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There were indeed such trials, but it is also the case that in such trials, some of the evidence that was otherwise material was denied to the jury altogether by the exercise of a public interest immunity certificate. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), the starting point should be how to work round the existing system of having a jury, including having a hearing in camera as part of the proceedings, but one then gets to the point where, under criminal trials, including even those held in camera, the judge
agrees that certain relevant information is not disclosable to the jury. That is the difficulty. As I say, I understand the fact that the House is uncomfortable about this provision; it is not one that I am particularly comfortable with myself; it is a real difficulty. What we have to do is to try to find a way through it.
Mrs. Humble: We all understand my right hon. Friends problems with this issue, but I would like to return to earlier questions about the impact of these measures on service families. They are constantly told that they cannot have public inquiries, because they get answers to questions about the deaths of their loved ones through the coroners inquest system. Now, however, they are told that they may only get a partial answer. Cannot my right hon. Friend understand the dismay felt by many service families about these issues?
Mr. Straw: First, the number of such inquests would be very limited indeedprobably one or two a year, if that. I think it would be very rare for those to be held in respect of service personnel, for good reasons. I understand the concerns, and what the Bill overall does is greatly to strengthen the facilities, services and rights of bereaved families.
Mr. Dismore: One assumes that the exclusion of the public will extend to the family and relatives of the deceased. It is often difficult, even under normal processes, for such people to get closure when somebody has died in tragic and violent circumstances. In cases of the sort that we are talking aboutthe most sensitive of alldoes my right hon. Friend really think that relatives will get closure when faced with an inquiry from which they have been excluded? Does he think that that complies with the requirements of article 2 of the European convention on human rights, particularly in the light of the case of Jordan, which said that families have to be involved in the inquest process?
Mr. Straw: The families will be involved. We are talking about exclusion from only part of the inquest in very limited and very specific circumstances, not about secret inquests. I would also say that those inquests, where held, will be conducted by an experienced High Court judge. Although I understand the concern of families that they will not get a verdict of the jury, what they will get instead, which they cannot get from a jury, is a detailed, reasoned explanation running over many pages, and a review of all the evidence, such as can be made public, as to why the learned judge has come to the view that he or she has.
Anne Snelgrove: I want to raise a point about the way that coroners have dealt with incidences of domestic violence and deaths following those. My right hon. Friend may be aware of the tragic case of Julia Pemberton, whose family live in my constituency. Last year, the Pemberton homicide review concluded in the body of its report that domestic violence training should be made available for coroners. Can my right hon. Friend give the family any comfort that his Bill will insist on such training for coroners?
Mr. Straw: The Bill itself will ensure that there is a chief coroner, a charter for bereaved families and guidance given by me and by the Lord Chief Justice on how the coroner service should operate, so the short answer to my hon. Friend is yes.
May I go on to deal with other aspects of the Bill? Part 2 proposes reforms to the law of homicide. In particular, it abolishes the partial defence of provocation and replaces it with a new partial defence, which applies to killings in response to a fear of serious violence and killings in response to words or conduct that cause a defendant to have a justifiable sense of being seriously wronged. Those provisions will not, as some have claimed, give abused women a licence to kill. They are designed, rather, to bring about just outcomes, irrespective of gender.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the use of diminished responsibility in relation to murders will be accepted only where a recognised medical condition is restricted and predetermined by the House when hon. Members go through the Bill in Committee, and is diagnosed before the murder takes place?
Mr. Straw: I did not entirely follow the hon. Gentlemans question, but I will ensure that it is answered in full during the winding-up speech. It is wonderful being a Minister in my Department, and Ministers thank God every day for the post.
Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and I have to say that he has moved over the issue of provocation with a speed and nimbleness that rather belie the controversial and complex nature of the proposals. I appreciate that they may have to be looked at in Committee, but he will be aware that there is considerable anxiety about, for example, the proposal that sexual infidelity be excluded whereas so much else may be left to subjective views and the jurys reasoning. He will have seen what the former Lord Chief Justice said about that. Has he any comment to make at this stage that might help the House, and may we have an assurance that we will be able to examine this issue in considerable detail?
Mr. Straw: I am aware that there is much to be said about the issue on all sides, and I have thought about it very carefully. Of course it will be examined in great detail in Committee. I should be happy to make a speech for a couple of hours going into great detail now, but I fear that that would be considered an abuse of the privilege of the House.
Mr. Straw: I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), but then I must make progress, or there will be complaints that I have spoken for too long.
