HL Deb 13 May 1980 vol 409 cc193-200

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move, that the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, a draft of which was laid before the House on 31st March, be approved. This is a lengthy and detailed Order which will make a number of changes in the law which are aimed at improving the day to day administration of justice in Northern Ireland. A large proportion of the provisions follow closely provisions which have already been enacted for England and Wales.

For example, Articles 3 to 5, which amend and consolidate the powers of courts to order payment of compensation by offenders to victims of crime, follow closely corresponding provisions in the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973. Article 6 amends the provision of the Theft Act (Northern Ireland) 1969, which relate to the making of restitution orders in relation to stolen property. This provision is modelled on Section 6 of the Criminal Justice Act 1972.

Article 7 strengthens the power of the court by enabling it to deprive an offender of his rights in property used for the purposes of crime in certain cases. Article 8 extends the court's powers to deal with the criminal by enabling it to disqualify from driving anyone who is convicted of an offence carrying a penalty of two years or more in which a motor vehicle was used. Both these provisions have equivalents in the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973.

Part I of Schedule 1 makes a series of amendments to the Magistrates' Courts Act (Northern Ireland) 1964, and Part II contains amendments to a number of other enactments. Many of these are minor or technical and most have English equivalents. This measure has, of course, been through the normal consultative procedures. Your Lordships may wish to know that during the consultative period reservations were expressed on two items and that these were in consequence withdrawn from the order. The first was an amendment to the Magistrates' Courts Act which would have enabled a near relative to enter a plea on behalf of the accused; the second was an amendment to the 1968 Children and Young Persons Act enabling a magistrates court dealing with a juvenile jointly charged with an adult to sentence the juvenile rather than remit him to a juvenile court. Neither of these proposals is now incorporated in this draft order.

As I said earlier, this is a detailed order containing a wide variety of provisions whose general aim is to streamline the administration of justice and to strengthen the courts in dealing with offenders in Northern Ireland. I do not think it would serve the interest of the House if I was to recite all of its minor provisions. As it was tabled at the end of March, your Lordships have had an opportunity to consider it at some length, and I think it would, therefore, be for the greater convenience of the House if I restrict myself to the general introduction I have given and devote any further available time that may be needed to replying to those points which your Lordships may wish to draw to our special attention. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 31st March be approved.—(Lord Elton.)


My Lords, may I express thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for his explanation of this draft order. As the Minister has indicated, the order is a more helpful revised draft of an earlier draft proposal. I warmly welcome the provisions contained in the order, which I believe have the general support of the Incorporated Law Society of Northern Ireland and other interested bodies. As the noble Lord has indicated, the order makes for a number of improvements in the administration of criminal justice in Northern Ireland and brings in changes to correspond with those recently made for England and Wales.

I wish to mention two matters only: first, specially to welcome Articles 3, 4 and 5 of the order, which facilitate making compensation available to victims of crime and bring Northern Ireland broadly in line with the position in Great Britain. The second point arises in Schedule 1, Part II, paragraph 36, on page 14 of the Order, dealing with the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) 1959. As I understand it, the present law makes it mandatory that an inquest be held by the coroner in whose jurisdiction the death occurs. The order amends Section 13 of the 1959 Act to enable a coroner to hold a single inquest on a number of deaths arising from circumstances, or an accident, provided he obtains the consent of any other coroner in whose district any of the deaths occurred. I believe this proposal in the order to be reasonable and helpful and it meets today's criminal justice requirements.

I should like to ask the noble Lord whether there are any reasons to prevent a similar arrangement in the case of a single death? What I have in mind is the removal of a critically ill patient from a more remote part of the Province to a hospital in Belfast, and the patient subsequently dies in the district of another coroner. Witnesses and relations may have to travel considerable distances to attend the inquest. It would appear to me that, in such circumstances and with the agreement of both coroners, the inquest could be held in the most convenient jurisdiction. I believe that this arrangement, while it may not be feasible to have it incorporated into the order, ought to be taken into consideration and I would request the Minister perhaps to give it attention if not in relation to this order on some subsequent occasion. I have pleasure in supporting the order.


My Lords, I should like to begin by welcoming the order as a whole and by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for his explanation. However, I should like to raise a few points on the order. The first concerns the control of the courts as a whole in Northern Ireland. Under the Judicature (Northern Ireland) Act which was passed last year, the complete administration of the courts was handed to the Lord Chancellor's Office. However, under Article 11 we find that the Secretary of State is mentioned in regard to fees for medical practitioners.

I believe that the Government must make it absolutely clear—dare I use the word "disinfected"?—that the courts of Northern Ireland should be disinfected from the political office of the Northern Ireland Office, which is necessarily involved in politics and, therefore, I believe that it is a mistake if, in a measure concerning the judicature, there is some part of it which relates to the Northern Ireland Office. I believe most seriously that this was a great move on the part of the last Government in centring the control of the whole judicature in the Lord Chancellor's Office. It makes it infinitely more difficult for the terrorist at a future date to discredit the courts. Had that not been done I believe that there are courts today which would not necessarily have such a high standing as they have at present.

