HC Deb 30 January 1997 vol 289 cc499-500
7. Mr. Jacques Arnold

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received regarding intimidation of witnesses. [11973]

Sir John Wheeler

The Government have not received any recent representations regarding intimidation of witnesses.

Mr. Arnold

Is not the intimidation of witnesses a scandal and a perversion of the course of justice? What steps has my right hon. Friend taken to tighten up on that scandal?

Sir John Wheeler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the concern that he has exhibited about the matter. It is a serious concern in Northern Ireland, and the Government have taken steps to strengthen the law. In 1996, a new statutory offence of intimidation of witnesses and jurors was created in the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order, which also covers pre-trial intimidation and revenge attacks after the trial. I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of strengthening and maintaining the law to deal with that problem.

Mr. Maginnis

Does the Minister agree that the problem is not exclusively the intimidation of witnesses but the intimidation of entire local communities, whose members have been beaten, crucified upside down or shot? The whole issue must be examined in that light. Can he give us an idea of the number of brutal beatings and other punishments that have occurred in the past year? Has the retribution against people intimidating those communities been equal to the magnitude of the crime?

Sir John Wheeler

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that there are other forms of intimidation, especially of the nationalist population of Northern Ireland, by terrorist thugs. Since last year, there have been many hundred brutal attacks of great savagery. They are all investigated by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which is of course dependent on information from the complainant; if that is forthcoming, people may be arrested, charged and placed before the courts. It is a most serious matter that engages the attention of the Government and of the Royal Ulster Constabulary every day.

Miss Hoey

Does the Minister agree that intimidation of witnesses can occur in cases of stalking? Why is the Protection from Harassment Bill not to apply to Northern Ireland except under the undemocratic procedures? Why is Northern Ireland not treated as part of the United Kingdom in that legislation?

Sir John Wheeler

I agree with the hon. Lady: it is important that protection is provided in such circumstances. As she knows, Northern Ireland has its own criminal justice system and body of law, and it will be the Government's intention to follow the line of England and Wales in a separate order, replicating what is done for England and Wales, as soon as possible.

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