Clause 5

Part of Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:15 pm on 16th January 2007.

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Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down 6:15 pm, 16th January 2007

I beg to move amendment No. 30, in clause 5, page 4, line 31, leave out subsection (4).

I am very concerned about clause 5, which was alluded to in passing by the hon. Member for Foyle and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). Having named them, I will check that, but I think that they were concerned that inferences might be drawn from a certificate for a non-jury trial being issued by the DPP. The provision that may allay the fears of the hon. Gentlemen is in clause 5—which I am attacking this afternoon:

“No inference may be drawn by the court from the fact that the certificate has been issued in relation to the trial.”

The wording is interesting, with the emphasis on “the fact”, not on no inference being drawn from the certificate.

Given the Minister’s good track record in the Home Office—which I say in all sincerity—he will be familiar with the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. He has quoted heavily from the Act to justify having to issue the certificate before arraignment, which I have objected to—but we have moved on. The Minister will be well aware of the provisions on bad character in the 2003 Act. The House wisely decided to change the law so that a defendant’s bad character would be admissible as evidence if certain conditions were satisfied. I will not read out all those conditions, but interested members of the Committee can look at section 101 of the Act. The defendant’s bad character can now be included in evidence in criminal proceedings.

Not to labour the point too much, but the introduction to Northern Ireland of the provisions about non-jury trials, when there is evidence of real and present danger of jury tampering, has taken an inordinate length of time—since 2003 until 8 January 2007. Could the Minister assure the Committee that the provisions on bad character, which were also legislated for in the 2003 Act, now extend to Northern Ireland? If they do not, why in heaven’s name do they not? We are part of the United Kingdom and if the provisions are good enough in Great Britain they should also be extended to Northern Ireland. There is provision in section 334 of the Act for bad character provisions to be extended to Northern Ireland. My first question to the Minister, therefore, is whether those provisions have been extended and, if so, when was that done. I suspect, with a sinking heart, that they have not. As with the jury tampering provisions, until we highlight the issue the Northern Ireland Office will not see fit to extend the bad character provisions. However, I hope to be surprised, although I will eat my hat if I am.

Secondly, will the Minister explain the impact of subsection (4) on a bad character application? Can the facts that the DPP used to come to the conclusion that a non-jury trial is appropriate, and which lead to the issuing of a certificate for such a trial, go towards a bad character application being made against the defendant? I should like the Minister to address those two issues, and that is my reason for tabling the amendment.