I turn next to Article 10. Having been in politics solidly for a long time and having been elected for a long time—and I have withstood charges of discrimination of a fairly serious nature and, I might say, I have denied them—I believe that we have in this article a very serious charge of discrimination. Paragraph (1) makes it an offence to be drunk and incapable and that is, I believe, fair enough. But paragraph (2) makes it an offence to be drunk in charge of a horse or cattle. What about the sheep? Indeed, I would go further. Today, I travelled down by car and when I was on the West Derby Road, which is a dual carriageway, the traffic was stopped and a most delightful duck and her family of about 10 ducklings crossed the road. We stopped the traffic and the duck got up onto the verge. Two of her ducklings simply could not get over the verge. So I stopped and helped the ducklings up. It was 7 o'clock in the morning. What would have been the state of those poor ducklings if they had been unprotected by the law and there had been a drunkard helping them?

Further—and I think that there is a case to answer—some noble Lords may not know that in Northern Ireland we have an organisation called the Loyal Orange Lodge. At this time there is a considerable increase in the number of members being enrolled. One of the parts—in theory—of that enrolment is a ride on the goat. That goat is not being protected by this particular piece of legislation. So, nothing has demonstrated to me more than this, the remoteness of the Northern Ireland Office from the Northern Ireland people. I should like the Northern Ireland Office—indeed, the Minister—to explain those omissions.


My Lords, I had my attention drawn by the noble Lord who has just sat down to paragraph (2) of Article 10 of the order, and it quite horrifies me. One has the idea that some of these new suggestions are perhaps tried out first in Northern Ireland before possibly being brought across to this country. Although, as far as I know, I have never been in the situation which paragraph (2) might put me, there are, I should say, quite a number of my friends who possibly have been and who are possibly likely to be in the future. I am thinking of those who perhaps go to a meet of hounds at the local inn and then try to mount their horses a little later than they should have done. To find that they might be guilty of an offence and may not only be fined up to £20, but possibly imprisoned for two months, is rather shattering. Moreover, under paragraph (4), one sees that a constable might arrest them without any warrant if he considered that there was reasonable cause to suspect that such a person was in the act of committing such an offence. As I have said, it quite horrifies me.


My Lords, I am grateful first to the noble Lord, Lord Blease, for his welcome to the order and particularly for his welcome to Articles 3, 4 and 5. He was kind enough to give me notice of the instance which he wished to draw to your Lordships' attention concerning the question of transferability of an inquest. I understand that, if a Londonderry man has an accident and dies in Belfast, difficulties may arise. I agree that, in those circumstances, an inquest at a distance from the deceased's home may be inconvenient for relatives. On the other hand, it may be more convenient for witnesses and of course in complicated cases the witnesses may be numerous and that may be rightly taken as the prevailing consideration. However, as this is a matter which now falls within the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor, I shall ask him to look at the point.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brooke-borough, then brought to my notice his disquiet, at a variety of levels, with Article 11. Section 117 and Schedule 5 to the Judicature (Northern Ireland) Act 1978 had the undesired effect of transferring all ministerial and administrative responsibility for registered medical practitioners employed in connection with coroners' inquests to the Lord Chancellor. This was contrary to the stated objective of Government policy, as stated by the Solicitor-General in the debate on the Report stage of the Judicature (Northern Ireland) Bill in another place on 9th June 1978, to the effect that: It is not intended that the work of other persons, such as pathologists, should become the responsibility of the new court service ". The object of this article is to restore the position broadly to that which existed prior to the commencement of the Judicature (Northern Ireland) Act 1978 and to transfer the functions of pathologists back to the Secretary of State. I recognise that that is not an answer which my noble friend will find entirely satisfactory, and I shall ensure that my nobleand learned friend has his disquiet drawn to his attention.

My noble friend then drew your Lordships' attention to a serious matter of discrimination. I have to agree that there is no offence such as being drunk in charge of either sheep or ducks. However, under the Summary Jurisdiction (Ireland) Act 1851, it is an offence to allow a beast to wander on the highway. Whether or not a duck is a beast within the meaning of the Act, I do not know but, if a person allows a flock of sheep to wander on to the highway, he may be guilty of an offence under Section 10 of the 1851 Act. On the other hand, if the noble Lord is inclined to exercise his Muscovy ducks on the public highway, even if he is sober, it behoves him to keep them under control, otherwise it will be for the court to decide, not whether he is sober—which I am certain he always is, and my friends and his continually assure me on this subject when I have doubts—but whether or not a duck is a beast, which is very much more a matter of conjecture. I can, of course, understand the alarm of the ducks he spoke of opposite the Orange Lodge because of the connotation which "orange" has for ducks, which is different from that for the rest of us in the Province.

The noble Lord, Lord Spens, then drew my attention and that of your Lordships to Article 10 (2). I have to tell him that we have here merely a restatement of existing law. The friends to whom he refers mounting their horses, as he put it, a little later than they should have done may, of course, constitute a hazard unless it is so late that the horses have left, in which case the law will have to take no steps of remedial action. A horse can be a very dangerous animal in traffic and, on a serious note, I think that it is an irresponsible act for anybody to go from an open meet in a state in which he cannot control his mount on the road, let alone in the hunting field, where he can do equal execution among the mounted traffic.

I think that that deals with all the points that your Lordships brought to the attention of the House. I am grateful for the support that we have had and that we have been able to deal with this order as we have done.