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Emergency Provisions

Volume 301: debated on Thursday 27 November 1997

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To ask the Attorney-General, pursuant to the statement of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland of 18 November 1997, Official Report, columns 215–16, what factors led him to conclude it would appear invidious for him to deny a person a jury trial in some scheduled offences; and for what reasons he assesses it not to be invidious for him to deny jury trials in other scheduled offences. [17570]

It is the legislation itself, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996, which provides that the scheduled offences are tried by a judge without a jury. The Schedule permits the Attorney-General, in respect of certain offences, to certify that a particular offence is not to be treated as a scheduled offence. My certificate therefore operates to confer the right to be tried by jury in the normal way. The right to trial by jury is currently removed only by Parliament and it would be invidious for a Minister to have that power. The Attorney-General's function is purely to reduce the severity of the law in favour of individuals where appropriate.

To ask the Attorney-General what would be (a) the extra cost and (b) the necessary increase in personnel of the certifying in procedure for scheduled offences coming under the terms of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. [17571]

Under the current legislation the Attorney-General may "certify out" certain scheduled offences with the effect that such an offence will not be treated as a scheduled offence. It is impossible to quantify the extra cost and the necessary increase in personnel which would be required were offences to be subject to a "certifying in" procedure, whereby they would be certified in to the Schedule by the Attorney-General, since the amount of work involved is entirely dependent on the number of offences committed. Under the provisions contained in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill it is anticipated that there will be an increase in the work load of my office because of the proposal to increase the number of offences which are capable of being certified out.