Clause 33 - Discontinuance of proceedings before court appearance

Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am ar 5 Chwefror 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Amendment moved [this day]: No. 176, in page 20, line 7, at end insert—

'(c) the victim or victims of the offence, or in event of their being deceased or mentally incapacitated, their next of kin'.—[Mr. Blunt.]

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Llafur, Burnley 4:30, 5 Chwefror 2002

I remind the Committee that with this we are considering the following: Amendment No. 177, in page 20, line 8, at end insert—

'(2A) Where proceedings against a person in relation to an offence are discontinued under subsection (1), the Director must give reasons for the discontinuance of proceedings to those persons listed under subsection (2), unless in the Director's judgement to do so would be against the interest of justice or the public interest.'.

New clause 2— Provision of reasons not to institute or continue proceedings—

'(1) Where the Director decides not to institute proceedings against a person or discontinues such proceedings he shall provide the Attorney General with reasons for his decision.

(2) The Attorney General shall, if requested by a person properly connected to the matter, provide a copy of those reasons to that person unless to do so would be against the interests of justice or the public interest.'.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Pike, and extend a welcome to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik).

Before lunch, the Minister intervened in my speech to emphasise just how limited the amendment was.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Sir Drefaldwyn

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his concern and for his evident delight at my return, but such is my confidence in my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) that I have only popped into the Committee to check up on things.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

In previous sittings, it has usually been the Minister who has been speaking when we have adjourned for lunch. On one occasion during consideration of a previous Bill, he was able to go and consult his notes on the issue of national insurance numbers and find some arguments that he did not have in the morning. I am glad to say that, on that issue, the Government are now acceding to the wish of the majority of the parties represented on that Committee.

Having had a chance to go and consider the substance of the Minister's intervention before lunch, I have reinforced my conviction that amendments Nos. 176 and 177 should be accepted. They place a duty on

the prosecution to disclose the discontinuance of proceedings when the prosecution has responsibility for handling a case and when the Director of Public Prosecutions has the ability to discontinue proceedings without the victim being aware of it. Of course, once the proceedings have gone to court, they have, in a sense, become public. Therefore amendments Nos. 176 and 177 deal with the situation in which the victim has no capacity to know what is happening and place a duty on the prosecutor to tell the victim.

I also took the opportunity to look at new clause 2, tabled by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), which I will press to a vote if he does not. The new clause covers the wider position when the responsibility shifts from the police to the prosecutor to the court, at which point a judge could direct that proceedings be discontinued.

My amendments address the situation where the prosecutor is firmly in the lead and the victim would otherwise be unable to get a handle on the process or understand what is happening. New clause 2 would put a duty on the prosecutor to provide information when someone requests it. In circumstances where a victim has no direct involvement in the process before a case goes to court, it is reasonable to place a duty on the prosecutor to give the victim the information, but once the case has gone to court and gone public, it is reasonable for it to be up to those with a necessary interest to request that information from the prosecutor.

Amendments Nos. 176 and 177 and new clause 2 stand together as a group and should all be supported by the Committee so that such a duty will be placed on the prosecutor. I want to draw to the Committee's attention the whole background to the issue. If Committee members look at chapter 13 of the review, as well as chapter 4, which deals with the specific requirements on the prosecution, they will see that the entire shape of the debate about the rights of the victim is moving in the direction of giving victims information. The presumption in the review is that victims should get the information that the amendment would make it a duty on the prosecutor to provide. The amendments would provide an opportunity for the House to place a duty on the prosecutor to provide victims of crime with information about the discontinuance of proceedings. New clause 2 provides the opportunity for those who request that information

''if requested by a person properly connected to the matter''.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Ceidwadwyr, Harborough

In order fully to understand my hon. Friend's proposal, can we assume that, under amendment No. 177, the reasons given by the director for discontinuing and the director's judgment are matters that can be tested in court?

New clause 2(2) states:

''The Attorney-General shall, if requested . . . provide a copy of those reasons to that person unless to do so would be against the interests of justice or the public interest.''

Can we also assume that the Attorney-General—or someone, at least—would have to set out why to continue a prosecution would be against the interests of justice or the public interest, which would also be justiciable?

