I beg to move,
That the draft Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 (Extension of duration of non-jury trial provisions) Order 2017, which was laid before this House on
Under this order, trials without a jury can take place in Northern Ireland for a further two years from
May I take this opportunity to welcome Madam Deputy Speaker—Dame Rosie Winterton—to her place. This is the first time I have had the chance to do so from this Dispatch Box. I am sure we will all enjoy serving under her chairmanship this afternoon.
Hon. Members will be aware of the lethal threat posed by terrorists in Northern Ireland. Dissident republican terrorist groups continue to plan and mount attacks, with the principal aim of killing or maiming those who serve the public in all communities so bravely. Police officers, prison officers and members of the armed forces are the main focus of these attacks, but the terrorists’ continued use of explosive devices and other weaponry continues to cause death and injury. Individuals linked to paramilitary organisations also continue to undermine peace and the rule of law in Northern Ireland through the use of violence and intimidation, in both republican and loyalist communities. I want to assure hon. Members that the Government wish to end the exceptional system of non-jury trials as soon as it is no longer necessary. But that should happen only when the circumstances allows, otherwise we risk allowing violence and intimidation to undermine the criminal justice process in Northern Ireland.
I am delighted to see you in your place for the first time, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to welcome the new Minister to the Dispatch Box to debate this important legislation. It would be helpful to the House if she were to indicate the types of trials that have involved the individuals who have gone through this non-jury procedure in the recent past. Have they involved loyalist paramilitaries, republican paramilitaries or predominantly one or the other? It would be helpful if she told us that.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. Initially, I want to set out the conditions under which such a trial can be granted, as that will begin to help answer her question. I shall also come on to discuss the numbers of such trials. As she will appreciate, I will not be able to comment on any live cases or give her every single detail she asks for, but I will endeavour to give the House a strong sense of what these trials are used for.
Obviously, I am not asking the Minister to comment on ongoing cases, but this procedure of non-jury trials has been exceptional to Northern Ireland. I fully understand and support them in the context of continued paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. However, what she needs to explain to the community and to the House is that this is not a one-sided process and that those who have been through it, whether convicted or acquitted, come from both loyalist and republican paramilitary groups. It would be helpful if she would do that.
The simplest short answer is yes, it is absolutely the case that the provisions we are discussing have and will apply across communities. There is no doubt about that.
If the House will allow me to continue with my opening remarks, I will try to answer everything else during the course of the debate. The Government wish to end the non-jury trial system because it is exceptional, and we wish to do so as soon as the circumstances allow. Although many attempts to visit violence and intimidation and undermine the criminal justice process have been disrupted, the security situation today remains much the same as it was in 2015, when the House last considered these measures. The threat from terrorism in Northern Ireland is assessed as severe. This year alone, there have been four national security attacks in Northern Ireland, including the wounding of a police officer who was serving the community. It would be remiss of the Government to dispose of the provisions now, given that threat and its potential impact on the delivery of criminal justice for all communities in Northern Ireland. It would be a weak argument to suggest that we should move on from the provisions because we have had them for a long time.
In the past two years, attacks by dissident republicans and loyalist paramilitaries have put countless innocent lives in danger. Members may be aware of the incident on the Crumlin Road in Belfast in January, when two police officers who were serving their community came under attack from dissident republicans, leaving one officer badly injured. The forecourt of a busy filling station was sprayed with automatic gunfire, demonstrating the utter disregard these groups show for human life and the harm that they pose to ordinary members of the public. Sadly, this despicable attack was not an isolated incident: there were four confirmed national security attacks in 2016 and there have been four so far this year. That underlines the persistence of the threat that we face.
The presence of dissident republicans and paramilitaries in Northern Ireland means that violence and intimidation remain concerns for the wider community. Figures released by the Police Service of Northern Ireland show an increased number of security-related deaths over the past three years, as well as an increasing trend in the number of paramilitary-style assaults since 2012-13. Threats towards the police and public bodies also demonstrate the continued attempts at the intimidation of individuals and communities in Northern Ireland. In 2016-17, there were 137 arrests and 19 charges related to terrorism. I pay tribute to the work of the PSNI and its partners, because it is having an impact on the threat, but the security situation remains serious.
May I speak from personal experience? In some court cases there is huge intimidation of witnesses from the public gallery, which it is very difficult to control. I have to say, I was frightened.
I welcome my hon. and gallant Friend’s experience being brought to bear on this debate. He is right. I was just about to talk about the circumstances in which non-jury trials are appropriate, and will come on to that very point about the intimidation of those involved in the justice process. He will also be aware of some other jury reforms that have been implemented administratively; I hope to see them succeed.
With the information she has outlined, the Minister is making the case for the system’s renewal very well. Does she agree that it is essential for all sections of the community in Northern Ireland to support the security forces and the work that they do?
Yes, I do. We are talking about a threat that goes across all communities and the wider public, and I hope I have begun to make that clear.
I shall explain the precise ways in which justice is threatened and what the measures before us are for. Non-jury trial provisions are available in exceptional circumstances in Northern Ireland, when a risk to the administration of justice is suspected—for example, jury tampering, whereby intimidation, violence or the threat of violence against members of a jury could result in a perverse conviction or acquittal.
The Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland may issue a certificate that allows a non-jury trial to be held in relation to any trial on indictment of a defendant, and anyone tried with that defendant, if it meets a defined test that falls within one of four conditions: first, if the defendant is, or is an associate of, a member of a proscribed organisation whose activities are connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland, or has at any time been a member of an organisation when it was a proscribed organisation; secondly, if the offence was committed on behalf of a proscribed organisation, or a proscribed organisation was involved with or assisted in the carrying out of the offence; thirdly, if an attempt was made to prejudice the investigation or prosecution, by or on behalf of a proscribed organisation, or a proscribed organisation was otherwise involved with or assisted in that attempt; or, fourthly, if the offence was committed to any extent, directly or indirectly, as a result of, in connection with or in response to, religious or political hostility.
