Clause 21

Part of Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:45 pm on 18th January 2007.

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Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down 1:45 pm, 18th January 2007

That has given me an opportunity to comment on two curious aspects of the clause. First, I should like some clarification and assurances from the Minister about the way in which it is drafted. It states:

“If a member of Her Majesty’s forces on duty reasonably suspects that a person is committing, has committed or is about to commit any offence he may...arrest the person without warrant, and...detain him for a period not exceeding four hours.”

What is the position of an off-duty soldier? The Minister has given us assurances that the PSNI has powers of arrest and detention under other legislation, even when part VII of the 2000 Act is dropped. Will an off-duty member of the PSNI have to stand by and not intervene? And will they have to call in aid a member of the PSNI who is on duty? What is the position of an off-duty soldier? It is rather vexing that community support officers in Northern Ireland will have more powers than members of Her Majesty’s forces when a person about to commit an offence.

The second point is related to that in the sense that subsection (2) states that a person—meaning a member of Her Majesty’s forces—

“making an arrest under this section complies with any rule of law requiring him to state the ground of arrest if he states that he is making the arrest as a member of Her Majesty’s forces.”

For ease of interpretation, subsection (5) defines“a rule of law”:

“The reference to a rule of law in subsection (2) does not include a rule of law which has effect only by virtue of the Human Rights Act 1998.”

That is extraordinary. Given the overall content ofthe Bill and, as we have highlighted, the powers of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, I am amazed and surprised to find an exclusion whereby a soldier does not seem to have to comply with the Human Rights Act 1998. Those are the two points on which I await clarification by the Minister.