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Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the regulations. I understand, of course, that this is a relatively routine matter: the uprating in line, allegedly, with inflation is dealt with in the regulations. However, I wish to make a few remarks about the scheme generally.

As the Minister has already indicated, this is a disease which affects numbers of people—mainly men—who have worked in mining or in steel. It is extremely unpleasant and, after a long period of time, is invariably fatal, which is why we need to have benefit for dependants. Moreover, it is frequently not diagnosed until after death. Many miners have been refused benefit on the grounds that they are not suffering from it, only for it to be clear from the post mortem that they indeed had the disease.

It seems to me that it might have been more generous if, instead of doing as the Minister says has been done, an allowance were made for the fact that apparently there was an alleged overpayment, which is why the amount that is on offer now is 2.2 per cent. via the regulations. In

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view of the unpleasantness of the disease and the fact that it is so difficult to diagnose and that often individuals concerned may feel that they have the disease but have great difficulty in establishing it, it might have been more generous if the Government had given a full uprating rather than the 2.2 per cent. which is indicated. I understand that when this matter was discussed in the other place the suggestion was made that an uprating of the order of 5.75 per cent. would have been in order rather than the 2.2 per cent. which emerges from the regulatory uprating this time round.

The Minister referred to the fact that it is not possible for individuals in such situations to sue at common law for damages from their employer. He made reference to the Industrial Injuries Act in that connection. However, I remind the Minister that, if an individual who succeeds in a claim at common law wins some compensation, there is a provision now, to which I very strongly objected at the time, whereby the whole of the benefit so obtained via the Industrial Injuries Act is reclaimed. So the individual concerned has to pay back any amounts that might have been payable under the Industrial Injuries Act.

Therefore, this matter is not so straightforward as was indicated in the Minister's presentation. Nevertheless, I accept that these regulations have been through the other place and been accepted there. In those circumstances, it is not our intention on these Benches to oppose them. I simply make the point that they could have been a little more generous in view of the nature of the illness and the kind of individuals who will benefit from them.

With those few comments, I do not oppose the regulations from these Benches.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her support in this matter. She raised one or two points which it may be helpful to cover. So far as concerns the system itself, she drew attention to the distinction that is made in the payments on the one hand to sufferers themselves and on the other hand to their dependants.

It is a long-established principle of compensation in this area of the law that the compensation relates to what the individual concerned may be suffering and that some money is made available in respect of people who are dependent on him. In the event of the sufferer having died, where dependency can be established, the amount in respect of the dependency is obviously less than the amount to which the person who died would have been entitled had he made a claim. I should like to emphasise that where a claim is made by a sufferer before that person dies, the full amount is payable.

The noble Baroness made reference to the amount of the uprating. What is important in this regard is to look at the way in which the amounts payable have been uprated since the scheme itself came into effect. Since January 1980, the amount by which the payments under the scheme have increased has been 138.3 per cent., while the cumulative increase in the RPI over that period was in fact less than that, namely, 134.7 per cent. I do not feel that it is fair to maintain in any respect that that is niggardly with regard to the fact that it is not uprated with inflation itself. I conclude by commending the Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn until 7.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.24 to 7.30 p.m.]

Criminal Appeal Bill

House again in Committee on Clause 13.

Baroness Mallalieu moved Amendment No. 24:


Page 10, line 39, after ("information") insert ("showing that the factual basis on which the sentence was passed was substantially wrong").

The noble Baroness said: The Criminal Cases Review Authority was proposed by the Royal Commission in order to investigate and provide an effective remedy for wrongful convictions, not sentences. The Home Office consultative paper in April 1994 introduced the proposal that it should also be able to review sentences on limited grounds. Indeed, it was implied in a footnote to that document that this was designed simply to supplement the provisions of Section 47(2) of the Supreme Court Act 1981 and Section 142 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 which allow the appropriate court to vary or rescind its own sentence within 28 days on such grounds.

If the Bill is to include sentences in the way that it is presently drafted, there can be little doubt that it will result in a large number of applications, most of them unmeritorious, which will have to be sifted and assessed by the commission at a time when it will be at its busiest in dealing with convictions. Although I understand that the Home Office at present refers very few cases each year to the Court of Appeal, that is almost certainly because the power is virtually unknown. Once the new body is set up and its criteria are publicised, the initial sift of cases will take up a substantial amount of the commission's resources. If that includes the need to sift through a substantial number of sentencing matters too, we are afraid that that will divert the new body from its main task of investigating miscarriages of justice to the level of detail and supervision required.

We are also troubled that there is a further problem with the clause as it is presently drafted. As it stands, the commission's power of reference in sentencing matters goes much wider even than that in the Home Office consultation document. Indeed, Clause 13(2) (a) gives a power of reference when there exists any argument on a point of law or any information not already raised in any relevant court proceedings. That gives rise to a real possibility that the sentence would not be upheld were the reference to be made. That goes far beyond the limited grounds on which sentence can be varied under either the Supreme Court Act or the Magistrates' Courts Act, and it appears to be drafted in that way to link into the Court of Appeal's present practice where a sentence may be lowered essentially on four grounds. Those are, first, that the sentence was not justified by law; secondly, that it was passed on a wrong factual basis; thirdly, that matters were improperly taken into account or that there are fresh matters that ought to be taken into account; and, fourthly, that the sentence was manifestly excessive or wrong in principle. It is the last two which go much further than the original Home Office consultation proposals.

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Any new argument or fact, it seems, can be put forward to justify a review. I contrast that with what the noble Baroness said in relation to the last amendment. That would appear to be the case however long after the original sentence. In every case a review will require the commission, first, to get hold of the case papers from the sentencing court; then to obtain a transcript of the sentencing remarks; then to look at the new information or argument and assess its weight and perhaps even investigate further its credibility; and, lastly, to assess its potential weight in relation to the sentencing issues involved. That is a substantial amount of work in an area that is likely, as I think the noble Baroness will be bound to agree, to attract a considerable number of unmeritorious applications, many of which will be from unrepresented prisoners, particularly if no additional provision is made for legal aid for the submission of those applications. There may also be repeated applications, and there is no existing case law to guide the commission in that respect.

The amendment seeks to clarify the extent of the power of the commission to refer sentence cases and to try to amend the existing draft in such a way as to minimise the number of unmeritorious applications. It is therefore proposed that the power to refer sentencing matters to appeal should be limited in the Bill to matters of fact which were not known to, or properly taken into account by, the sentencing authority at the time. I am encouraged—I hope—by what was said by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice at the Second Reading of the Bill:


    "The power of the commission to refer sentence only cases to the Court of Appeal causes me some disquiet and was criticised in another place on the ground that the commission might in its early years receive a great number of applications of this nature which could leave it struggling to cope with the caseload it will inherit of allegedly flawed convictions".—[Official Report, 15/5/95; col. 312.]

That is what the commission is essentially about. The amendment does not seek to remove altogether the power of sentence referrals. It seeks to try to cut away some of the dead wood so that the important matters in relation to miscarriages of justice based on unsafe conviction can be properly dealt with. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that it is a helpful proposed alteration. I beg to move.


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