HL Deb 27 October 2000 vol 618 cc644-5

1.36 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 26th July be approved [28th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton. The order was laid before the House on 26th July, having been made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland under the urgency procedure on 25th July.

The order amends Section 10(7) of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. The Act makes clear that the Secretary of State must apply to revoke a prisoner's declaration of eligibility for release if he believes that a prisoner no longer qualifies for early release because of a change in a prisoner's circumstances or the availability of evidence or information which was not previously available to the sentence review commissioners. This order amends the Act in such a way as to halt a prisoner's release while the commissioners are considering the Secretary of State's application to revoke the eligibility for early release.

The need for the amendment arose when the circumstances surrounding two prisoners who had successfully applied for early release suddenly changed in such a way as to lead the Secretary of State to question their eligibility for release. Arising out of an incident which occurred while the two prisoners were on a period of pre-release home leave on 5th July, they were charged with attempted murder. That charge is pending before the courts and it would be inappropriate for me to say any more about it, save that the Secretary of State received information from the Royal Ulster Constabulary which led him to believe that these two life sentence prisoners were no longer entitled to benefit from the provisions of the Act. It was therefore necessary for him to apply to the sentence review commissioners to have their declarations of eligibility for early release revoked.

However, they had been eligible for early release along with the bulk of releases on 28th July of this year and without this amendment they would have had a right to be released on that day. Clearly that was an inappropriate result, since they were both charged with attempted murder.

The decision to use the urgency procedure for bringing subordinate legislation into force is never taken lightly. But in this case it was necessary. If the urgency procedure had not been used there was a risk that these two prisoners, who had been charged with attempted murder and were judged to pose a danger to the public, could have been released. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 26th July be approved [28th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.