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

That would be my assumption. As I said earlier, the process must be justiciable and subject to judicial review. That would address the concern that high-profile prosecutions, such as those against the security forces in Northern Ireland, simply do not happen.

Finally, I draw the Committee's attention to paragraph 13.47 of the review, which states:

''We recommend that wherever possible victims should be informed and consulted about the development of their cases. But when and how to consult them, particularly those who are witnesses, must be a matter for the professional judgement of the prosecutor.''

Nothing in the amendments that I have tabled violates the question of judgment that it is proposed is given to the prosecutor, who may make a proper judgment about the

''interest of justice or the public interest''.

The amendments capture entirely the tenor of the review and the wider debate about the involvement of victims of justice, and would give victims the information that they deserve at the beginning of the prosecutorial process, especially when it has been decided that prosecutions are not going to happen. The amendments are also consistent with other parts of the Bill that we shall discuss, including those relating to youth justice and information about the release of sentenced prisoners. They would make the Bill consistent and place victims at the forefront throughout the criminal justice process.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Sir Drefaldwyn

I would prefer to speak after the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh in order to hear his views, but I shall put my question in the hope that he will address it in his comments.

Although I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Reigate said about the importance of including victims' needs explicitly in legislation, I think that there is one difference of substance between amendments Nos. 176 and 177 and new clause 2. My interpretation is that there is conditionality in new clause 2, in the sense that the Attorney-General should inform persons connected with the case about why it was dropped only if they requested that information, and so long as it would not be against the interests of justice or the public interest. The Liberal Democrats believe that that condition makes sense and does not contradict the intention expressed by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt). I hope that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh will clarify first whether our understanding is correct and, secondly, what he considers to be the relation between amendments Nos. 176 and 177 and new clause 2.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh

I shall try to address the point raised by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire. It is an attempt to adhere to recommendation 49, paragraph 4.167 of the review, which states that

''where information is sought by someone with a proper and legitimate interest in a case on why there was no prosecution, or on why a prosecution has been abandoned, the prosecutor should seek to give as full an explanation as is possible without prejudicing the interests of justice or the public interest.''

The review says that the information should be sought, but that does not necessarily mean that that is the only way in which to handle the matter. The hon. Member for Reigate argued that it should not wait to be sought, but should be dealt with without being sought. That is the reason for the wording in the new clause.

In general, I would be at ease with the two amendments of the hon. Member for Reigate. I have a little problem in that they apply to two types of case, in one of which the victim, an individual, has not had redress or satisfaction. Even in an individual case, there could be an issue of public interest and the interests of justice. Under the Bill, that is the responsibility of the Attorney-General, who should present a report to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, acting jointly. They are to present the report to the Assembly. I included the Attorney-General in the new clause to cover such circumstances. If it were left with the Director of Public Prosecutions alone, not using the Attorney-General as a conduit, there might be difficulties. I await the Minister's comments, but I believe that the provision would give people the right to a response that would set out the reasons for the DPP's decisions in as much detail as the DPP considered to be appropriate.

The review group considered, in paragraph 4.164, that

''Giving reasons for decisions to the public or interested stakeholders such as victims or the relative of victims is the most direct form of accountability in the explanatory sense.''

That type of accountability is at the heart of the amendments and the new clause. There is a further dimension in that public confidence in the prosecution service would be greatly enhanced if people could understand the reasons behind a decision not to prosecute. That would be particularly so in Northern Ireland. The overall effect would be in the best interests of justice.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am delighted to see you back with us this afternoon, Mr. Pike.

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's compassion about contacting victims' next of kin, but will he discuss the increased burden of administration on the prosecution service, as well as the increased financial burden on it?

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh 4:45, 5 Chwefror 2002

There probably will be such burdens, but I ask the hon. Lady and others to try to assess the damage done when there has been no explanation. Let me give the example of the murder of Pat Finucane. Despite nearly 15 years of investigation, no one is yet any the wiser. The same applies to the case of Robert

Hamill, who was kicked to death in Portadown. Before hon. Members rise to speak, I should say that there are many other cases.

