HC Deb 12 January 2000 vol 342 cc263-5
2. Kali Mountford (Colne Valley)

If he will make a statement on the development of restorative justice schemes. [103414]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingrain)

The experience in many jurisdictions is that restorative justice has a role to play in making offenders more aware of the consequences of their actions, facilitating reparation to victims and allowing reconciliation between offender and victim or between victim and the wider community. It is extremely important that the rights and interests of both victim and offender are protected. Such schemes must be complementary to the criminal justice system, not an alternative to it. Investigation of crime is the responsibility of the police and the determination of guilt or innocence solely the responsibility of the courts.

Kali Mountford

Does my right hon. Friend believe that there are lessons to be learned from the experience of restorative justice for the rest of the United Kingdom? I welcome what he said about the complementary nature of restorative justice: it would not be good for it to take the place of the due process of law. Will he comment on what an important part it plays in returning to a normal social environment and leaving behind the horror of the past?

Mr. Ingram

I agree with all those points. If we are able to get schemes in operation in addition to those that we are already piloting in Northern Ireland and to draw on international as well as British experience, that would further normalisation in Northern Ireland, which I am sure that everyone would welcome.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

Does the Minister agree that some of the restorative justice schemes that are operating in Northern Ireland could be accurately described as alternative justice schemes? Does he also agree that those schemes are operating wholly outside the legal system and involve significant abuse of the rights of the people who are caught up within them? Will he give an undertaking that legislation will be introduced to ensure that the only restorative justice schemes that operate are those that have a clear legal basis, are integrated into the legal system, fully respect the rights of those involved and comply wholly with the letter and the spirit of the European convention on human rights?

Mr. Ingram

The right hon. Gentleman has hit on an important aspect of some of the developments that are taking place outwith the normal process of the rule of law which ignore that important right of everyone—offenders and victims—to the protection of his human rights. Some schemes clearly do not conform to what is desirable, do not recognise the police and, indeed, may not even recognise the due process of law. Such schemes do not fall within the ambit of restorative justice but of a different type of civil administration and are, therefore, unacceptable. A review of the criminal justice system is due to be completed shortly and we will report in due course to the House.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

As the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said, and whether we like it or not, a perceived vacuum in policing is being replaced by paramilitary actions and their distinctive brand of restorative justice. How long does the Minister think it will be before that paramilitary action is replaced by the rule of law?

Mr. Ingram

It is not just down to those who administer the rule of law—the police, the Government or the criminal justice system—it is also down to the community to recognise the primacy of the rule of law and to co-operate with those schemes that have been defined and conform to the fundamental principles that I enunciated in an earlier answer. [Interruption.] I would hope that that could be achieved immediately, but we will continue to work to remove that unsatisfactory and unwelcome aspect of society in Northern Ireland.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I would be much obliged if conversations were a little less noisy. It is difficult for Back Benchers and Ministers to be heard. [Interruption.] Order. I am asking for conversations to be less noisy. I can hear what hon. Members are saying, but I want to hear what they say when they are on their feet.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

But does not the Minister think that the many victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland are unlikely to have much confidence in restorative justice when they see what they believe to be clear commitments in the Belfast agreement being altered? How can anybody have any confidence when weapons that were meant to be handed in and destroyed will now be made permanently inaccessible in secret arms dumps that will be known to the terrorists? No weapons will be handed in or destroyed, so they will still be accessible.

Mr. Ingram

Clearly the hon. Gentleman did not listen to the earlier reply given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We listened to the hon. Gentleman's question and he should have listened to the reply that was given on the point that he has raised. That issue is a matter for the independent commission under John de Chastelain to verify. It has to provide security on the decommissioning of weapons and we have placed our faith in it. I had understood that the hon. Gentleman's party had done so also.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

Does the Minister appreciate that many people in Northern Ireland feel that the principles of restorative justice would be more firmly founded if those officers of the RUC who issued death threats to Rosemary Nelson were prosecuted and if there was an international inquiry into her murder?

Mr. Ingram

I should have thought that it was much more important that the perpetrators of the crime were brought to justice and that support was given to those who are investigating that crime in order to bring those responsible for such a terrible deed before the courts. I understand the way in which my hon. Friend has framed his question, but he has gone slightly wider than the subject of restorative justice schemes. I am happy to discuss with him further the detail of our attempts to ensure that proper restorative justice schemes are applied in Northern Ireland.

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