HC Deb 28 April 1999 vol 330 cc191-2W
Mr. Dismore

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if she will make a statement on her Department's policy when(a) conducting legal proceedings and (b) seeking legal advice as to the circumstances in which Queen's Counsel should be instructed; and for each of the last three years (i) on how many occasions her Department instructed Queen's Counsel and (ii) what was the total cost of instructing Queen's Counsel. [81766]

The Attorney-General

I have been asked to reply.

I answer this question on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office because as Attorney-General for Northern Ireland I have statutory superintendence of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland and appoint the Crown Solicitor and Senior and Junior Crown Counsel in Northern Ireland. Senior Crown Counsel is a Queen's Counsel. Both Counsels are retained by the Crown to undertake work on behalf of the Government and Northern Ireland Departments.

In civil cases, in conducting Government work, the most important work would be undertaken by Senior Crown Counsel. In other cases where a Queen's Counsel is required and it is not possible to instruct Crown Counsel, either because of his workload or because of the need for specialist skills, a Queens Counsel is instructed from amongst the Bar of Northern Ireland.

The Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland nominates three counsels, one of whom is a Queen's Counsel, to whom he would first have recourse to prosecute the most serious of prosecutions. Thereafter, in any case requiring a Queen's Counsel he would instruct counsel from the Bar of Northern Ireland.

In determining whether a Queen's Counsel is to be instructed, the Crown Solicitor and the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland will consider the individual circumstances in each case. They will take into account, inter alia, the weight and complexity of the evidence and the degree of experience and expertise required before deciding whether Queen's Counsel should be instructed.

It should be understood that Northern Ireland is a separate jurisdiction with its own laws, courts and independent Bar. The role of counsel also differs from that of counsel in England and Wales: in particular, in criminal cases, in relation to the contact counsel in Northern Ireland has with witnesses and victims. The consideration given to the instruction of counsel by the Crown Solicitor and Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland will be made in the light of the particular circumstances of the separate jurisdiction of Northern Ireland.

Records are not maintained in a form which would enable the number of occasions on which the Crown Solicitor and the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland have instructed Queen's Counsel in the last three years, and the cost of doing so, to be given without incurring disproportionate cost.

The Compensation Agency for Northern Ireland and the Departmental Solicitor's Office will both, on occasions, instruct Queen's Counsel on the same basis as the Crown Solicitor and the Director of Public Prosecutions of Northern Ireland.

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