Inestimable damage has been done to the process of justice as a result of the failure to satisfy the public as to why prosecutions have not taken place. When that is weighed against an increase in cost or the administrative burden, I have no doubt where the balance lies. It lies in favour of an accountable system that is as transparent as possible and consistent with the interests of justice and of the public, and that above all makes the victim the priority. That would be utterly valuable. The hon. Member for Reigate spoke earlier of a personal incident.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Ceidwadwyr, Harborough

I do not know the answer to two questions, so I shall ask them. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) is a tremendous adornment to our Committee; I am pleased that she can contribute so wisely to our deliberations.

Have the two cases to which the hon. Gentleman referred—Finucane and Hamill—not led to prosecutions because the investigations, no matter how long they have been going on, are continuing, or because a positive decision not to institute proceedings has been taken? If the former, they provide us with two examples that would fall outside his new clause.

That will do for the moment. I shall wait until the hon. Lady prompts me again.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for the question, but I am not sure that I know the answer. The Minister will be aware that circumstances prevented a prosecution from taking place in the Hamill case. Has information on that been made available to inform the philosophy behind the amendments? I suggest not.

When the negotiations on the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill were concluding, those two cases and others had to be dealt with outside the legal process. That was the only means used to try to deal with them. It is better for the DPP, Attorney-General and the judicial process to deal with such matters openly and transparently. If they have to be dealt with in political negotiations, that may involve judicial figures, but not judges, the DPP and the Attorney-General.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Ceidwadwyr, Harborough

The second question that I want to ask is what category of person does the hon. Gentleman contemplate being persons

''properly connected to the matter''?

Does he mean only the immediate family of the victim—or the victim himself in non-fatal cases? Or does he mean that victim interest groups may also have some standing in the matter? It is quite important, because the courts can sometimes get clogged up with cases that are brought in order to make a political point rather than to find out something that an individual or family needs to understand.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh

Over a considerable number of years, I have not noticed the courts being clogged for that reason. I think primarily of the victims and their families, but also of the wider interest that will provide

the context within which the Bill will work to the optimum. Of course, there will be victims' groupings—there is no scarcity of them—but there will not be any if the cases surrounding victims are dealt with transparently, openly and accountably. That is the surest way to ensure that there are no victims' groupings. I hope that that will put into context what I intend by the new clause.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

I agree with my hon. Friend's response to the intervention of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). It has been far too common for economic considerations to preponderate over the rights of victims, and I welcome his attempt to redress the balance.

Would my hon. Friend address the point that I made initially to the hon. Member for Reigate? Clearly, a prosecution could be withdrawn if publication of the reasons for withdrawal—such as the intimidation of witnesses—would compromise the safety or welfare of innocent persons. Would my hon. Friend not agree that under such circumstances his new clause goes a little too far?

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh

I thank my hon. Friend. He suggests that the new clause might go too far, yet the hon. Member for Reigate said that it did not go far enough. I think that they are both right in a certain contradictory sense. The reality is that when a witness to a crime is threatened with violence, it is often the crime's victim and the victim's family who suffer—along with the whole process of justice. It is conceivable that there will be such cases in future, but that pattern has not developed over the past 30 years, and I do not see it developing now.

Like the hon. Member for Reigate, I believe that we have the opportunity to address this serious concern in a way that would both strengthen the institutions of the state and build public confidence by ensuring that the justice system is transparent and accountable, and that there is a presumption of innocence. I seek support for new clause 2 and for the two amendments. I believe that they have a lot in common.

I was talking about the Bill to some friends at Munster. Sometimes we get too bogged down in the details. The real question is whether it will be possible to create a workable system of justice that will be supported by the people of Northern Ireland and give the quality of justice that we seek. If we ask that question, I have no doubt that the provisions are a large step on the way to gaining public confidence in that aspect of the Bill.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

I am grateful to hon. Members for tabling the amendments and the new clause. It has given the Committee the opportunity to consider some very serious issues. I will treat them seriously, but if the Committee will bear with me for a few moments, I should also like to recount an anecdote. The hon. Member for Reigate told us about the villains who stole his good name, or rather something with his good name on it, and that reminded me of a young man charged with theft, whom I defended when I was a young solicitor. He was not the brightest individual. He stole an expensive pen and did what all of us do

when we get hold of an expensive pen—he tested it. Unfortunately, he wrote his name on the desk blotter before he took off.

