Devolution/Human Rights

Oral Answers to Questions — Advocate-General for Scotland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 8th February 2005.

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Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Opposition Whip (Commons)

What devolution issues she has dealt with since 11 January.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

What human rights issues she has considered since 11 January.

Photo of Dr Lynda Clark Dr Lynda Clark Advocate General for Scotland, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Advocate General for Scotland

Since 11 January 2005, 55 devolution cases have been intimated to me, all of which have raised human rights issues. All of the 45 civil cases intimated to me concern prison conditions. Of the 10 cases relating to criminal law, eight related to pre-trial delay, one to delay in hearing an appeal and one to the detention and questioning of a 14-year-old boy.

Photo of Ms Annabelle Ewing Ms Annabelle Ewing Spokesperson (Social Security (SNP Shadow Scottish Minister); Education & Skills; Home Office; Law Officers; Work & Pensions)

I thank the Advocate-General for her answer. Is Lord Fraser correct when he says that the Inquiries Bill will allow him to secure the release of tapes of "The Gathering Place", and will that be enthusiastically supported by all Labour Members, from the First Minister upwards?

Photo of Dr Lynda Clark Dr Lynda Clark Advocate General for Scotland, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Advocate General for Scotland

I have every respect for Lord Fraser; he is of course entitled to his interpretation. His inquiry predates the Bill to which the hon. Lady refers. Therefore, I do not think that I can further assist her.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hon. and learned Lady has had cause to consider a number of cases in relation to pre-trial delay. What is the current delay, and is the 110-day rule still applicable?

Photo of Dr Lynda Clark Dr Lynda Clark Advocate General for Scotland, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Advocate General for Scotland

As the hon. Lady knows, the 110-day rule has been altered by statute to some extent, to change the way in which the dates run. Generally, the person concerned is not in custody in pre-trial delay cases. The 110-day rule relates to people who are in custody. People who are charged with summary offences or who have been released on bail are not covered by the rule. In some cases intimated to me as devolution issues the delay between the charge and the trial, when the person has not been in custody, has been substantial. Those are some of the cases on which challenges have been made.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Opposition Whip (Commons)

In response to my question at the last Advocate-General's Question Time, the hon. and learned Lady told the House that she had intervened in only one or two of the cases notified to her. As she is soon to depart voluntarily, will she advise the House whether there is enough work in her office to justify a full-time ministerial salary?

Photo of Dr Lynda Clark Dr Lynda Clark Advocate General for Scotland, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Advocate General for Scotland

There is some slight confusion; I was talking about one or two of the types of case raised. I have intervened and appeared in a number of cases. I do not have the figures to hand, but I have appeared personally in the highest courts in at least 10 different cases. I have also intervened through counsel in a number of other cases; I can give the hon. Gentleman the specific numbers. Devolution issues are only a very small part of my work. My work is advisory. For example, as I tried to explain to the Scottish Affairs Committee, most of my time is spent dealing with advisory matters that—unfortunately, from the point of view of Members—are regarded as confidential. Nevertheless, such work is a very important part of the role of Advocate-General. I hope and think that it will remain a very important role. Of course I have a range of other roles, and I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Select Committee evidence.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

May I take the opportunity to thank my hon. and learned Friend for much of the unsung work that we know she has done behind the scenes? Also, may I take what is probably my last parliamentary opportunity to register the belief that languishing in Barlinnie is a man who may have been a sanctions buster, but who almost certainly was not a mass murderer? Before she leaves office, will the Advocate-General reflect on the extremely unsatisfactory division between Foreign Office responsibilities, on which I had a recent Adjournment debate, and the responsibilities of the Crown Office, where, to be frank, Westminster MPs are told to keep out?

Photo of Dr Lynda Clark Dr Lynda Clark Advocate General for Scotland, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Advocate General for Scotland

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for singing my praise. I am sure that his will be sung in many quarters for having made such an enormous contribution to the work of Parliament.

I know that my hon. Friend has been concerned about the division of responsibilities. Perhaps I can assist him by drawing his attention to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, an independent body charged with reviewing alleged miscarriages of justice in Scotland. It might be able to examine some of the issues that cause him concern.