Clause 171 - Provision of information by defendant

Part of Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 11 December 2001.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 12:15, 11 December 2001

The clause mirrors the provisions of clause 19, which refers to England and Wales. It addresses the provision of information by a defendant, and once again there might be special factors with regard to defendants in Northern Ireland.

I want Ministers and their advisers to consider the situation of a defendant who is not the Mr. Big—so to speak—but is a middle-ranking defendant involved in money laundering, drug trafficking or racketeering in Northern Ireland. The provisions of the enacted Bill will be binding on anyone against whom proceedings are being taken. In particular, subsection (4) includes the provisions relating to the court's drawing inferences. In the courts in England and Wales, there may be little difficulty about drawing adverse inferences from a defendant's failure to respond. However, in the case of Northern Ireland, one can envisage a defendant who has quite properly been brought before the court being intimidated by people higher up the criminal organisation.

I wonder whether the Ministers and their advisers have thought about the way in which courts draw inferences in an atmosphere in which intimidation and the threat of violence are constantly present—which, sadly, is true of racketeering organisations in Northern Ireland controlled by terrorists or paramilitaries. Although I did not table specific amendments to match those debated previously under clause 19, which were of a different nature, I wanted at least to alert the Ministers to the possibility that it might not be appropriate for inferences to be drawn in the same way in Northern Ireland as in England and Wales under clause 19. In relation to provision of information by defendants, special circumstances arise from conditions in Northern Ireland. Despite the ostensible peace process, to which I referred when we debated an earlier group of amendments, every official briefing stresses that, sadly, the racketeering, intimidation and threats continue.