A case that falls within one of the four conditions will not automatically be tried without a jury, because the DPP must also be satisfied that there is a risk that the administration of justice might be impaired were a jury trial to be held. For those with a historical view, I should be clear that this is not a Diplock system—this is not the system that pertained before 2007. There is a clear distinction between the current system and the pre-2007 Diplock court arrangements, under which there was a presumption that all scheduled offences were tried by a judge alone. In Northern Ireland today, there is a clear presumption that a jury trial will take place in all cases.
In line with the commitments made in Parliament in 2015—before the July 2017 expiry date that necessitates our being here today—the Secretary of State held a full public consultation on whether non-jury trial provisions should be extended. The consultation concluded in February this year. It received a total of 10 responses from a range of interested individuals and groups in Northern Ireland.
I am extremely grateful for the Minister’s generosity in taking interventions. It would be helpful if, before she sets out the consultation’s conclusions and draws her remarks to a close, she could indicate how often the DPP has issued these certificates—he has not been at all hesitant in doing so. It would also be helpful if she could tell us about when he has refused to issue certificates, which is in the minority of cases. That sort of information would be helpful to everyone.
I am happy to do that, so I shall pause my speech and provide exactly those figures. In the 2017 calendar year, which is obviously still running, four certificates have been issued so far, and 19 were issued in the 2016 calendar year. In 2016, one request to issue a certificate was refused. I shall give the proportion as well, because it is illustrative for the House: in 2017, just 0.5% of Crown court cases have been dealt with by means of a non-jury trial under the 2007 Act—that is a percentage of all disposals. That makes it clear to the House how infrequently the provisions are used. The figure for refusals gives a sense of how carefully the DPP makes the decisions: it is not about rushed decision making; due care and attention are applied.
Before that intervention, Madam Deputy Speaker, I was speaking about the responses to the consultation; I hope you do not mind my taking the time to put this on record for those who have an interest. The Secretary of State has received relevant briefing from security officials so that he can understand the underlying threat picture. In the light of all the evidence and views before him, the Secretary of State has decided to renew non-jury trial provisions for a further two years and to keep them under regular independent review—those are the proposals I have brought before the House. As an extra and new measure of assurance, the independent reviewer of the 2007 Act will review the non-jury trial system as part of his annual review cycle, the results of which will be made available to the public in his published report. We hope that that gives some extra reassurance to those interested in these issues.
We must recognise that Northern Ireland is in a unique situation and that the non-jury trial provisions in the 2007 Act continue to be an important factor in supporting the effective delivery of the criminal justice process in a very small number of criminal cases. Certain jury trials in Northern Ireland would not be safe from disruption by those involved in paramilitary activity, many of whom make their presence known, in Northern Ireland’s close-knit communities or indeed in the public galleries of the courtrooms.
That reminds us of the importance of the four conditions that apply here. If there were some link with those four conditions, any trial may be considered under these processes. The DPP must be satisfied that one of the four conditions is met, and that justice may be put at risk by the holding of a jury trial. My hon. Friend can rest assured that the provisions are available for all types of criminal cases as long as they meet the conditions.
In 2016 and 2017, a very small number of certificates were issued. I would just like to add that the DPP acts with a great measure of independence. His role is to exercise his discretion in deciding whether to issue a certificate. I note that the current DPP is due to retire this year, and he will have exercised these duties and many others in great service to this country over the years.
As I have said, the numbers of certificates are very small compared with the total burden of Crown court cases. I hope that hon. Members are reassured by the fact that the Secretary of State has not taken lightly this decision to seek to renew the non-jury trial system. We strongly believe, however, that the system is, on balance, proportionate and necessary in light of the unique risks facing the criminal justice process in Northern Ireland.
Just before the Minister concludes, can she tell us whether, in the very small number of cases that have gone before the non-jury courts, there is any evidence of appeals being put forward and indeed being successful in part as a result of the way in which they were tried in the first place?
There are indeed ways to challenge these certificates; legal challenges have been made. I will not go into them in great deal here because they are on record and available for Members to look at. However, I will draw out one interesting point from one of the pieces of case law: it is noted that not to have a jury trial is not the same as not to have fair trial. That is a crucial piece of reassurance for Members here today who may be thinking deeply about the measure for which I am asking their support.
Will the Minister comment on the concern of the Bar of Northern Ireland that the criteria under which a challenge can be brought under section 7 of the 2007 Act is really very narrow and confined to exceptional circumstances? That concern comes out clearly in the consultation and is expected to be addressed in some way.
I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for his contribution. He speaks from great experience, as he has spoken on these issues from this very Dispatch Box. He is right that the consultation responses, while being broadly in favour of continuing with the system—indeed many of them noted that they had faith in the Secretary of State’s decision—contained some points of detail that could be considered in the future. However, I must point out that the provisions expire this month. I am asking the House to extend them now for immediate purposes, which is somewhat separate to the broader question of reform that we might look at in due course. I have mentioned an independent review, which will be a very good opportunity to draw out all of these issues. I will also take the opportunity to put it on the record that the very complexity of these issues reminds us why we want to see an Executive in place in Northern Ireland—so that a Ministry of Justice there can properly play its part in these issues as well.
In conclusion, we would love to be able to do away with these measures as early as we possibly can, but that can only ever be done when circumstances allow. We want a system that remains fair, effective, necessary, appropriate and proportionate. We look forward to discussing it further under the annual independent review, but, for now, I commend this order to the House.
I am sure that I join the whole House, Madam Deputy Speaker, in welcoming you to your seat. I learned, when I was a very junior Whip under your leadership, that your eye misses nothing. I am quite sure that that will be our experience here. I would also say that, during my time in the Whips Office, one of my opposite numbers was the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chloe Smith, whom I welcome to her position. I also welcome David Morris, who brings a great deal of knowledge and the affection of the House to this particular brief.
