Select Committee on Standards and Privileges First Report


Annex 2

Extract from the response on behalf of Mr Geoffrey Robinson MP to the memorandum from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards appended to the Seventh Report from the Committee on Standards and Privileges, Session 2000-01[3]

11.    Standard of Proof

11.1    The fundamental question of the standard of proof has recently (21 December 2000) been carefully considered by the Committee (in its Second Report for the Session 2000-2001), albeit in the very different context of the complaint against Mr John Maxton and Dr John Reid. In that context the Committee reached three conclusions as to the appropriate standard of proof to be applied:-

  • A mere balance of probabilities is not enough;
  • The allegations could not properly be upheld unless the Committee were persuaded that they were "significantly more likely" to be true than not true;
  • It was not, however, necessary in that case for the complaint to be established beyond reasonable doubt, since it did not "involve criminal charges or criminal sanctions".

11.2    Taking that approach as a starting point, in the case of Mr Robinson the position must be that:-

  • A mere balance of probabilities would be even more inappropriate;
  • At the very least, the allegations could not properly be upheld unless the Committee were persuaded that they were "significantly more likely" to be true than not true;
  • In this case indeed it is necessary for the complaint to be established beyond reasonable doubt, because it does on this occasion involve allegations of criminal conduct and the prospects of criminal sanctions.

11.3    Two basic weaknesses of the Commissioner's Memorandum are that:-

  • It is unclear what standard of proof she is purporting to apply;
  • She does not appear actually to be applying even the loose standard she sets herself.

11.4    The Commissioner addresses the question of standard of proof briefly in paragraph 6 of her Memorandum. She identifies there a standard of proof "stricter than" the mere balance of probabilities. What, however, is wholly unclear is how much stricter?

11.5    On any view, the test would not be strict enough if it fell short of the "significantly more likely" test.

11.6    Certainly she has not applied the criminal standard. See e.g. the references to doubt in paragraphs 158 and 163 and to lack of proof in paragraph 132.

11.7    Moreover, it seems clear that she has not even applied the "significantly more likely" test. Indeed it appears that she has throughout actually applied (at best) a mere balance of probabilities test. This must be wholly wrong.

11.8    Never is the Commissioner's approach in relation to disputed issues any stricter than the mere balance of probabilities. On the contrary every critical finding is on the basis of:-

  • Either the mere balance of probabilities, e.g. paragraphs 101, 125, 137, 139, 142 and 143;
  • Or speculation and conjecture, e.g. paragraphs 140, 141 and 144.

11.9    It is clear that:-

  • The Commissioner's conclusions are fatally flawed not least because she has proceeded on the basis on far too lax a standard of proof;
  • The Committee must consider (no doubt with the benefit of legal advice) what sufficiently stringent standard of proof to apply;
  • The Committee must then come to its own conclusions, based rigorously on that standard of proof.




3  Seventh Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges: Complaint against Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Session 2000-01 (HC 465)), Appendix 3. Back


 
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