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Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 2nd February 2012.

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Photo of Lord McCluskey Lord McCluskey Crossbench 5:30 pm, 2nd February 2012

My Lords, I am perfectly happy to do that. Amendment 71A, which stands in my name, refers to line 11 of government Amendment 71 and proposes to insert the words,

"in the course of criminal proceedings".

I want to emphasise that we are generally happy with the approach of Amendment 71: at least I am because I am happy that it deals with the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 rather than the 1998 Act-a point which I made earlier. However, the heading of the new clause, which is in bold on the Marshalled List, states:

"Convention rights and EU law: role of Advocate General in relation to criminal proceedings".

First, I accept that we should deal with EU law as well as ECHR law, although our report did not find it necessary to go into that matter at all. This relates to criminal proceedings. The whole point is that Amendment 71 relates to the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, and we are making provisions in subsection (3) on:

"Right of Advocate General to take part in proceedings".

I believe that that should read, "take part in criminal proceedings", for a reason that I shall come to shortly. The provision states, in terms, that:

"The Advocate General ... may take part as a party in criminal proceedings so far as they relate to a compatibility issue".

The compatibility issue is defined here for the purposes of all the proposed new sections, including those that I am proposing.

Subsection (2) of proposed new Section 288ZA states:

"In this section 'compatibility issue' means a question whether a public authority has acted (or proposes to act)" in the way specified in proposed new paragraphs (a) and (b). Again, we ought, for clarity to insert the words, "in the course of criminal proceedings". They merely add something that is perfectly obvious, but they have a bearing on the important issue as to whether or not questions arising in criminal proceedings might be treated as vires issues in the way mentioned by the noble and learned Lord when he was speaking a moment ago.

Therefore, my next amendment, proposes to insert after the word "whether":

"an Act of the Scottish Parliament or any provision of an Act of the Scottish Parliament is outside the legislative competence of the Parliament as being incompatible".

This is an important issue because the Advocate-General has very properly decided that there should be an amendment to paragraph 1 of Schedule 6 to the 1998 Act. That change appears in the new clause proposed in Amendment 72. Subsection (3) states:

"In paragraph 1 of Schedule 6 ...after sub-paragraph (f) insert-'But a question arising in criminal proceedings in Scotland is not a devolution issue if it is a compatibility issue within the meaning of section 288ZA of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act".

When one looks at that provision in subsection (2) of the new section proposed in Amendment 71, we find that a compatibility issue includes,

"whether a public authority has acted (or proposes to act) ... in a way which is made unlawful by section 6(1)".

I may be wrong about this, and I hope to hear the noble and learned Lord's reply, but if a Member of the Scottish Parliament-particularly a Member of the Government-proposes a Bill in the Scottish Parliament that will breach a convention right, as specified in Section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998, that is unlawful. Therefore, under the proposed new clause in Amendment 72, from which I quoted a moment ago, a question arising in criminal proceedings is not a devolution issue, if it is a compatibility issue within that meaning. The result is, I think-although I may be wrong, because this is difficult to follow-that if, in the course of a criminal trial, assuming that the noble and learned Lord's amendments on these matters are accepted, a person states, "The Act under which I have prosecuted or which has a bearing upon the prosecution is beyond the competence of the Parliament", it will instantly become a compatibility issue that is not a devolution issue. Therefore, the alternative route of using the vires provisions under Schedule 6, to which the Advocate-General refers, will not be available to anyone. In other words, there is only one route to take, which is what I want to happen.

On 17 January, the Advocate-General said to me in a letter, and repeated today:

"I am not minded to accept the Lord Advocate's suggestion"- a suggestion made by the Lord Advocate before the committee at which I spoke-

"that the new appeal should extend to questions as to whether an Act of the Scottish Parliament is compatible with ECHR or EU law. The suggestion would mean that if someone wishes to argue that an ASP is incompatible with the ECHR and that it also relates to reserved matters they would need to use the new appeal route in relation to the ECHR issue as well as the existing devolution issues appeal route".

I think that his amendments knocked out the devolution issue and have given us what we want, but I would be interested to hear his view on that and whether there has been some confusion on the matter.

The other amendment which I should mention in this context bears on proposed new Section 288ZA in Amendment 71, where I propose to add in subsection (2),

"references to the course of criminal proceedings are to the period beginning with the detention or arrest of a person for an offence and ending with the pronouncing of the final interlocutor".

The reason for that highly technical amendment is that it is possible that, before a person is detained or arrested, there might be by a public authority-whether the police or the BBC, for example-an invasion of his human right to a fair trial by saying things about the accused even before he is detained. We may need to look at that separately, but the amendment draws attention to the fact that there ought to be a definition as to when criminal proceedings begin in the Act, so as to leave it in no doubt. There have been difficult questions in past cases about when a person is charged, when he is detained, et cetera. Those words themselves are not crystal clear, but I want to make it crystal clear when criminal proceedings begin and when, for the purposes of compatibility issues, they end. That matter is covered by my Amendments 71A to 71C, which draw attention to what I think are problems arising from the framing of Amendment 71, which proposes the new clause.