Clause 79 - Powers and duties of court securities officers

Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 7:30 pm ar 12 Chwefror 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 7:30, 12 Chwefror 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 35, in page 65, line 22, at end insert—

'(d) arrest any person in any court house, and must act in accordance with any general or specific instructions which have been given to him (whether orally or in writing) by a person in authority.'.

This is a small but important amendment, the case for which was put to me repeatedly in Northern Ireland. Given the police's tendency to move away from court rooms, people were certain that circumstances had arisen in which court staff had not been able to arrest people. One resident magistrate to whom I spoke had a particular example in mind. He had had direct experience and asked me what he could do if an arrest needed to be made. It would be sensible for the power of arrest to go to members of the court staff acting on the direction of the authority in the court. The power would appertain only within the jurisdiction of the court, and then only on the direct instruction of a person in authority. This is a sensible amendment, and I hope that the Government will allow it.

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

Small but perfectly formed the amendment may be, but I am afraid that I must

disappoint the hon. Member for Reigate. The best way to explain why is by reference to the powers that the Bill already provides for security officers.

Under clause 79, court security officers have the powers to search persons entering a courthouse and to exclude or remove any person who refuses to permit such a search or who refuses to surrender an article that the court security officer reasonably believes may jeopardise the maintenance of order in the courthouse. They may also exclude or remove any person from a courthouse or restrain any person in a courthouse where reasonably necessary to maintain order. Court security officers also have the power, as officers of the court, to detain a person misbehaving in court until the court has risen.

The clause also provides that a court security officer must act in accordance with any instructions from a person in authority. That can be a judge, coroner or magistrate exercising any function in the courthouse, or a member of the court service who is authorised to give him instructions. The powers in the clause are based on the powers of equivalent court security officers in England and Wales under sections 77 and 78 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which do not contain provision for the power of arrest. We are not aware of any need being demonstrated for the power in England and Wales, and I hasten to add that the provisions in England and Wales are contained in an Act passed in 1991. We all know who was in government then.

Court security officers have powers of arrest in relation to more serious offences under the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, in particular article 26. We believe that the Bill gives court security officers sufficient powers to enable them to maintain order in the court room or surrounding court premises. As the Bill already provides that court security officers must act in accordance with instructions given by a person in authority, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. The Government have properly considered the matter, and I imagine that if there is a problem in the future, they will come back and address it. As such, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 79 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Stringer.]

Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes to Eight o'clock till Thursday 14 February at half-past Nine o'clock.