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 hear what the hon. Lady says, and she makes an ingenious argument. However, the reference to the Police Service of Northern Ireland in the definition of a police force is entirely appropriate and correct. If the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) was asking whether further legislation would be required to establish a new body of constables within the terms of that definition, the answer is that legislation clearly would be required.

We may return to some of those issues, but I should move on. I am grateful for the contributions from the hon. Member for Reigate and the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, because the clause goes to heart of the work of new Public Prosecution Service, and it would have been inappropriate to pass over it without debate, even though no one has sought to amend it.

The clause will require the service to conduct all prosecutions that are instituted on behalf of any police force for summary and indictable offences in Northern Ireland. As the hon. Member for Reigate noted, the police presently carry out the majority of prosecutions

in Northern Ireland, and the most up-to-date figure for police prosecutions is 30,000. The hon. Gentleman referred to the proportion of cases handled by the different bodies, but the burden that the new Director of Public Prosecutions will have to carry is about right. Police prosecutions involve exclusively summary cases, which are tried in the magistrates court, while the department of the Director of Public Prosecutions prosecutes only indictable cases and a limited number of summary cases.

To accommodate the definitions in clause 44 of when proceedings are considered to have begun, the clause will require the Public Prosecution Service to take over proceedings that are instituted by the police. It is important to note that, in all cases, the PPS will determine whether to institute proceedings and what charge to put to the court. The clause also requires the DPP to give police forces advice, which will, of course, be limited to prosecutorial matters.

The hon. Member for Reigate raised some important points, and his contribution neatly encapsulated the reason why we cannot give him the firm date that he seeks. A significant amount must be done to facilitate the transition from the present position to that set out in the Bill. The expansion of the Public Prosecution Service and the transfer to it of police prosecutions can start before devolution and will be well advanced by 2003.