Clause 32 - Conduct of prosecutions

Part of Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:30 pm ar 5 Chwefror 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office) 12:30, 5 Chwefror 2002

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to clarify the position. The Government intend that the transition to an independent prosecution service will take place with or without devolution. It is our aspiration, hope and intention that the stability of the institutions of devolution in Northern Ireland will be such, post the 2003 general elections in Northern Ireland, that they will be able and will want to accept responsibility for the devolution of justice. In those circumstances, the Government will be a willing partner in the transfer of functions to the devolved institutions.

Whether the devolved institutions want the transfer or whether there is stability, the process of change to an independent prosecution system will proceed. The Government intend to achieve the objectives of the review in that regard. For the reasons that the hon. Member for Reigate so ably set out—they were encapsulated in his short speech, but were set out in full in the Glidewell report—the Government are conscious of the dangers of a big-bang approach. A significant number of the problems experienced in England and Wales were due to the fact that the transfer took place when the system was not ready for it.

We have come to the conclusion, advised by Glidewell, that a big-bang approach would be a mistake, as would an over-hasty roll-out of the provisions. We intend to learn the lessons that have been pointed out to the Committee by various hon. Members, and implement the provisions at an appropriate pace to ensure not only that they work in practice, but that the system of prosecution retains the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland, especially those with whom we charge the responsibility of investigating crime.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to the way in which the police presently deal with matters. The review does not criticise police handling of cases, and nor do the Government. The issue is not the present handling, but whether the present structure of prosecutions in Northern Ireland is appropriate to a modern criminal justice system. To bring Northern Ireland into line with England and Wales, and for that matter Scotland, through an independent prosecution service is now universally agreed to be appropriate to a modern criminal justice system.