Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 14 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) 2:30, 14 Chwefror 2002

Welcome to the Chair, Mr. Pike, for our afternoon's deliberations. When the Committee rose this morning we were debating amendment No. 209 and I had made the point, in an exchange with my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), that we should be relying on the knowledge and expertise of the Director of Public Prosecutions and his deputy to lead the transition to the new dispensation, as I think my hon. Friend refers to it. As a Minister, I have every confidence in the current director and deputy director in Northern Ireland. That confidence is shared by the entire Government and the Attorney-General, who specifically asked to be associated with such an expression of confidence. Both those officers have discharged their responsibilities in the extremely difficult circumstances of Northern Ireland with complete professionalism and fairness.

Amendment No. 291 would remove the transitional provision that is designed to allow the DPP for Northern Ireland to roll out the new functions of the service incrementally by geographical area and class of case. We are fully committed to ensuring that there will be an orderly roll-out of the Public Prosecution Service's new functions. Standards in the administration of justice must be maintained throughout the relevant period, during which a massive programme of change will take place. The provision will be central to ensuring that the service has the confidence of the public and that it meets the test in relation to the review, which, helpfully, the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) continually

reminds us about. Indeed, the review group noted that point in the report.

The Public Prosecution Service will have to increase in size significantly to meet the demands of its new functions. I can build on the contribution of the hon. Member for Reigate by giving the Committee the current projections for the service's work load. The service, which now considers about 11,000 case files a year—I appreciate that that is not the same as 11,000 prosecutions—will have to take on an estimated 80,000 case files. That is a daunting degree of change on any scale of measurement. The desire for care in the progress of the change is to be reflected in the management of it.

The staff needed to carry out the work must be recruited and thoroughly trained. Unfortunately, whatever my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh way wish, that cannot be done overnight; nor, sensibly, can we guarantee a time within which such trained staff will be appointed. I do not think that it was implicit in his amendment that we should be able to do that, and I suspect that he understands that no such certainty can be given to a process that requires the recruitment and training of professional people to carry out this work. For good practical reasons, the process will have to take place incrementally, so that quality staff are recruited and trained at each stage before moving on to the next phase of expansion.

It is strange that those who are keen to draw to our attention the implications of the Glidewell report are so quick to want to remove this provision, which addresses concerns that they have expressed. My hon. Friend rightly drew attention to recommendation 30, but he will see that on page 23 of the implementation plan the Government have coupled that recommendation with recommendation 66, which states:

''We recommend that those who are considering the resource implications and the organisational issues arising from our proposals in respect of the prosecution function should examine the Glidewell Report, with a view to seeing whether there are lessons to be learnt from the experience of England and Wales.''

The hon. Member for Reigate accurately summarised the principal lesson to be learned from the Glidewell report, which is that to try to achieve our aims in a kind of big bang, with a fresh start date, as a one off, was calculated to result in disaster.