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Clause 5 - Duty of Director of

Part of Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 25th March 2004.

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Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party 4:15 pm, 25th March 2004

I rise to support the amendment and to agree with what has been said about it. The Minister's intervention was interesting because he queried whether the phrase

''which appears to the Director''

introduced any element of discretion. I am not sure that it does, because to whom else would it appear? This is a duty being placed on the director, so it can operate only in respect of something that ''appears'' to him.

The clause continues that the director shall refer any matter which appears to him ''to indicate'' that an officer ''may have'' committed a criminal offence. That sets the bar very low indeed. A low standard is being set and there will be a huge number of referrals. The director is not required to be satisfied that an offence has been committed, or to have reasonable grounds for believing that an offence has been committed. It is sufficient if it appears to him that it may have been committed. To set the standard so low without giving the director discretion over whether to refer is an alarming development.

It is interesting that the Minister referred to the phrase

''which appears to the Director'',

which drew a lot of comment on Second Reading. Some hon. Members were concerned that it contained a discretion, and they did not want any discretion at all. I sometimes think that we are creating a crazy legal system in Northern Ireland, and one of the craziest parts, in all senses of that word, is the operations, role and remit of the police ombudsman's office. The provisions will give a huge power to the police ombudsman's office. The director will be placed under a duty to refer every case where there is any indication that an offence may have been committed. The standard is remarkably low. Persons will be subjected, as we know from experience, to oppressive proceedings.

Anyone who is concerned about maintaining an effective and efficient police service would recoil in horror at the provision. It would be best to give the director a discretion. That proposal could be reinforced with some later amendments, although I shall not discuss those now. I merely argue now for a discretion to be given to the director. Otherwise, a huge number of cases will be referred in which there are no real grounds for investigation. That is not a wise move.