Clause 5

Part of Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 16th January 2007.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party 6:30 pm, 16th January 2007

I oppose the amendment. As the hon. Member for North Down said, I have expressed concerns about the possibility that inferences might be drawn not only by the court, but more widely, and particularly where there is no indication of which conditions are supposed to have informed the DPP’s issuing of a certificate. If the amendment were successful, there would be no restriction on a court drawing an inference from the issuing of the certificate. We do not, of course, know what effect other evidence in the case might have.

I am particularly concerned because of some of the Secretary of State’s comments on Second Reading. At one point, he obviously misunderstood the Bill, because he said:

“the DPP must put the matter before a judge. If the judge took the view that the action was unreasonable, he would obviously have an argument with the DPP.”—[Official Report, 13 December 2006; Vol. 454, c. 902.]

Obviously, that is completely wrong, as we all know from our reading of the Bill. However, the Secretary of State later said:

“the Bill is clear that the DPP essentially takes the decision and issues the certificate, but he must have good grounds for that. The judge may want to ask him privately about the decision.”—[Official Report, 13 December 2006; Vol. 454, c. 903.]

I would be very concerned about a judge privately asking the DPP about some of the issues and conditions, perhaps being privately told what they were and then being allowed, in conducting the court, to draw an inference from the fact that a certificate had been issued. That breaches even the claims that were made about the Diplock courts, where judges had to warn themselves and meet all sorts of conditions so  that nobody could say that what was done was of a lesser quality than what would have been done in a jury court.

Putting a judge in a non-jury court in circumstances in which he can draw a particular inference from the issuing of a certificate will take the Bill into even more dangerous territory than it is in already. I therefore oppose the amendment.