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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in case we are tempted to be too satisfied with ourselves as we come to the end of the Bill, we should remember the very serious problems with the criminal justice system that gave rise to the appointment of the Runciman Royal Commission and, following the Royal Commission, the first drafting of this Bill.
The discussion document issued last year by the Home Office mentioned three objectives for what was then called a criminal cases review authority. One was that conditions which cannot be considered safe are quashed, leaving those which are safe to stand. The second was that there must be arrangements to ensure that doubts about the safety of a conviction can be considered and resolved at the earliest opportunity. The third was to ensure consistency of approach in criminal proceedings. None of those existed before the Royal Commissionor, rather, before the rather horrific cases which gave rise to the appointment of the Royal Commission.
It is a fact that, whether or not they were IRA terrorist casesmany of them were notthere were a number of cases where the procedures before and at trial in very serious offences were inadequate, where the investigations after trial and after conviction were inadequate, where the ability and sometimes the willingness of the Court of Appeal to accept the results of those investigations and the new information were wholly inadequate, and where there was a serious question about the independence of the review procedures which exist to correct miscarriage of justice. As a result, there was a whole series of cases of miscarriage of justice, which sometimes took 15 years or more after conviction to correct. Indeed, in my view, and in particular in the Bridgewater case, there are some which have still not been corrected. Let us be in no doubt about the seriousness of the issues which lie behind the Bill and its predecessor commission.
Having said that, I pay tribute to the integrity of objective of the Government in the discussion paper last April. But before that I pay tribute to the Runciman Royal Commission, which must take precedence over all. I pay tribute to the discussion document in trying to implement the results of the Runciman Commission. I also pay tribute to those who persuaded the Prime Minister that it was possible to get the Bill into this year's legislative programme. Apparently it was only at the last minute, but we have it and we are grateful for that. Again, I pay tribute to those who have been
The Minister referred to three particular issues. One was the basis on which the commission might refer cases to the Court of Appeal. As we have heard within the last half hour, the ability of the commission to refer cases is not to be restricted to a very simple, and possibly over-simple, form of words. There are powers to make other referrals in exceptional circumstances. My noble friend Lady Mallalieu played a most valuable part in achieving that objective.
The second issue to which the Minister referred was the investigative powers of the commission. We have always accepted that the majority of investigations should be carried out by the police or comparable bodies. After all, they were the ones involved in the original investigations. They start with greater knowledge than anyone else and it is common sense that in most cases the investigation should return to them. What has been achieved in the passage of the Bill, as the Minister rightly reminded us, is a considerable extension of the powers of the commission to direct investigations and, as she said in her reply a few minutes ago, to carry out investigations themselves. I am enormously grateful to her for the way in which she approached this issue and accepted the necessity for the integrity and independence of the commission as an investigative body to be maintained and enshrined in statute.
The third issue to which she referred was disclosure. I must confess that we have not achieved the kind of changes that we wished. It is still the case that disclosure is the exception rather than the rule in what I think of as Clauses 22 and 23 but which no doubt are differently numbered now. It is still the case that there is insufficient protection for appellants to ensure that after their trial they have access to the information that is necessary for them to put forward an effective case. But, as we understand it, disclosure is to be the central subject of a major criminal justice Bill to be introduced probably in the next Session. Nobody can say what will be in the Queen's Speechif there is to be a Queen's Speech from this Governmentand therefore I am content to leave that issue until we come to the major debates on disclosure at that stage.
I do not think that we have obtained all that we wanted on legal aid. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Mallalieu will agree on that. Nevertheless, there have been improvements in the conditions for legal aid.
The Bill started off as a well intentioned and honourable Bill. It lands up as a good Bill. This House can be proud of the changes that have taken place. I am grateful for the collaboration of noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches; the noble Lords, Lord Rodgers and Lord Harris. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Mallalieu and to Ministers on the Front Bench.
I found myself in the rather strange position of being a constant ally of the judges. That is not normally my position. Their interventions were constructive and, when I fully understood them, I tended on the whole to agree with them. I admire and respect the noble and
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I associate myself with almost everything said by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, about the Bill and its progress through the House. I am grateful to the noble Baroness the Minister for dealing with what was an extremely complex Bill. I am delighted that I was not in her position, with her brief, and particularly delighted that I did not have to do battle with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. I would have done much less well than she, and I say that irrespective of whether or not I agree with the Government's position on the matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred to the latter stages of the Bill as being an intellectual ordeal. I prefer to think of them as having been an education. This is certainly the first experience I have had of the Law Lords in action, either retired or active. They are a formidable group and it is an interesting commentary on changes in our society that for many of us the Law Lords now speak as a radical voice whereas, once upon a time, they were essentially the voice of the status quo.
One part of the Bill in which I expressed specific interest was the question of the investigative powers of the commission. I shall look carefully at what the Minister said following her discussion with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. In Committee she referred to the powers of the commission as being substantially prescribed, in so far as it would not be able to undertake investigations of its own because it would have no in-house team. However, on Report she said,
Those two points of view are reconcilable. I believe the noble Baroness was seeking to show that the commission had wide powers; that it would be independent; and that, although it may not have the resources to undertake an investigation on its own, it could go a long way in the direction of ensuring its terms and controlling it thereafter.
I agree that the Bill is a useful addition to the statute book. I agree also with what other noble Lords said in expressing the hope that it will return to this House in its present form and that the Government will take no lead in seeking to amend it. The Bill has made progress here and has been improved during that time.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, in a few words I should like to add my congratulations to those already accorded to the noble Baroness on a quite outstanding grasp of a complex Billand an important Bill too. She managed to achieve a great degree of co-operation and, as a result, significantly improved parts of the Bill.
My intervention, as I indicated at the start, was a modest one. It had nothing to do with the discretion of the Home Secretary to decide how long a prisoner stays in prison. I echo the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and express the hope that the experience of the Clegg case may perhaps have persuaded the Government that it is not a happy situation when one mixes politics with the judicial function of sentencing.
I associate myself also with the words of my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale with regard to the treatment in the other place of the clause resulting from our Amendment No. 2, which we debated today. Of course one does not decide whether to reject or accept what comes from this House purely on the basis of the size of the majority. Incidentally, I believe it was 16, and not as stated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, who was referring to an issue that I lost rather than one that I won; that is, in relation to contingency fees. One must have regard to the weight of the argument.
In this Bill the judiciary established a record. I have been in a number of debates where the number of Law Lords who voted against the Government reached 10. On this occasion, if we include my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, a former Master of the Rolls, as Law Lords, no fewer than 17 judges of that distinction voted against the Government, with not one in their favour. When one is dealing with a legal subject, if their advice is rejected in the manner which has already been threatened when this goes to another place, then it is a poor outlook for the triumph of justice over executive convenience. I hope that that situation will not occur. However, as I indicated, this was only a minor part of an important Bill to which tributes have been justifiably paid to the noble Baroness. I support the Motion.