New clause 5 - Equality Duty

Part of Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:30 am ar 14 Chwefror 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh 9:30, 14 Chwefror 2002

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The clause is straightforward. It seeks to amend the Bill to bring the agencies of the criminal justice system within the remit of equality legislation by including the agencies in section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Given their important functions, it is entirely appropriate that those agencies should be bound by that statutory duty.

One of the issues that has most undermined public confidence in the justice system is the perception that those in positions of authority do not reflect the community that they serve. Indeed, it seems that they believe that they are outside the remit of the requirement for equality. The fact that a justice review was included in the Good Friday agreement reflected that view. Moreover, I believe that the full implementation of the justice review recommendations will lead to the creation of a justice system that can be identified with and owned by all. In particular, holding the justice system to the same standards of equality proofing that bind government is logical. It will play an important part in the process of confidence building.

I am certain that it will be argued that the exclusion of those bodies is justified on the basis that they perform quasi-judicial functions. However, hon. Members will recognise that it is the policies and procedures of the agencies that would be equality proofed, not individual judgments. As policies and procedures apply, as far as possible, across the board to all agencies in the north of Ireland, and to every Government Department, I believe they should apply

also to the bodies that I have specified in the new clause.

It seems anomalous that the agencies set up by the Government should not be subject to the same equality provisions as the Government Departments that will implement the Bill. It is illogical that those Departments that are responsible for the fundamental decisions that will be required to be made under the remit of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act should not be subject to the same remit.