23C(4) to meet his or her welfare needs. The level of support provided varies widely between local authorities. These regulations will reduce that differential by creating an additional requirement on local authorities to provide financial support. I commend them to the Committee.
Baroness Verma: I thank the Minister for introducing this order because it gives us an opportunity to speak about a group of people often left behind in society. The needs of care leavers as they progress into higher education and eventually into employment are a concern for us all. These young people are disadvantaged from the start due to a comparative inability to finance their studies. Given the high level of care leavers not in employment, education or training, this issue demands our full attention. The Government's own figures on the outcomes for looked-after children show a staggering failure to give care leavers even a fraction of the opportunities that we take for granted for our own children.
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