May I say from the outset that we do not intend to oppose this order for reasons that will be self-evident? I also think that the involvement of David Seymour, as the independent reviewer, is a very powerful step forward. There have been some issues in the past about the transparency of the process. I understand that Barra McGrory is leaving this year, and I certainly endorse the kind comments that were made by the Minister. The fact that there has been one judicial review of his decisions says a great deal about his skill and impartiality. I appreciate that there have been some Members who have felt a certain absence of confidence, but his service has proved that he is more than capable of being completely objective. We all remember Sir Alasdair Fraser, who held the post for more than 20 years. We welcomed Barra McGrory and certainly look forward to the new appointment.
The points that the Minister made about the current situation need to be considered very sombrely and soberly. It is just over a year ago that Adrian Ismay was killed on his way to work at HMP Hydebank. Obviously, we remember the death of David Black a bit earlier. Clearly, the situation is dangerous. She also mentioned explosive finds. One sad statistic is that, between August 2015 and July 2016, there were 246 incidents of explosive ordnance disposal activity in support of the police, including 35 improvised explosive devices. The situation is serious, and it demands a serious response. The two proposals that the Minister has made today—the renewal of the order from 2007 and the involvement of the independent reviewer—go a long way forward.
I am very grateful to the shadow spokesperson for Northern Ireland for responding to this debate and for assuring the House that he supports the renewal of this measure. I would be very comforted to know that his party leader supports the need for non-jury trials in Northern Ireland. For as long as such trials are needed in Northern Ireland, I would like to know that his party leader supports them.
That is a little bit above my pay grade. I shall certainly speak to my party leader and make sure that he sends a note to the hon. Lady, of whom he is very fond.
This is my third trot around the paddock with this subject. In June 2013, when Mike Penning was the Minister, we managed to deal with it in seven minutes. In July 2015, when Mr Wallace was Minister, sadly it took us 22 minutes. I am in no way implying that we are on a particular scale, but I think that it is important, in view of some of the new evidence we are discussing today, that we take a little time to consider the matter.
The role of the independent reviewer of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 is crucial. I wish to recommend David Seymour’s report to the House and express my gratitude to the Northern Ireland Office for making it available, and indeed for all the work it has done. The report is salutary. It actually states why the situation in Northern Ireland is so serious. I must say that I now know more about stop and search on the causeway coast and in the glens than I ever really wanted to.
I am glad that the Opposition support these measures. The hon. Gentleman will know that my constituency, which he has visited a number of times, has the highest level of dissident republican threat, and of course it was in my constituency that Mr Black was murdered, so he will know how necessary these measures are.
Absolutely. One of the things that strikes many of us when we visit Northern Ireland, apart from the staggering beauty of that part of the world, is the persistence of fear. I salute all public servants, elected and non-elected, who hold the line in Northern Ireland in the most horrendous circumstances. I pay tribute not only to the hon. Gentleman, but to Prison Officer Black, Adrian Ismay and so many others who have suffered.
The independent reviewer’s report, which is a solid body of work, should be studied. I am extremely glad that in future it will contain some oversight of the process. With regard to the only challenge to the DPP’s decision that has gone to judicial review and not been upheld, some people still feel that it is a closed process. When the PSNI goes to the DPP and applies for a certificate to be issued, the DPP quite rightly runs the template of the four tests over the application and makes a decision, but it does depend, to a certain degree, on the individual characteristics, intelligence and knowledge of the DPP. I think that DPP Barra McGrory has proven time and again that he is more than capable of that, but some people have suggested that there should still be some element of external examination and oversight.
I think that the Minister, in a very fine piece of parliamentary footwork and legislative improvement, has answered those objections. I have no way of knowing whether I will be at this Dispatch Box in two years’ time—if I am, it will probably be because I have not been promoted; if I am not, it will almost certainly be because I have been demoted—but if I am, I look forward to reading this. Indeed, even if I am not at the Dispatch Box, I will certainly read it anyway, just to see where we are with the situation.
I thoroughly endorse the Minister’s earlier points about the desire to see Northern Ireland’s devolved institutions up and running again. We know that the people of Northern Ireland deserve better than an impasse or a vacuum. We know that the quality of the elected representatives in Northern Ireland is such that they are more than capable of reaching such an agreement, and I look forward to them doing so very soon.
I reiterate the point made at the beginning about this being a reluctant piece of legislation. When we considered this in June 2013, the Minister at the time said on the record that the Government wishes to see a return to full jury trials as soon as possible. That goes for all of us. We do not want to see criminal non-jury trials. They do not exist anywhere else in the United Kingdom—there may have been an increase in civil non-jury trials, but criminal non-jury trials do not exist anywhere else. They exist in Northern Ireland because of the difficult and exceptional circumstances there.
The hon. Gentleman has inadvertently promoted me; it is awfully flattering and very kind of him, but I was never a professor of law at Queen’s University. The point I wish to draw to his attention—this is why I was so disconcerted, displeased and angry with his response to my earlier intervention about the attitude of his party’s leader towards non-jury trials in Northern Ireland—is that the Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides for non-jury trials throughout the whole United Kingdom, so they are available in England and Wales.
I apologise to the hon. Lady for elevating her—I am sure that it would only have been a matter of time before she had been made a full professor of law. I am one of the very few Members of Parliament who have not been a lawyer, my previous occupations having been those of sailor and bus driver. However, I was under the impression that we did not have non-jury criminal trials in Great Britain, although we do have non-jury civil trials, for example in fraud cases. But I am more than happy to be corrected on that.
I would like to hear from the Minister what the actual mechanics of the process will be with the independent reviewer’s reporting. Will it be an annual report, a biannual report or a sixth-monthly report? Will it be laid in the Library or will there be a statement to the House? Bearing it in mind that we are entering some pretty choppy waters in Northern Ireland, will she consider a wider involvement by the shadow Secretary of State, because we on the Opposition side are proud of the bipartisan approach that we continue to take in relation to Northern Ireland matters? There are very few points that divide us on this, because we all want the same thing in Northern Ireland: peace, decency, honesty, economic success and the rule of law. We on the Opposition Benches pledge ourselves to working in a bipartisan way. I would therefore like to see wider involvement with the shadow Secretary of State, because over the next few months there will inevitably be—I hesitate to use the term “direct rule”—direct involvement from London.
