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 Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office 6:30 pm, 16th January 2007

On the question of whether evidence of bad character has been introduced in Northern Ireland, it is in force there, not under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, but under equivalent legislation—the Criminal Justice (Evidence) (Northern Ireland) Order 2004. That is a different route, but I am sure that the hon. Member for North Down will be pleased to know that that is the situation. I hope that that will add to the credibility and strength of the justice system.

The clause is the result of a switch in presumption in relation to the decision as to whether a trial should be by judge alone, rather than by jury. Under the present, Diplock court system, the Attorney-General will not de-schedule a case unless he is satisfied that it is not connected with the emergency in Northern Ireland. In other words, he has to have positive evidence and information that a case is not connected with the emergency in Northern Ireland. There may not be any evidence, but for him to de-schedule it there has to be positive evidence that it is not connected with the emergency.

Under the system that we are proposing, where the presumption is changed, if a certificate has been issued, everybody will know that some positive information must have come before the Director of Public Prosecutions relating to membership of a proscribed organisation, involvement in political or religious hostility or the risk that the administration of justice would be impaired. In other words, the issuing of a certificate will signal that positive information and evidence has been seen by the DPP, leading to a judgment that the case should be tried by judge alone.

One can foresee that there would be more grounds for inference based on the issuing of a certificate than there would be under the de-scheduling of cases in the current system. We seek to question neither the credibility of the justice system in Northern Ireland, nor the senior judges that preside over it: they are used to dealing with cases on the facts and reaching their conclusions in the right way. Given that we are switching the balance in respect of how the test is carried out, it is important that it is switched in favour of a presumption of trial by jury, rather than not. It is important to include this small addition to the clause to make it clear that no inference can be drawn from the fact that a certificate has been issued. It is included to strengthen the credibility of the justice system. Although that is what judges do, it is none the less important to include this provision in the Bill. I hope that that reassures the hon. Lady. We seek to make it explicit that no inference can be drawn from our changing the way in which the test is carried out.