HC Deb 09 July 2002 vol 388 cc733-4
27. Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart)

How many devolution issues she has dealt with in the last month. [65324]

28. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

What devolution issues have been raised with her since 11 June under the Scotland Act 1998. [65325]

29. John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland)

How many devolution issues she has been involved in, in the last month. [65326]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark)

In the past month, 23 devolution issue cases have been intimated to me. All but two concerned article 6 of the European convention on human rights, which protects the right to a fair trial. The remaining two cases concerned, respectively, the right to education and a question of European Community law.

Mr. Harris

Following the recent legal action by the Scottish Countryside Alliance to prevent the abolition of fox hunting in Scotland, does my hon. and learned Friend believe that it is an appropriate use of her time and of public money to defend in court legislation produced by the Scottish Parliament? Does she agree that the fox hunting lobby in Scotland is using the Scottish legal system to play politics?

The Advocate-General

The case to which my hon. Friend refers is an important one, but it is at first instance—before a single judge. I have told the House on several occasions that my policy is usually not to intervene except in the higher courts, especially the Privy Council, where significant issues of principle may be decided. I intervene in the UK interest after consultation with UK Departments to ensure that their interests are taken into account.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Any citizen or pressure group can challenge actions in the courts; that is why we have a democracy and courts. However, that does not mean that I, as Advocate-General, have to deal with those challenges. There are other interested parties, such as those who passed the legislation.

Miss McIntosh

Will the Advocate-General explain how she and the Lord Advocate came to give conflicting advice in the recent human rights and hunting case? Do they ever have occasion to meet, so that they give harmonious advice in future?

The Advocate-General

Of course we meet and we sometimes discuss the legal issues involved. One reason why we have an Advocate-General as a separate Law Officer at UK level is so that he or she can consider interests that may not have been raised by other parties. As the Scottish Parliament is being challenged by the pressure group that was mentioned earlier over the introduction of unacceptable legislation, it is not inappropriate that an interested party—me—should raise in court the issue of whether the body representing the interests of the Scottish Parliament could be heard as a party. One of my roles is to make points that other parties have not considered to obtain clarification of the law.

John Robertson

If the Advocate-General intervened in all devolution cases, what would the costs be to the taxpayer? Does my hon. and learned Friend think that that would be a waste of public money?

The Advocate-General

It will not take hon. Members long to work out that 1,500 cases multiplied by lawyers' days in court is a great deal of public money. I agree that that is not a good use of public money, bearing in mind the fact that many of the cases are heard in the lower criminal courts where, even if I succeeded in resolving the issue successfully, there would be no likelihood of obtaining awards to cover expenses. There are therefore many circumstances in which I would not regard it as appropriate to intervene in the first instance, but as I have repeatedly said, I look at each individual case as it comes to me. I also look at cases as they proceed through the courts and up to the Privy Council, if that is where they go.