We are approaching
It is a little unfortunate that this is the second time this week that we have had to discuss Northern Ireland matters in this respect, because of course on Monday we had a statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to update us on where the discussions are with regard to bringing the parties in Northern Ireland together to restore the Assembly and the Executive, and unfortunately it was not good news. We wish him well in those negotiations, because, as has been said already today, decisions that affect Northern Ireland should be taken in Northern Ireland by local politicians elected by the people. We hope that progress will be made. I was a shadow Northern Ireland Office Minister for a number of years, and we dealt with many important issues upstairs in Committee, perhaps with as few as 18 MPs, only a fraction of whom were from Northern Ireland. That was no way to run the Province, so I really do hope that those negotiations and discussions can move forward.
It is also unfortunate that we have to renew this legislation. When I was a shadow Minister, we held these discussions and found it necessary to extend the period of time in which we could have non-jury trials. None of us wants that to be the case. One of the central tenets of United Kingdom law is that we are tried by our peers—those we work with and live alongside—in a jury. That is the way it should be, so it is unfortunate that we have to extend this facility today. However, as I understand it, and as Lady Hermon has mentioned, section 44 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which allows non-jury trials to take place, applies across Great Britain. I have not looked at it in great detail, so I am not sure how that provision differs from the measures we have in place in Northern Ireland. I am not sure whether there is any opportunity to roll the two into one provision at some future point, because even though we have special circumstances in Northern Ireland, obviously we seem to have them in Great Britain as well, as the existence of the 2003 provision shows. It is always regrettable when we get to that point.
Where is the specific threat perceived to be coming from? The Minister has quite rightly said that a very small fraction of cases are tried in this way, but it would be interesting to know what kinds of offences they were. If she does not have that information available immediately, perhaps she could write to hon. Members who are interested. What sort of cases are tried in this way? Are there any particular offences? Is there a pattern? This point was raised also by the hon. Member for North Down. It is important to try to identify where the problem is.
It is not all bad news in Northern Ireland. I have touched on two pieces of bad news but the Secretary of State also mentioned on Monday that he is reviewing political donations, which he wants to be more transparent. When I chaired the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs in the last Parliament, we looked at that matter and urged a move in that direction, because we want to make Northern Ireland politics more normal. That was some good news. Today’s news—that we have to extend this measure—is not good news, but I have no hesitation in supporting the Government.
When we looked at this issue previously, we asked whether a single judge sits on the non-jury trials or whether there are any occasions when more than one judge sits. I seem to remember being told that one judge usually sat on such cases because of the limited number of judges available. But given that the Minister suggested that only a small number of cases are tried in this way, is it not possible for more than one judge to preside over such cases?
It is with a heavy heart that we have to extend this legislation, but I support the Government in doing so for the reasons that have been given. I hope that we can continue to move forward to the point at which it is not necessary to make this the norm and where we do not need this kind of legislation on the statute book because Northern Ireland will have moved to where we want it to be. It is sadly not there yet for the reasons that the Minister set out, but I wish her well in that respect.
I will be brief, and let me be clear at the outset that the SNP will not oppose this extension. That does not, however, mean that we offer unconditional support to the principle, despite the extra and welcome safeguard of which the Minister has spoken. In fact, I have concerns about the principle when it comes to the human rights implications of a trial being seen to be fair. I make it clear that the prosecutors and judiciary involved are impartial—I have no concerns about their probity—but justice needs an impartial face to show the world, as well as an impartial body corporate. The authorities in Northern Ireland will have to strike a balance between the efficient running of the justice system, with fair and sustainable verdicts, and the need to respect the basic human right to a fair trial.
When we are talking about serious crimes, we need serious scrutiny of the operation of the courts. There is a great deal to be said, as other hon. Members have mentioned, for the principle of being judged by a jury of our peers. There is also a great deal to be said for protecting justice from perverse decisions that are made as a result of intimidation. While we are debating the order today, let us give some thanks and praise to the prosecutors, judges and defence agents who deliver justice in Northern Ireland.
The most important point of all, which was also made by other Members—I was delighted to hear the Minister and shadow Minister agree about this—is that decisions such as the one we are making today would more properly be taken at Stormont. Admittedly, that is a little difficult at the moment, but individuals elected by the people of Northern Ireland should be taking decisions about policing and the delivery of justice. Those decisions should be devolved to Stormont. In spite of these reservations, the SNP will not oppose the order.
I was very interested in the comments of Deidre Brock. We clearly need to be concerned about whether this arrangement risks verdicts being less safe than would be the case under the system that we enjoy throughout the rest of the United Kingdom. The hon. Lady has presumably seen table 5 in the consultation response. That interesting table shows quite clearly that the chances of acquittal are higher under a non-jury system. What I am slightly worried about, and this touches on the remarks made by my hon. Friend Mr Robertson, the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee—
Well, let us say Chair of the Select Committee for the time being.
I am slightly worried about these informatics and what the numbers actually represent. Who were the people given over to a non-jury trial, and who were those tried by jury? It is difficult to make head or tail of the figures without that granularity. But, taken at face value, the process looks safe. Indeed, several consultees suggested that that is the case, so we should derive some comfort from that.
I support the proposition outlined by the Minister. It is important to understand that this is part of a process; it is not Diplock courts. When the original legislation was passed in 2007, it was felt that things were sufficiently normal in Northern Ireland to move to this next level. The question will be when the situation is sufficiently normal in Northern Ireland to enable us to default to the position under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which, under very exceptional circumstances and using a very high hurdle indeed, allows for non-jury trials. It is pretty clear that we are not there yet.