Amendments Nos. 176 and 177 are designed to require the prosecution service to give the court, the accused and the victim of the offence the reasons for the withdrawal of charges. I intervened on the hon. Member for Reigate to point out the context of the clause 33. I understand, on reflection, that despite what I said the hon. Gentleman still considers that the amendment is effective. It is important, however, to understand that the clause would operate in a comparatively small number of cases—arguably in only a tiny number—in which a person had been arrested under the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 and the prosecutor wished to withdraw the charges prior to the first remand.

The provisions concern the discontinuance of proceedings before the court appearance. In many cases, though not all, the withdrawal of the charge will not be the final decision on the case. In fact, the withdrawal of the charge may be designed to allow further preparation and necessary investigation, or consideration of the appropriate charge and marshalling of the evidence.

The withdrawal of the charge is likely to mean only that the prosecutor does not wish to pursue the matter at that point. That is why subsection (4) retains the option of prosecuting at a later date. The giving of reasons required by the amendment would be particularly inappropriate, because in the majority of cases the prosecutor, in deciding to withdraw, would be saying only that he had not yet made a decision about whether to prosecute the case.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

Plainly, in those circumstances, the victim of the offence has a right to know that proceedings have been stayed. The Minister has made a perfect case for the prosecutor exercising his judgment about the interests of justice. It would clearly not be in the interests of justice to explain the reasons for withdrawal in such cases. That makes the case for the amendment.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

With respect, that is an ingenious argument. The hon. Gentleman cannot think of any circumstances in which reasons could be given. The amendment requires reasons but says that they do not need to be given in certain cases.

The clause is not designed to provide for the giving of information. It is designed to address the administrative requirements and consequences of the decision made by the prosecutor. It is designed to ensure that the accused, who must be told certain information, does not have to appear before the court and that the court does not schedule a hearing when the charge has been withdrawn. The purpose of the clause is not to require the information behind decisions to be given out. Arrangements for informing those involved in the case will be dealt with in the code

of practice of the prosecution service. Clearly, various people will need to be told certain things but the code of practice will deal with that.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 5:00, 5 Chwefror 2002

The Minister seems to be asking the Committee to accept that there should be a duty on the prosecutor to inform the person who is required to appear in connection with the offence—the defendant— but no duty to inform the victim that the proceedings have been discontinued. That is grotesque. I am sure that, with a moment's reflection, the Minister would agree that the victim should have that information.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

New clause 2 would impose a more general duty on the prosecution service to give reasons. In each case where a prosecution has not been instituted or has been halted, the new clause would require a copy of the reasons for that decision to be passed to the Attorney-General, who could make those reasons available on request to any person who had a valid interest in the case.

Paragraph 4.167 of the review deals with the issue raised by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier). It states:

''We suggest that those regarded as having a legitimate interest in a case be confined for the most part to victims and their families.''

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Ceidwadwyr, Harborough

I want to return to the Minister's point about the code under clause 38. Without wishing to undermine the thrust of my hon. Friend's argument about the pressing need for victims to be taken into account in the prosecution process and the administration of justice, I accept the Minister's suggestion that the code is a more appropriate place to set out in writing provisions dealing with those concerns. However, will the Minister say whether at least a draft code will be ready for consideration by Parliament before the Bill completes its passage through both Houses? Obviously, the Minister and his team have been thinking about the Bill for some time because they have considered the review and the reply to it, so I dare say that they might have some idea about the contents of the code, especially relating to information to be given to victims by the Public Prosecution Service.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

This is a detailed provision, which will have wide-ranging effects. It has caused significant additional work for officials in the Northern Ireland Office and for the DPP. I know that work on several aspects of the code is continuing, but, unfortunately, I do not know the position off the top of my head. I undertake to write to the hon. and learned Member about that.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Ceidwadwyr, Harborough

Given that we are having a brief exchange about the code now, it might be encouraging if the Minister would undertake to consider the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate in support of his amendments.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

