Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Blunkett: I share the frustration and anger that is felt by my hon. Friend and by many people who have spoken and written about the case. Home Secretaries are not supposed to comment on individual cases, but I intend to say this: when the technicalities of justice override the imperative of justice, we must do something about it. This was not a hit and run or someone simply knocking down other people or running into a car—it was the most abominable disgrace imaginable. If murder is not the appropriate designation for such an incident, the House needs to examine what is. The case was and is a disgrace.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport): The Home Office proposes to spend £600 million on computers; that is a lot of money. Given the dismal history of Home Office computer procurement—few of us would trust its representatives on a trip to PC World—what steps are being taken to ensure that the Government get value for money this time?

Mr. Blunkett: I am always willing to accompany the hon. Gentleman to PC World because I need a bit of expertise on such occasions, as hon. Members probably clocked about a month ago.

We have appointed an expert from the private sector as head of the division that is in charge of information technology in the criminal justice service. She is respected inside and outside government and will be able to lead us to better times and clearer waters.

Margaret Moran (Luton, South): May I metaphorically hug my right hon. Friend for the excellent references in the White Paper to domestic violence, especially in view of repeat victimisation? I especially welcome proposals to place on a statutory basis reviews of deaths in circumstances involving domestic violence. The all-party group on domestic violence called for that. We have campaigned on the fact that 15 children—possibly many

17 Jul 2002 : Column 297

more—have been murdered in such circumstances. It is about time that we learned the lessons about prevention and minimising risks.

I welcome the proposal to make a breach of non-molestation orders a criminal rather than a civil offence to afford survivors the protection that they desperately need. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need specific legislation on domestic violence, given that the current legislation is 26 years old, to progress with some of the worthy measures in the consultation document?

Mr. Blunkett: I am tickled by the offer of a hug, which I shall have to consider.

This country has an enormous problem of domestic violence. I pay tribute to the Solicitor-General, who is working closely with the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety on that to enable us to get our act together. Breaching non-molestation orders will be made a criminal offence, and we will extend the restraining order to ensure that victims are protected in circumstances in which it is currently possible for further attacks to occur. As part of extending the police power on bail, we will also ensure that people cannot return to the immediate area where they are threatening their former partners or wives. It is important to remind ourselves that a third of all murdered women are killed in a domestic situation.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): I agree with the Home Secretary's comments about justice not only being done but being seen to be done. A local criminal justice system has historically been one method of achieving that. Yet in my constituency and many others, under Governments of all persuasions, magistrates courts have closed. My Crown court now faces closure. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is counter-productive and that an effective criminal justice system is rooted in the local community?

Mr. Blunkett: I agree that access to justice is important, and that that means that people can reach it reasonably and easily. The Lord Chancellor, the Attorney-General and I need to examine the best method of ensuring that combining the relevant parts of the court system facilitates that rather than makes matters worse.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough): I am sure that my right hon. Friend's statement has reassured many hon. Members of all parties about some of the controversial elements of the debate that will ensue. However, I declare an interest as a non-lawyer. Will he ensure that he gives equal weight to the voices of victims and those at the sharp end of the criminal justice system and the lawyers inside and outside this place, and not simply listen to the latter?

Mr. Blunkett: I certainly will. I want to make it clear that I am genuinely very fond of lawyers; I even have friends who are lawyers.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Does the Home Secretary agree that today public confidence in the criminal justice system is so dangerously low that this House needs to act urgently? To that end, does he understand that, providing that there are proper safeguards, the House should support his proposals first

17 Jul 2002 : Column 298

to end the double jeopardy rule, secondly in very special circumstances to allow previous convictions to be mentioned in court, and thirdly in very special cases—serious fraud and where there is gross intimidation—to have, rightly and properly, not a jury but a judge?

Mr. Blunkett: I strongly welcome those comments. I want to make it clear again that there are differing views among members of all parties in the House, and if we can accept that, we can consult and work together. The example of support given today reinforces the need for us to gain consensus and to find a lasting way forward—rather than, as we say in the White Paper and for which the shadow Home Secretary chided us, having layer on layer of legislation that ends up having to be re-amended.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North): Will the Home Secretary accept from me the assurance that the vast majority of my constituents and much of the population on Teesside will greet his announcement with the beginnings of relief and gratitude—not least Ann and Charlie Ming, the parents of Julie Hogg, who was brutally murdered some years ago and stuffed behind a panel at her home?

In pursuing the course of double jeopardy, I assure the Home Secretary of my continuing support, but I ask him to respond to one anxiety that I feel. If we make compelling new evidence a condition of a new trial—and we must do so; I understand that—how can we be certain that, in following the trial, the jury considering it will not find the fact that that evidence has been assessed as compelling new evidence some pre-judicial circumstance?

Mr. Blunkett: There is a genuine question about what assumptions may be made about the Appeal Court deciding to go ahead and about the information in relation to the case that is already in the public arena. There are genuine problems, but I think that we can overcome them; the parents of Julie Hogg would want all of us to find a way round them.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): Will the Home Secretary please pass my thanks to the Attorney-General for having the courtesy to meet me and the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) yesterday to discuss the White Paper, and for sending me an early copy of it? I welcome the earlier Crown Prosecution Service involvement in the criminal process. It is for the Government to ensure that the CPS has sufficient personnel with expertise and sufficient equipment adequately to discharge that function. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will discuss with the Attorney-General the unacceptably high de minimis levels set for the Serious Fraud Office before it may investigate a matter.

Mr. Blunkett: Those welcome comments illustrate the difficulty raised in my reply to his hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) about the number of convictions achieved at the moment owing to the difficulties experienced by the Serious Fraud Office in reaching a position where it can take cases to trial. Any sensible suggestions from the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) will be welcome.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): May I congratulate the Home Secretary on resisting the siren voices who

17 Jul 2002 : Column 299

suggested that the best way to create an effective justice system was to withdraw rights from the accused, and on instead emphasising the protection of the rights of witnesses and improving efficiency and effectiveness through, for example, the proposals on domestic violence, which could save the lives of two women a week, as at present two women each week are murdered by their partner or ex-partner?

Will this House have an opportunity to discuss the guidance that will be given to judges about when they can decide whether prior convictions are relevant and will not prejudice a trial? Politicians may have a particular view to express to judges—who are the right people to take such decisions—about the circumstances in which they can allow previous convictions to be considered.

Mr. Blunkett: I hope that we will be able to debate that in a sensible and open fashion when the legislation is introduced. I also hope that we will be able to do so as part of a broader debate about sentencing guidelines, counsel, and the role of Parliament vis-à-vis the sentencing system, without interfering with or in any way undermining the role of the judiciary and its independence on these matters. It is a matter of great frustration to members of the public whom I meet that they expect us to have some influence and direction over policy, only to find that we really do not. If we can get the balance right without interfering with judicial independence, we will achieve a great deal more credibility for democracy as well as for the criminal justice system.

Next Section

IndexHome Page