Stephen Pound, who speaks from the Opposition Front Bench, said that the independent reviewer appears to be content with the current situation and believes that the situation has not changed sufficiently for us to fail to pass this extension of two years at this point. It is a credit to the system that we keep it under such regular review and that we are extremely cautious about the difference in Northern Ireland compared with the rest of the United Kingdom that sets to one side our precious jury system, which is so fundamental to the way in which criminal justice runs in the United Kingdom.
David Seymour is absolutely right. Not enough has changed for us to consider not putting in place the extension at this point. We have heard about the five deaths last year, the 29 bombings and the 61 shootings. Most of us who live in the rest of the United Kingdom find that extraordinary. It is remarkable that all that is carried out in Northern Ireland, which is a small part of the country, and it clearly suggests that the situation in Northern Ireland is not yet sufficiently normal for us to consider setting aside the provisions of section 7 of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 and relying instead on the 2003 Act.
One or two respondents to the consultation asked a number of questions, one of which I touched on in my intervention. On the assumption that we will default to the 2003 Act as opposed to section 7 of the 2007 Act at some point in the future—sooner rather than later, I hope—one respondent asks what we need to put in place. In other words, what do we need to do to prepare for that point and protect those who are engaged, one way or another, in the justice system, so that people are not intimidated?
The PSNI has made it clear, as we might expect, that it sees real problems in putting alternatives in place—that is, protecting people in the community from the sort of intimidation that the 2007 Act is meant to militate against. Having been a Minister in the Department, I can fully understand why the PSNI might shrink from the proposition that it could be an alternative to the provisions of the 2007 Act, as it would find that extremely onerous. However, we need to start thinking about how to put in place measures that will come into force after we decide that we no longer need section 7 of the 2007 Act, as most of us hope that that will be sooner rather than later. That may well mean some sort of protection for those involved in the system.
The only other issue is the granularity I would rather like to see in table 5 so that we can know exactly—this touches on one or two comments that have been made this afternoon—who these people are who are being tried by this alternative means, because it is only with that information that we can really make sense of informatics such as that table.
As I said in my intervention on the Minister, the grounds for a legal challenge under section 7 of the 2007 Act are really quite stringent, and it has been pointed out by the chief executive of the Bar of Northern Ireland that we might like to review that. I very much welcome the review that the Minister spoke about, and I hope very much that this issue will be included in it. In our enthusiasm to ensure that we are as normal in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the United Kingdom, and that we do as little as is necessary to except Northern Ireland from the normal criminal justice system we have in this country, we do need to look at detail such as this to ensure that, when we can improve matters in the way the Bar in Northern Ireland appears to suggest, we do that, if at all possible. However, with that in mind, I certainly support the order.
First, I welcome the announcement that the Minister has made today. It is important we have every opportunity in Northern Ireland to address issues in whatever way we can, and one of the things in our armoury is non-jury trials.
Right hon., hon., and hon. and gallant Members have referred to some of the activities in Northern Ireland over the last period. The rise in paramilitary and criminal activity in my constituency has caused me great concern as its Member of Parliament. I have had meetings with the PSNI, and I intend to have another meeting just next week with local councillors to address the issue. That paramilitary and criminal activity includes making drugs available to all levels of society almost with impunity, which scares and worries me, and we need to address that issue. We also have paramilitary activity in relation to protection rackets, trafficking and prostitution. These people have their fingers in every pie they can, and they do everything they can to be involved in money creation. We have to address those issues, and we have to deal with the godfathers—those who are behind these things, pulling the strings. We therefore need this legislation, which enables us, in cases where it is appropriate, to take on those people and to put them in prison, which is where they should be.
We are looking forward to the holiday break and to our tremendous and glorious
If there is a free dinner, there is an occasion to be there— [Interruption.] Well, it was a non-alcoholic event, but there you are. It is always good to have the interest of Members of the House. The fact that Members are participating in the debate, or that they are just in the Chamber, indicates that there is a real interest in Northern Ireland, and we appreciate that.
We have to take on and respond effectively to paramilitary activity and to the clear dissident activities—the bomb attacks and the murder attempts—there have been in the Province. It is worth reminding ourselves of some of the statistics and of how they compare with the situation in 2015. We have had five security-related deaths—two more than in 2015. We have had 29 bombings, as other hon. Members have mentioned. We have had 61 shooting incidents—25 more than in 2015. We have had 66 paramilitary assaults—14 more than in 2015. There is clearly a need to address the rising tide in paramilitary activity through this legislation.
As the Minister said, the rate of non-jury trial usage in Northern Ireland is only 2%. However, it is critical that we have non-jury trials in our armoury and the ability to use them when necessary to catch those involved in criminal activity and put them in jail, which is where they belong.
It is therefore welcome that the Minister and our Government, led by the Prime Minister and her Cabinet—let us be quite clear about this—support this legislation, and that they are fully committed to ensuring that criminal activities across Northern Ireland are severely dealt with. If non-jury trials are a method of achieving that, let us use them, irrespective of what the issue may be. We can all then ensure that criminal activities across the whole of Northern Ireland decrease and that we have normality—we all look towards normality.
We live in a different Northern Ireland today than we did many years ago, but there are still some steps to take. Along with the Minister, the shadow Minister and other Members who have spoken, my colleagues and I are particularly interested to see the Northern Ireland Assembly get back on the road again and democracy in place. However, with great respect, that can happen only if other parties accept the reality of the situation and enter into talks that can deliver the long-term visionary peace that we all want—a peace that is acceptable to the Unionist population, which we clearly support.
I rise to speak briefly in support of the extension of the non-jury trial provisions in the 2007 Act for a further two years. As the Minister indicated from the Dispatch Box, this is a pragmatic and practical response to the unique circumstances that we continue to experience in Northern Ireland.
This would be the fifth extension of the provisions since they were first introduced in 2007 by the then Labour Government. However, the temporary nature of the provisions indicates that the Government acknowledge that this is a unique and exceptional situation—a situation that should be reviewed regularly. As my hon. Friend Bob Stewart indicated, it is a credit to the House that we make parliamentary time available to review it regularly.
