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Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 19:


Page 7, line 22, at end insert:
("( ) In selecting names to recommend to Her Majesty as members of the Commission, the Prime Minister shall—
(a) seek to ensure that there is a balance of appropriate knowledge, experience and skills within the membership,
(b) submit a list of proposed members to a Committee of the House of Commons for comment, and
(c) consider any comments received from the Committee to which he has submitted the list before submitting the list of proposed members to Her Majesty.").

The noble Lord said: In moving the above amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 20, 21 and 22. They are all concerned, not with the chairman of the commission, but with its members. The procedure for the membership of the commission which has been proposed—and if there is further news in that respect from the Minister, it would be interesting to hear it—is comparable to the procedure for the appointment of Lords Justice of Appeal. In other words, it is by Her Majesty on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

It is clearly not an issue upon which the Prime Minister sits down with Her Majesty at the breakfast table and they think of a few names for an appointment. It does not actually happen that way, although the legislation requires that it should be expressed in that way. It means that the Government will appoint the members of the commission. Let us be quite open about that aspect of the matter.

However, we believe that there should be both additional requirements for the qualifications of the members of the commission—and they are contained in Amendments Nos. 20, 21 and 22—and also some involvement of the other place in the appointment to establish the independence of the commission from the Government. That is provided for in Amendment No. 19. Therefore, we are still keeping to the formula about the recommendation to Her Majesty by the Prime Minister and we are still seeking to ensure that there is a balance of appropriate knowledge, experience and skills. However, we suggest that the Prime Minister should submit a list of proposed members to a committee in the other place for comment, and consider the comments received from it before submitting the proposed list to Her Majesty.

We are proposing a very weak formulation. It does not give the power of veto to the committee in another place. Moreover, it does not impose any violent obligation on the Prime Minister; or, indeed, to whomsoever he may delegate the task. However, it gives some indication of the concern of the other place and, therefore, of the general public in the independence of the commission. That is the purpose of Amendment No. 19.

Amendment No. 20 is designed to go against, to some extent, or to complement one of the proposals in the Bill. Clause 8(5) says that at least one-third of the members of the commission,


and then goes on to define the term "legally qualified". We do not object to that; but we do think that the commission should not be stuffed with lawyers. Although the minimum of one-third is acceptable, we believe that a maximum of "half" should be stipulated. In our view,

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practising or retired solicitors, barristers or judges should not in total make up more than half of the members of the commission.

Amendment No. 21 relates to a member of the commission who should have "relevant scientific experience". What we really mean is forensic expertise. However, I am told that the word "forensic" is not a concept which is recognised in English or Scottish law. That surprises me, but that is the advice that I have been given. I should remind Members of the Committee that the Royal Commission was set up in the first place precisely because of the defects in forensic evidence in the case of the Birmingham Six in particular, but also in the cases of the Maguire Seven and of Judith Ward. Both the Royal Commission and the Science and Technology Committee of this place (which was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Dainton), said that there should be some greater involvement and a greater degree of independence of the forensic science profession—if that is the right word—as regards its ability to give advice to the Home Secretary. In a whole chapter on forensic science, the Royal Commission referred to the need for a forensic science advisory council. The same view was taken by the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Dainton.

We are not proposing a forensic science advisory council. However desirable it may be, that does seem to go beyond the scope of the Bill. However, we do propose—perhaps as a precursor to the establishment of an advisory council—that at least one member of the commission should have the "relevant scientific experience", which means forensic expertise. We do so for a number of very powerful reasons which have been helpfully set out for us by the Royal Society for Chemistry. First, as I said when I referred to the establishment of the Royal Commission, there is the importance of scientific evidence and expertise in cases of miscarriages of justice. Secondly, in view of the rather fragmented nature of the forensic science business (some of it is a business, some of it is under public control and some of it is in the hands of the police), there is the need for an independent voice from forensic scientists around the table at which the new commission will sit. Thirdly, because improvements in forensic science will heavily affect our ability to deal with and reduce miscarriages of justice, it is necessary to have someone with scientific experience to help in the promotion of research and development.

Fourthly, there is the issue of professional standards, of quality assurance, of education and training, and the commission seems to us to be a good place for an expert person to promote those desirable facets of forensic science. Finally, there is the issue of the individual registration of forensic scientists which does not exist at the moment, which both the Royal Commission and the sub-committee argued for, and which, if it existed, would, we believe, help to ensure that miscarriages of justice could be limited by professional certification by individual registration of the forensic scientists who take part in the work of the criminal justice system.

The final amendment in the group, Amendment No. 22, is concerned with


    "knowledge or experience of mentally disordered persons".

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I think it is pretty well recognised that a high proportion of those who find themselves before the courts have problems of mental disorder as defined in Section 1 of the Mental Health Act 1983, and a higher proportion is likely to find themselves applying to the commission and to the Court of Appeal against conviction and sentence because one of the most difficult boundaries which will affect these cases is going to be whether the applicant was in fact capable of knowing about the crime and of really truly being guilty of the crime.

