Clause 1

Part of Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 16th January 2007.

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Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office 6:00 pm, 16th January 2007

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in August 2005 that we would repeal part 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, it was made clear that the issue of non-jury trials would require further hard thinking and decisions. A considerable amount of work has been done since then to deal with the issue in the context of a reducing number of non-jury trials under the Diplock system—there were 354 in 1987 and 49 in 2005. However, if there were jury trials in all cases there would still be a serious risk of jury intimidation and that justice would not be done.

We resolved to find a way of changing the presumption in favour of trial by jury but ensuring that in the small number of cases in which it was necessary a non-jury trial would still be available. We adopted an administrative approach to the decision making; some hon. Members disagree with that but we believe that it is right way to go, given the sensitive information that is often dealt with. The DPP is in a good place and has the right kind of experience and knowledge to make that decision.

Clause 1 describes the statutory test and states the conditions in respect of membership of proscribed organisations and the nature of religious and political hostility. Subsection (2)(b) describes the crucial second limb of the test: a risk that the administration of justice might be impaired.

I agreed to take away and consider at least two issues raised in the debate and I will of course look at the whole debate carefully, too. I am prepared to consider seriously the wording “administration of justice” and “interests of justice”, as suggested by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, although with no commitment as to the outcome. I will also look again at the issue of family relationship to see whether we can find greater common ground.

My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle raised the devolution of justice and policing. I will not widen the debate further from the exchange between the two hon. Members, but there is considerable discussion to be   had on that matter. In relation to the Bill, we need to give the issue some thought because it is a criminal justice matter, and criminal justice can be devolved, but it also relates to issues of national security which, as my hon. Friend knows, will not be devolved.

I want to think a little more about the matter and I may write to the Committee outlining our current thinking in order to inform our future debates.