As the Minister rightly said, this situation should be ended as soon as it is no longer needed and when the security situation in Northern Ireland improves and is much more stable. However, as the whole House will know, the security situation unfortunately remains volatile and, in some cases, of serious concern. In the last year alone, there have been five security-related deaths, more than 60 shooting incidents and almost 30 bombing incidents recorded by the PSNI. Some 137 people were arrested under section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 last year, of whom 19 were charged with an offence.
Members on both sides of the House will know that the security situation in Northern Ireland remains severe—that is its official classification—and it continues to pose some risk to the criminal justice system and the fair and proper administration of justice. Therefore, the extension of this order is a pragmatic and necessary step to protect the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. As other hon. Members have indicated, the order contains some safeguards that make it a practical and appropriate response. Fewer than 2% of all Crown court cases are tried under these provisions. The Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland has to meet a statutory test before he can issue his certificate, the judge in the trial must give reasons for his decisions, and people convicted under the provisions are still entitled to right of appeal. In short, this is a fair and proportionate measure designed to target a very small number of exceptional cases, reflecting the unique security situation in Northern Ireland.
Other hon. and gallant Friends have referred to the Government’s public consultation, which I have also read. I want to draw the House’s attention to a few points, and hope that they can be given weight when Members decide whether to support this order extension. First, it is important to note that a majority of respondents to the consultation supported the extension of the order. The Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission acknowledged the ongoing security implications and suggested that the order should be extended. The DPP for Northern Ireland confirmed that the conditions remain appropriate. The PSNI itself has argued that there are a limited number of cases where continuing risks to the administration of justice justify the extension of this order. Other supporters include the independent reviewer of the 2007 Act, who says that
“nothing has happened or changed in the last two years…to justify bringing these arrangements to an end”.
Those are very authoritative and weighty contributions to the public consultation, and I hope that Members across the House will pay heed to them as we decide whether to support the extension of this order.
I am also heartened by the fact that in their response to the consultation, the Government reiterated their commitment to ending these arrangements as soon as the security situation stabilises, recognised the temporary nature of the 2007 provisions, and committed to keep the operation of the provisions under review by the independent reviewer of the 2007 Act, who, as other hon. Members have said, is doing a very good job. I welcome all these commitments, which clearly demonstrate the Government’s intention to make sure that this order is a proportionate response that mitigates some of the ongoing risks to the security situation in Northern Ireland.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s efforts, and those of all the parties in Northern Ireland, including those represented here, to restoring the devolved Administration at Stormont as soon as possible, allowing the people of Northern Ireland ultimately to have jurisdiction over all sorts of matters that affect them, from public services to the economy, security and the administration of justice. That is the long-term solution, and it is something that we all want to see. A restored Northern Ireland Executive and devolved Government is the long-term way to address all these very important issues. While all across this House work towards the normalisation of politics and the security situation in Northern Ireland, we must also continue to recognise the unique security situation that pertains in Northern Ireland. I will therefore support the extension of the order today and encourage other Members to do so as well.
Everybody across this House, and from all parties, can acknowledge the very significant progress that there has been in Northern Ireland over the course of the past 30 years, and that has been incredibly welcome. However, my hon. Friends and I—and, I am sure, others who have gone to Northern Ireland and seen the situation—believe that for too many communities that progress has not been sufficient. There is a still a way to go towards full transformation and full peace. That was recognised in the Northern Ireland Executive’s good relations strategy “Together: Building a United Community”, which recognised how far we have come but also that much more needs to be done in order to ensure that those in many communities can be brought fully to the table of transformation and peace.
Northern Ireland has so much to give, but for much too long that potential has been stifled by the scourge of terrorism. What is required in this situation is unreserved condemnation of terrorism but working with these communities to try to ensure that the transformation is fully complete. To that end, I echo the words of so many in this House and say that the best way to do that is by having a strong and stable Government in Northern Ireland delivering for people and ensuring that the journey can be completed. Although this is not a devolved matter, such stable government would certainly help secure the peace moving forward. The Democratic Unionist party has always been of the view that there was no need to bring down the institutions in Northern Ireland down, and at this stage we see no barrier to getting those institutions re-established. Our challenge to all the parties in Northern Ireland is to drop all and any red lines that they have and get back into government, delivering for people on health and education. That is the best way to build a stable future for everybody in Northern Ireland.
Turning to the particular subject of this debate, it is with some sorrow that I stand here to welcome the fact that this extension will remain in place, subject to the vote of this House, for a further two years. I do think it is necessary, because unfortunately, in too many places, there are ongoing issues of intimidation and threats. We have heard some of the statistics and figures here today. For some people, hearing the scale of that ongoing activity over the past couple of years may well come as a bit of a shock. For the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, their day-to-day experience of living there has changed dramatically, and that is welcome, but there is still the ongoing threat of dissident republicans, and threats across both communities.
As a former barrister, and as the new spokesperson on justice for the Democratic Unionist party, I want to pay tribute to our justice system in Northern Ireland. For many decades, through the darkest days of the troubles, not only the judiciary but barristers and solicitors had to put up with many threats and a lot of intimidation; it was not just jury members who faced intimidation. The courts in the Diplock system served Northern Ireland well during that period.
The integrity of the justice system must continue to be protected, although this protection is—and this is welcome—used to a much lesser extent. Justice must be served, because it is the absolute centre of our democracy in Northern Ireland. It is therefore with sorrow that I welcome the proposals, and I give my commitment to do all I can in the next few years to try to remove the necessity for such measures.
I welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
As someone who trained in criminal law and has always held our great traditions—of which trial by jury is one—in high regard, it is with regret that I come to the House and consider situations in which we cannot sensibly offer people that right. It is only right that the House should approve this order. It was interesting to hear the Minister outlining it and explaining some of the reasons for it, and it was interesting to hear the comments that
When I visited Northern Ireland last year, it was clear that things have changed. Things have moved on a lot since the peace process and the agreements that were reached in the late ’90s, but there is still an undercurrent that makes provisions such as this absolutely necessary. One only has to walk through the Falls Road area and see the signs on which PSNI has been expanded to “People Should Not Inform” to see that there are still those who would subvert the criminal justice system and make jury trials impossible if they felt it was in their interests to do so. Therefore, we must protect the justice system by making available a slightly different provision to deal with cases in which intimidation or threats might lead to an unfair trial or a perverse outcome.