I have no difficulty in giving such an undertaking. Those issues will exercise the mind of the director responsible for drawing up the code. That is why I referred to it in the context of my response to the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Reigate. I cannot say when the code will be available in draft or any other form—it is not my direct responsibility to produce it—but I can say that the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised will be considered by the director who would, I am certain, have done so in any event.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Ceidwadwyr, Harborough

I do not know what plans my hon. Friends on the Front Bench have for the amendment. However, if needs be I shall encourage the Committee to divide in order to keep the Minister up to the mark so that, when he looks back on this day, he will be encouraged to do what he ought to do.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that he does not need to divide the Committee to keep me up to the mark; I have a track record. Although I have not been a Minister for long, I have not failed in my duty when it comes to giving undertakings. However, if he feels that he must do that, it is a matter for him.

I was dealing with new clause 2 and had set out what I understood to be its import. The debate has made it clear that the issue of giving reasons for non-prosecution is complex, and that is borne out by the number of occasions on which it is dealt with by the review. Accordingly, Government policy in that area has been set out in detail in the criminal justice review implementation plan. The Government's position is that the interests of the victim must be balanced against other interests, such as those of the witnesses, and concerns such as damage to the reputation of or other injustice to an individual, the danger of infringing on the presumption of innocence and the risk of jeopardising the safety of individuals. Committee members will understand that the latter is particularly pressing in certain cases in Northern Ireland.

In each individual case in which reasons are requested, the prosecution service must come to a view as to whether it is possible to give reasons for non-prosecution. Where a proper balance can be struck between the concerns that I have outlined, the Director of Public Prosecutions will endeavour to answer a request for reasons for non-prosecution. The position is broadly similar to that in England and Wales and in the Republic of Ireland—in fact, I think that it is identical to that in the Republic. The review group acknowledged the importance of coming to such a balanced judgment. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh for pointing out the respective provisions and to the hon. Member for Reigate for rehearsing them.

Recommendation 238 of the review acknowledges that consultation with victims should be

''a matter for the professional judgement of the prosecutor''.

The Government agree with that. However, notwithstanding the view of the hon. Member for Reigate, the amendments remove the scope for the

prosecutor to apply his professional judgment in such cases, and they are unnecessarily restrictive. More importantly, the full consequences could be regarded as contradictory to some other important aspects of the review. For example, new clause 2 would give the Attorney-General an operational role in the prosecution of offences.

I accept that neither the hon. Member for Reigate nor my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh will go to the death on the exact wording, and that they argue the principle. However, that operational role would contravene and undermine the relationship of oversight that the review envisaged.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh

In relation to the interests of justice and the public interest, do not the role and function lie with the Attorney-General anyway? Is not the responsibility his? If so, how is that to be viewed as an operational involvement in every circumstance?

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. A distinction must be understood. The prosecutor must decide whether prosecution will lead to conviction, which involves an assessment of the sufficiency of credible and reliable evidence. Then there must be an assessment of the public interest in relation to an individual case, and a general assertion that a law officer has responsibilities and accountabilities in the public interest or the interests of justice.

The Government believe that the decision in relation to public policy and sufficiency of evidence is for an independent prosecutor. To superimpose a role on the Attorney-General would involve him directly in the issues and the transfer of information in certain circumstances. It is an operational role for the Attorney-General to decide whether it is appropriate to transfer information in the context of individual cases. Doing so would not be to exercise a general public policy role or a general role that the Attorney-General may have in relation to his accountability to the Assembly.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, but does he agree that a general duty on the Attorney-General or the DPP to have due regard to such matters could be included in the Bill? It could be made explicit rather than implicit.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

I accept my hon. Friend's point, which covers the important principle of the argument in which we have all engaged. By reference to the Government's position, which has been in the public domain since the implementation plan was drafted, I have sought to show that there could be another amendment in a different context, perhaps with other arguments deployed for or against, but I am trying to tackle the new clause.