A great deal of the wording of the Bill is concerned with those different aspects of responsibility. A good deal of the time of the commission and of the Court of Appeal, I am sure, will be concerned with those issues. Therefore, again, it would be helpful to have a member of the commission with the kind of knowledge or experience which is referred to in Amendment No. 22. These are intended to be constructive suggestions for the composition of the body. They are not intended to take away all, or most, of the power of the Prime Minister in making recommendations to Her Majesty, but they are intended to show the wide range of needs on which expertise will be needed on the part of members of the commission. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord makes important points about the composition of this body; but again we do not think it right to depart from the long established precedent that Parliament sets out the framework in legislation for making relevant public appointments but does not, except in exceptional circumstances such as the case of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, involve itself in the process of making individual appointments. The commission is not a creature of Parliament but an independent commission. The appointments procedure we propose in the Bill underlines that fact. To involve Parliament in the selection process—for that is what it would mean—would draw the commission into the political arena in a wholly unacceptable way. And to add a further tier to the selection process would result in delay and uncertainty in recruiting and filling posts which I think would be hard to justify.

The Government intend that the selection procedure for members should be as open as possible. The posts of all the members of the commission, including the chairman (as we have already discussed) will be advertised in the press. The job description for the posts and the types of person we are looking for will be clearly set out. Candidates will be subject to an appropriate selection procedure and a shortlist of suggested candidates for the posts will be put to the Prime Minister. Our proposals to advertise the posts—and indeed the posts of all the staff of the commission—will provide access to the widest possible pool of candidates for the posts. Selection from those who apply will be on merit, based on the skills needed to do the job effectively. This, I suggest, is the right approach to take.

Turning to Amendments Nos. 20 to 22, these seek to specify more precisely the experience which individual members of the commission should possess. Amendment No. 20 would require that practising or retired solicitors, barristers or judges did not comprise more than half the members of the commission. I

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understand the concern that lawyers should not dominate the commission but do not think that the provisions in the Bill will have this result. The requirement in Clause 8 that at least one-third of the members be legally qualified and that at least two-thirds should have knowledge and experience of the criminal justice system will ensure that they reflect a balance of appropriate skills and expertise.

Amendment No. 21 would require that of the two-thirds of members with knowledge and experience of the criminal justice system, at least one member shall have relevant scientific experience; and Amendment No. 22 would require that at least one should have knowledge or experience in the field of treating the mentally ill. While I agree that it would be helpful to the commission to have access to expertise in both these fields, we do not think it sensible to be so prescriptive because there will be many more interests that could be taken into account. Being prescriptive in this way can lead to rigidity. And rigidity could render the commission less effective than it might otherwise be. It would be very unfortunate, for example, if a potential candidate with excellent qualifications had to be turned down just because the commission's quota of, say, lawyers or whatever had already been filled. It can raise other difficulties, too. Today many people have been trained in more than one discipline. We have lawyers who have turned into policemen and vice versa; we have scientists who have branched out into other disciplines. If we are too prescriptive in the Bill we could again rule out the good candidate for appointment because he or she fails to fit the exact requirements for the post on offer.

The Government believe that the best approach is to set broad guidelines as to the experience and expertise necessary to serve on the commission—as we have done in Clause 8—and then to appoint the best candidate for the posts. This will allow Her Majesty to select the appropriate balance of skills and experience required at any one time—not just at the start of the commission's work but in the years to come. Any gaps in the members' knowledge and expertise can be filled as necessary by the recruitment of appropriately qualified staff and by the commission seeking expert reports and opinions. It will be open to the members to do this wherever they think it appropriate and practicable.

The commission will have a varied and challenging workload. The members will have their own caseload and will contribute to the discussions on the cases of others. The cases with which they will deal will not, if current experience is anything to go by, fit into neat pigeon holes, for example, forensic consideration; psychiatric problems; misconduct by police or other officers. Miscarriage cases raise many different issues and each will have to be considered properly and dealt with appropriately. For example, the member of the commission with forensic expertise will not be called upon to deal with every case which raises question marks about the forensic evidence. That would not be feasible. All the members will need to be capable of tackling a wide range of cases calling on, and using, their fellow members' expertise as necessary.

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The Committee will have gathered from this that the members will need a broad range of general skills—and, in particular, the ability to absorb large quantities of complex and possibly conflicting information, and to apply an open mind—in addition to any specialised skills which they might have. It is for these reasons that the Bill sets out only the broad requirements for the qualifications for membership. The Government believe that this is the best approach—the one most likely to result in the spread of skills and knowledge needed to undertake the commission's work effectively. The Committee will understand therefore that I cannot accept the amendments and I hope that with that explanation the noble Lord will feel able not to press them.


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