When I trained to be a lawyer, the Diplock court system was still in existence and was regularly cited in England as an example of a scenario in which there was no trial by jury. As Lady Hermon has pointed out, UK law provides for extreme circumstances in which people seek to avoid justice by intimidating juries. It is not possible to have a democracy without the rule of law, and people need to know that they cannot use violence to avoid facing justice.
I welcome the fact that the numbers are falling, and the figures given by the Minister give me comfort that the provision is used only when absolutely necessary. It is right to say this is not a return to the Diplock court system by the back door. When the justice system is under attack, however, it must be able to respond so as to maintain fairness and ensure that an individual can still get a trial—an opportunity to put their case, with all the burden of evidence still on the prosecution—without a jury of 12 people who could be intimidated in an attempt to deliver a result other than the one that justice demands.
It is with regret that I support this measure, but I think that it is absolutely proportionate and that the justice system in Northern Ireland cannot do without it at the moment. We all hope that it will not need to be renewed again, but we must be practical rather than simply philosophical. A defendant will still have all the protections of a criminal trial. The only difference will be the absence, in exceptional circumstances, of a jury who could be intimidated, or who might feel unable to give a fair verdict because of implicit intimidation.
It is worth paying tribute to those who continue to administer law, order and justice in the most difficult and challenging circumstances, in which people seek to intimidate others to avoid being held responsible for the crimes they have committed. This is a proportionate measure that is, sadly, necessary, and it has my full support.
I want to make a few points, although the Minister was very kind in allowing me to intervene on her so I have already been able to mention some of the issues that I wanted to raise. When I intervened on her about types of trial and the defendants involved in non-jury trials, I expected her to have the full information at hand. The hon. Members for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) and for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) said it would be helpful to have an indication about the nature of the defendants, whether or not acquitted, who have gone through the process.
By happy coincidence, before I came into the Chamber I had a look at a research paper. I stand to be corrected by the Minister when she winds up if I have inadvertently mentioned these individuals, but I do not think that will be the case. Let me give the House some examples. There was Michael Stone, a very infamous murderer—not famous, but infamous for the Milltown murders—and a loyalist paramilitary. There was a gentleman called Chris Ward, who was apparently involved in the Northern Bank robbery, which was a huge bank robbery. I would not like to say where the money went, but I think a lot of us suspect that it went to the IRA. There was the murder of Robert McCartney, which was a ghastly, horrible murder. I know that these are past cases, but I am simply giving examples of cases in which there were non-jury trials, and they were all very serious cases indeed.
It is wholly appropriate to remind the House that this is an exceptional procedure: non-jury trials under the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 are very exceptional. I also remind the House that this is written into the 2007 legislation:
“No inference may be drawn by the court from the fact that the certificate has been issued in relation to the trial.”
That is really important because, as was mentioned by
May I add a comment in fairness to the outgoing or retiring Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, Barra McGrory? I know there has been criticism of him, including by me, in relation to the fact that he had been involved—in his past life, but in his professional capacity—in advising IRA members who received comfort letters from both Labour and Conservative Governments. However, as the hon. Member for Tewkesbury will confirm, in his evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee as the DPP he made it quite clear that no one who received a comfort letter could rest easy in their bed while he was the Director of Public Prosecutions. I think he has been totally impartial in carrying out his functions as the DPP. It is a very difficult job in Northern Ireland, and the non-jury trial system in Northern Ireland is a challenge for everyone.
As the Minister knows—other Members have given the statistics—the continued loyalist and republican paramilitary activity is a serious concern, and it should be, because the threat level in Northern Ireland is severe. However, there is one point that I would like the Minister to address. Part 7 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 made provision for non-jury trials where there is a real and present danger of jury tampering, and section 44 applies equally to Northern Ireland as to Great Britain. Will the Minister say whether there have been any applications by the prosecution under section 44 of the 2003 Act because they feared that there was a real and present danger of jury tampering, and whether those have been dismissed, or whether the only non-jury system that has been in operation is that under the 2007 legislation that we are renewing this afternoon? We need clarity on whether both systems are running in parallel or one has been less used than the other. That would be helpful to the House.
Without hesitation, I give my support to the renewal of the order this afternoon. I am content that the non-jury system in Northern Ireland under the 2007 Act is impartial. Everyone should have confidence in it, given the statistics, and I am happy to see it renewed for another two years.
I was the Army incident commander at Ballykelly when, as many people know, the Ballykelly bomb was detonated just after 11 pm on
Four years later, I was the lead Army witness in the trial of, I think, five bombers at Belfast Crown court. There was no jury, but if there had been they would have been grossly intimidated by what happened in that court. Throughout the evidence I gave, I was barracked from the public gallery with words like, “You’re a dead man,” and, “You’ve had it.” Of course, it was incredibly unsettling and the court procedures did not seem able to do much about it. After my evidence—not because of it, I am sure—the accused changed their plea from not guilty to guilty. They went down for what was meant to be life, but which turned out to be only a few years.
For my part, I was placed on a published terrorist death list. Indeed, a few years later, a terrorist team came to my house in Brussels, where I was serving as a lieutenant colonel in NATO, got out of their car and spoke to my 13-year-old son, who was playing in the front garden. They intended to kill me. They asked my son whether his daddy was home. His daddy was home but my son, perhaps alerted by the appearance and possibly the accents of the three men, said, “No, my daddy’s not home. My daddy works three miles away in NATO headquarters and he’s not here.” The men got back into their car and left. They killed two other servicemen on the German border later.
They were trying to take vengeance on me for giving evidence in a court. I dread to think how much intimidation there would have been for people on a jury in that case. I dread to think how much intimidation would continue to this day in trials such as that one and others we have heard about in the Chamber this afternoon.