My final point is comparatively short. The amendment covers only one aspect of interest to victims, which is the giving of reasons. When we consider later provisions, we shall have an opportunity to consider other steps that have been taken, to which we have already alluded, that set a general context for improving the position of victims in the context of the

criminal justice system. However, I regret to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh and to the hon. Member for Reigate that, in the current context, and bearing in mind that there is that general context in the Bill, I am unable to accept the amendments.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 5:15, 5 Chwefror 2002

I am distressed by the Minister's rejection of the amendments, because they provide an opportunity to advance victims' rights in a particular respect. I fully accept that, in other respects, the Bill does exactly that—especially in relation to youth justice and the passage of information about the release of prisoners. However, it seems extraordinary that the Government are prepared to resist a general tendency at a stage in the process that is most invisible to victims, when the prosecutor is assembling the case and the case simply disappears beyond the victim's purview. The victim has gone to the police and made a complaint and, almost certainly, a witness statement, and will be expecting something to happen. The victim will know that someone is being questioned and on the receiving end of the police and prosecution authorities for the offence, but he, or she, has no rights to that information under the Bill.

We are not asking the Government to do something completely new. The Minister said that such a proposal would make the situation analogous to that of the Irish Republic, but the review states:

''We note that in the United States District Attorneys tend to be very open in explaining their approach in cases of major public concern, perhaps in part because of their elected status. The experience in Germany and the Netherlands has also shown that it is possible to formulate a system of giving reasons without prejudicing the cause of justice.''

We would not prejudice the causes of justice or public interest, as they are the tests in my amendments and the new clause.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Sir Drefaldwyn

I listened to the case put by the Minister. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he is being somewhat intransigent in rejecting sensible proposals? The Minister even gives the impression that the Government are not willing to reconsider the matter on Report, despite the case made by the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks, which explain why I am distressed at the Minister's opposition to the amendments. The Government and the Committee may successfully resist them at this stage, although we hope that they do not, as it is not really a party issue, and I hope that members of the Committee will surprise us by exercising their own judgment.—[Interruption.] I am grateful for the intervention of the Government Whip, who can tell when the Government's cause is weak, as it has been on other Northern Ireland issues on which we have eventually persuaded them to change their mind.

The whole climate of opinion is moving in the direction of the amendments, so, if the Government resist them at this stage, I hope that we shall be able to reconsider the matter later. However, I certainly intend to press the amendment to a Division.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh

I want to make it clear that I shall seek a separate vote on new clause 2.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Llafur, Burnley

Order. May I give the hon. Gentleman some guidance? We shall take new clause 2 when we reach the appropriate point in the Bill, but I take note that he will want to move it formally at that stage.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh

I am responding to advice from the Clerk, but I take your judgment on the matter, Mr. Pike.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Llafur, Burnley

That is the procedure. We will deal now with amendments Nos. 176 and 177. New clauses are dealt with once we reach the appropriate place in the Bill. We have properly debated new clause 2 with this group of amendments, but it cannot be moved formally until we reach that stage. Only then can the Committee divide on it.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh

Thank you, Mr. Pike, for that advice.

In any society, especially that of Northern Ireland, which has such experience and such division, the public make a judgment about the degree to which justice is seen to be done not just on the number of cases prosecuted but on those that are not prosecuted. I would be concerned about the effect that that could have on public opinion. I am not convinced by the Minister's argument that a presumption in favour of disclosure would preclude particular consideration in relevant cases. I am not convinced that the presumption of disclosure would prevent decisions being made in the public interest and in the interests of justice. For those reasons, I await with interest our debate on schedule 8.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Sir Drefaldwyn

If a vote is called, the Liberal Democrats will support the amendment to make the principle point that it is not clear why the Minister is so resistant to what seems a sensible argument. We feel more comfortable with new clause 2, although I understand that it comes later. I am disappointed that the Minister was not more sympathetic to a common-sense proposal that seems genuinely sympathetic and is in the interests of victims.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 12.

Rhif adran 10 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 33 - Discontinuance of proceedings before court appearance

Ie: 8 MPs

Na: 12 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 177, in page 20, line 8, at end insert—

'(2A) Where proceedings against a person in relation to an offence are discontinued under subsection (1), the Director must give reasons for the discontinuance of proceedings to those persons listed under subsection (2), unless in the Director's judgement to do so would be against the interest of justice or the public interest.'.—[Mr. Blunt.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 12.

Rhif adran 11 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 33 - Discontinuance of proceedings before court appearance

Ie: 8 MPs

Na: 12 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.