Emily Thornberry: I am sure my right hon. Friend will know that many Members on both sides of the House are fully sensitive to the difficulties that he faces in trying to amend an inquisitorial system while also trying to protect security, but I am also sure he will agree that whatever qualifications, experience and brilliance High Court judges may possess, they have nothing in comparison with the good sense possessed by juries. I welcome the opportunity to work with my right hon. Friend in trying to find an alternative to restricting jury trial.
Both the Law Commission and an independent review identified confusion about the scope of the law on assisted suicide. I have also received strong representations on the issue from my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon), whose constituency has suffered the terrible tragedy of a series of suicides. Part 2 does not substantively change the law, but it does simplify and modernise the language of section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 to increase public understanding and to reassure people that the provision applies as much to actions on the internet as to actions offline.
In the past 10 years, we have developed much greater protection for children from sexual abuse, but we must keep the law up to date with technological changes. The Bill therefore provides for a new offence of possession of non-photographic images of child sex abuse, building on the existing law in respect of indecent photographs.
The Bill also completes unfinished business from the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 by proposing to remove the so-called freedom of speech amendmentwhich was inserted in the Bill in the other place at the last momentin relation to the offence of inciting hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. As the House will recall, that provision was defeated overwhelmingly by Members on both sides of the Housethere was a majority of 200but we had to accept the decision of the other place temporarily, because we had to secure Royal Assent by 8 May.
In the face of much Government opposition, the other place did indeed insert free speech clauses in the part of the Bill dealing with the offences of religious and homophobic incitement. Clause 58, the final clause in part 2 of this Bill, seeks only to remove the free speech exemption in relation to homophobic incitement. Is that not a rather asymmetrical approach, and is it likely to survive challenges in the other place?
John Bercow: The creation of the offence of homophobic hate crimecourtesy of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, the effect of which was to amend the Public Order Act 1986was very sound, and commanded widespread support. It was designed to catch, among other things, despicable homophobic lyrics in reggae songs, such as Hang lesbians with a long piece of rope and All gay men should die. May I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that the so-called free speech amendment was at best superfluous, and at worst deeply objectionable? Somealthough not allof its supporters would not even know how to spell the word equality, let alone sign up to it. It is right that clause 58 should remove the exemption.
The offence of inciting hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation has a very high threshold. It currently covers only behaviour that is threatening and intended to stir up hatred. We are returning to this issue because we believe there are no circumstances in which the right of alleged freedom of speech should justify such behaviour.
Mr. Grieve: The one thing the Secretary of State has not told the House is why he thinks the proposed saving clause introduced in the other place in any way undermines the intention and ability to prosecute under the main part of the clause, which we support. Unless I can be persuaded that it does so undermine it, I think that, as a saving clause, it has a great deal of merit, particularly in view of past history, which shows that individuals who have sought to express perfectly reasonable criticism have received visits from the police.
Mr. Straw: I simply do not accept that. The movers of that amendment were very clear that the words meant something; they were intended to make a conviction very difficult indeed. That was the purpose.
Sir Paul Beresford: Clauses 52 and 53 relate to images used by paedophiles for their own excitement and for incitement. Clause 58 refers back to an earlier homophobic incitement measure, which can include the written word. Has the Secretary of State ever considered a similar law for paedophiles, in response to the appalling written material they use for similar personal and other incitements? If he has done, or is willing to do so, I will be happy to ask a certain well-known policeman in the Metropolitan police force to send him some copies of this disgusting stuffand to do so directly, because I do not want to see it.
Mr. Straw: We seek all the time to ensure that what this House and the public regard as obscene, objectionable and extremely pornographic and corrupting is covered by the law, and I am happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman to see whether this provision and the other provisions cover what he has in mind.
Turning to part 3 of the Bill on criminal evidence, investigations and procedure, in July last year, with agreement from all parts of the House, we acted decisively to allow evidence in criminal trials to be given anonymously, following the Law Lords decision in the Davis case. During the passage of the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Act 2008, I said that Parliament would be given a further and fuller opportunity to consider the legislative framework for the use of such evidence. Part 3 fulfils that undertaking by re-enacting that emergency legislation, with some changes. It contains proposals to build on the 2008 Act by way of an investigation witness anonymity order. This new tool will enable the police to provide early reassurance to witnesses that their identity will be protected during and after investigations of gang-related homicide.
In January last year, while on bail awaiting trial for the alleged murder of his wife, Garry Weddell killed his mother-in-law before taking his own life. That case highlighted the desperately difficult decisions facing
judges and magistrates every day in granting bail to murder suspects. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister assured the House at the time that
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