Let me be absolutely clear. None of us—no one in this place—wants to have trials without a jury, but right now, Northern Ireland requires non-jury trials, and every single Member of the House should back that.
I begin my brief closing remarks by thanking my hon. Friend Bob Stewart for that moving, sombre and timely illustration of exactly the issues we are dealing with today. On behalf of the whole House, I thank him for sharing that piece of his family’s unfortunate experience.
This is an appropriate point, is it not, to show our appreciation for the work of our armed forces, without whose courage we would never have had a political settlement, and to express our concern that former service personnel still face the possibility of trial for matters arising out of the troubles when terrorist murderers are able to walk free.
My right hon. Friend will be well aware that, at this point, I am not able to deal fully with the issues he raises, except to say in brief that we would all wish to have a way of dealing with legacy issues in Northern Ireland that is fair, balanced and proportionate. We will have to return to those more fully at a later time.
I will do my best to work my way swiftly through the requests that have been made of me this afternoon. I thank the Opposition spokesman, Stephen Pound, for his support for the measures, and for the additional reasons he gave for the argument that many of us share. He asked how the review mechanism will work. I confirm that it is for David Seymour to decide on the exact mechanisms of the independent review. We can all have confidence that his previous work has been very thorough, and that he will bring to the subject the oversight and transparency that we would wish for. In some ways, that answers other points that have been made—there are bigger issues than are in the order.
The independent review report will be laid before both Houses.
Indeed. No doubt we will see my right hon. Friend serve as the Chairman again. He and a number of hon. Members asked about the mechanisms of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. I can confirm to the House that that Act remains in force. The threshold is different for the provisions—Lady Hermon made those very same points. Obviously, the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 came after the 2003 Act. Today’s provisions were designed to complement that Act—to those that were already in force in the UK. They are specific to Northern Ireland and were designed to be a way to address its legacy of paramilitary activity and the risks to the population at large that stem from that.
I am afraid I must press on, as I have only few minutes left in which to answer points raised by quite a few Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury asked how many judges sat on the trials. I can confirm that in a non-jury trial there is a single judge. He and others asked about the trend for the types of trials that use the provisions. As I confirmed earlier to the House, trials have come from both republican and loyalist sides of the community, but, as we have seen in this debate, they are for criminal trials of all types. As long as the request falls under one of the four conditions, and the DPP is satisfied on the fifth, a certificate may be issued. I note that others, including the hon. Member for North Down, have gone further into what type of defendant has been tried under the provisions. I will not comment on individual cases in the Chamber, but I will confirm that they are designed to be used across communities and to protect the general public from the scourge of intimidation.
Deidre Brock asked about human rights implications. I am glad to have the opportunity to say a little more on that. In the explanatory memorandum, the Secretary of State is clear that in his view the provisions do not infringe on equality and human rights measures. That is the simple part. The more complex part is that one reason why we feel the provisions are necessary is because they protect the human rights of jurors. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham made absolutely clear, jurors have a right to enjoy a family life and a right to privacy. When we talk about the potential intimidation of juries, we must remember how those rights apply. It is also possible to argue that if a person does not receive an unbiased jury trial, then their rights as a defendant have been compromised. I raise these points in brief just to say to the hon. Lady and others that these are complex issues, but we feel confident that the 2007 Act does not compromise human rights and indeed that it upholds, to the extent possible in the circumstances, the right to a fair trial.
My hon. Friend Dr Murrison wanted granularity in the list of where the measures have been used. As I said, I will not comment on individual cases but I am happy to write to him, and to other hon. Members who raised this point, with a little more detail to further illustrate the kind of trials to which they may apply. He highlighted the comments by the Bar Association. I reiterate that we all want to look towards a world where these provisions are not necessary. We have an opportunity to do that with the forthcoming independent review.
I welcome the comments made by Jim Shannon. He emphasised the range of paramilitary criminality we face and I am grateful to him for placing it on the record. I am equally grateful to my hon. Friend Alan Mak and
Let me now deal with the remaining points made by the hon. Member for North Down, and dwell a little further on issues relating to the Criminal Justice Act 2003. It has been used in England in two cases, one in 2004 and one that is before Leeds Crown Court this year. It has not yet been used in Northern Ireland, but, as I have said, the two systems are designed to be complementary.
The measures in the 2003 Act do not address one very important issue, namely the potential for bias in juries. We have discussed the potential perversion of a justice system. There has not been time for us to go into this type of provision in too much detail, but it involves the important concept of wishing to avoid trials that could be undermined by biased juries, a problem that could arise in the context of the presence of paramilitaries in close communities. I am confident that the hon. Lady and some of her near neighbours are familiar with such issues, and—like, I think, all Members who are here today—want to see an end to paramilitarism, and an end to a world in which these unfortunate measures are necessary. I think we have all agreed that we want to see a move to renew and refresh the Executive in Northern Ireland, so that they too can play a part in ensuring that a robust criminal justice system serves all the communities in Northern Ireland.
I commend the order to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 (Extension of duration of non-jury trial provisions) Order 2017, which was laid before this House on
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the last half hour, the Department for Work and Pensions has made available a written statement outlining the closure of jobcentres across the country, which will lead to the loss of 750 jobs, including jobs at Newton-le-Willows jobcentre in my constituency. The story was briefed to the media earlier today, but no Minister has come to the House to be scrutinised or asked questions about this catastrophic decision, which will lead to the loss of so many jobs. I think that that shows contempt for the House, for scrutiny, and, most important, for the people who are losing their jobs. Can you advise me, Madam Deputy Speaker, on how we can ensure that when Ministers make and announce decisions such as this, they do it properly, in the House?
This matter was raised earlier by another Member. I am sure that Ministers will be aware that it has been raised a second time, and is therefore a cause of some concern to Members. The Speaker advised earlier that Members might consider raising it at business questions tomorrow, so I think I will leave it at that.