HC Deb 16 March 1995 vol 256 cc1016-7
6. Mr. Mullin

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has for reforming the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

Sir John Wheeler

We have put forward a range of measures in recent years to improve the working of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. They include the Criminal Appeal Bill, introduced last month, establishing in Northern Ireland and England and Wales the criminal cases review commission. Other measures are in preparation.

Mr. Mullin

Would it be too much to ask that the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 be applied to all cases in Northern Ireland? In particular, is it not about time, in the light of all the other changes taking place in the Province, that interrogations in police custody were tape-recorded? Did the Minister read the remarks of the judge in the Ballymurphy case the other day which ended after 138 days? The judge said that, had audio recording been available, the case could have been dealt with in six days. Is it not about time that that state of affairs was dealt with?

Sir John Wheeler

I am well aware of the proposals to include video and tape recording of all interviews in police custody in Northern Ireland. Those matters are kept under regular review in the light of the changing security circumstances. I shall continue to be advised by the Chief Constable as to the need to retain the existing arrangements, which I hope may well change in the near future.

Mr. Hayes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there has been much talk about changes in the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland? There is a great deal of sympathy for Private Clegg and his family. However, the fundamental difference between us and the men of terror is that we believe in, and live by, the rule of law. Any departure from the rule of law, by anyone, would be a departure from the peace process.

Sir John Wheeler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He speaks well in favour of the rule of law. The plain truth is that it is the terrorist gangs who depart from the rule of law. It is the terrorist gangs who want to remove people from Northern Ireland who do not fit with their specifications, and it is the terrorist gangs who hold arms and engage in armed robberies. That is what this House roundly condemns.

Mr. Trimble

I welcome the Minister's reference to the Criminal Appeal Bill. Does he agree that that demonstrates the ease by which legislation for Northern Ireland can proceed upon proper grounds, and will he recommend that to his colleagues on either side of him?

With regard to the future of the criminal justice system, will the Minister give an assurance that there will be no question of a precipitate rundown of the Diplock court system while we still have so many unsolved terrorist cases and so many terrorists who have not yet been made amenable? Will he also support the representations that we have made that there should be consideration, together with the Home Office, about what permanent anti-terrorist legislation the United Kingdom will need?

Sir John Wheeler

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is that, of course, I understand why he makes that point. When it is possible and appropriate to include Northern Ireland considerations and issues in legislation originating from England and Wales, that will be done. As for the operation of the Diplock courts, they operate having regard to the circumstances that prevail in Northern Ireland. If it is the case—as it is—that people are still intimidated and could not sit as jurors or give evidence as witnesses other than through the protection of the existing legal measures, those measures must be sustained.