Clause 20 - Subsequent inadmissibility of information provided to commissioners

Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:32 pm on 15th December 2005.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

With this it will be convenient to take new clause 5—Civil proceedings unaffected—

‘No evidence obtained pursuant to this Act shall be inadmissible in any civil proceedings nor shall anything in this Act limit the right of any person to pursue civil proceedings against an applicant.’.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

I wish to say, as did the Conservative spokesman, that there are many clauses that we would have divided on in other circumstances. However, with 20 minutes to go and a lot of work still to be done, we will travel at a faster pace and our opposition can be regarded as having been placed on record.

The purpose of new clause 5 is to defend the right of victims to take civil proceedings against an applicant. The Bill effectively wipes out any criminal liability in relation to certain offences, but it is vital that there be no impact on the potential for civil liability. The new clause would make it clear that there was no such impact. As a result, people would continue to be liable to a civil action in respect of crimes they committed. Evidence adduced during proceedings under the scheme could be entered as part of those civil proceedings. That is a poor substitute, but it would at least allow some redress through the courts. This is a route that families in the Omagh case have taken. As the Government funded that, I am sure that they will not close off such an option to victims in this example.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

To help the hon. Gentleman and to expedite proceedings, I assure him and other hon. Members that nothing in the Bill prevents any person from bringing civil proceedings against anyone else.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

I note that the Minister puts a full stop after that remark, but we also want to ensure that the proceedings of the special tribunal—

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Shall I continue, then, to say that the production of evidential material in civil cases will follow the normal pattern? Nothing in the Bill alters existing rules.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

I am grateful for the interventions. Will the Minister intervene on me once more to say whether he is content that evidence taken during proceedings in the court, and not just evidence from the mouth of the applicant, can be brought into any civil proceedings? He will want to ensure that he does not do further violence to the victims of terrorism who seek some redress through civil proceedings.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

While the Minister puts his argument together, let me briefly say that it is essential that he give the assurance that the hon. Member for Belfast, East seeks, because at the very least we must enable evidence of the kind that he has mentioned to be useable in a civil case. It would be beyond me if the Minister was unable to give that assurance.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The purpose of the clause is to ensure that there is a clear distinction between the certification process and the special tribunal in respect of evidential material. The applicant will be required to provide the certification commissioner with various   kinds of information, including—we would expect—sufficient information or material to allow the person to be identified properly.

On new clause 5, I hope that the two points that I have already made to the hon. Member for Belfast, East reassure him. With regard to the further point, only admissible evidence can be used in civil cases.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

May I press the Minister on that? It is very important that we have clarity on whether some evidence will not now be admissible in a civil case. I understand that that is a difficult question, as a bit of research needs to be done, but I do not think we can go any further in determining what to do next unless we have an answer to it.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The clause is designed to prevent material from being used for other purposes in connection with such proceedings, unless the defendant wants to use it in that way. I suspect there will be disagreement in Committee on that.

Let me refer again to the points made by the hon. Member for Belfast, East. The purpose of new clause 5 is to ensure that evidence obtained under the legislation is admissible in civil proceedings and that civil proceedings are not hampered in any way. I assure Members that nothing in the Bill prevents any person from bringing civil proceedings against anybody else. The production of evidential material in civil cases will follow normal patterns, and nothing in the Bill alters those existing rules.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 16, Noes 12.

Division number 50 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 20 - Subsequent inadmissibility of information provided to commissioners

Aye: 15 MPs

No: 11 MPs

Nos: A-Z by last name

NOES

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.