Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I believe that there is significant virtue in the amendment, provided that one has safeguards which could be easily introduced. A safeguard that I have in mind is that a prosecution appeal against a preliminary ruling ought only to be with the consent of the Attorney-General, in the same way as appeals against over-lenient sentences are dependent on such consent.

I believe that there is significant public concern about what is felt to be unduly pusillanimous rulings by judges at first instance, staying criminal proceedings on the basis of abuse of process, sometimes relating to adverse publicity in well known cases of which the Committee is aware. When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge, was sitting as a puisne, such applications would rarely succeed. By and large, judges rightly trusted juries to decide the case on the evidence. I myself would not anticipate that that right of appeal--or right of direction originally, with a consequent right of appeal as spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway--would regularly be used. It might be used in a certain number of appropriate cases. At the moment, if the judge stays the proceedings on the basis of abuse of process, there is no remedy available.

I believe that the amendment makes the law workable, efficient and likely to have more public confidence and support.

Baroness Blatch: The Committee will recall that this is a matter that we debated earlier this year during the

19 Dec 1995 : Column 1563

passage of the Criminal Appeal Bill. Until 1993, it was thought possible for both parties to seek judicial review of decisions to grant or refuse such applications. However, in the case of Ashton, the House of Lords ruled that the High Court did not have jurisdiction to review those decisions as they were matters "relating to a trial on indictment". The present position, therefore, is that there is no such right of appeal, although it is open to the defendant, if he is convicted, to argue on an appeal against conviction that the prosecution was an abuse of process and the conviction unsafe as a result.

It is essential that we take whatever steps we can to minimise the scope for delays in criminal trials and avoid measures which might unnecessarily add to such delays. The effect of the amendment would be to add another stage into the process and so further delay the proceedings. This would be particularly unfortunate in cases such as those where preparatory hearings are likely to be held which may already have taken a considerable length of time to reach court. A provision of this kind might be open to exploitation by the defence who could use such appeals as a delaying tactic. The appeal would cast further doubt upon whether or not the trial would go ahead and all work relating to the trial would be likely to be suspended pending the outcome.

A further disadvantage of this amendment is that it would result in rights of appeal against such decisions being available only in those cases where there happened to be a preparatory hearing. That would be anomalous, and would create pressure for the right of interlocutory appeal to be extended to all cases. Such an extension would require further consideration in view of the potential implications for the handling of court business and the timely conduct of trials.

Although I can see the arguments for providing a right of appeal on decisions on applications to stay proceedings, I do not believe that it can be justified in terms of the delays which would result. Nor is it necessary in the interests of justice. The defendant is able to appeal in the normal way at the end of the trial if he is convicted. In our view, that is the correct way to proceed.

We still believe that the safeguard for the defendant is appeal after conviction. Any appeal for the right to apply to stay proceedings could lead to widespread abuse. Though the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said that it would be rarely used, there is no guarantee. Once it exists, it exists as a right and it would be for anybody who enjoys that right to exercise it. The notion may be that everybody is entirely sensible; nevertheless, used and abused as a right, it could be used as a delaying tactic. It is not beyond the wit of man to use it as such rather than as a right to seek justice.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: First, I have never proceeded on the basis that anyone I encounter is likely to behave in a sensible way. Indeed, Clause 26(1) approaches life on that same suspicious basis. Leave will only lie with the trial judge or the Court of Appeal Criminal Division.

19 Dec 1995 : Column 1564

Secondly, the Minister says that this adds another stage. It does nothing of the sort. It brings forward the time of application to stay the proceedings--the preparatory hearing as opposed to the first day of the trial.

Thirdly, to suggest that a device as efficient as this will lead to more delay than, as suggested by the Minister, waiting until the end of trial, seems to stand common sense upon its head.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: As this is Committee stage, in view of the reasoned argument of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, perhaps my noble friend the Minister will take this matter back rather than simply resisting it, as is her command on her brief, which is sheer mistaken ministerial preconception in which there is no objective examination of this subject. I ask my noble friend to take the matter away and to think again.

Baroness Blatch: I repeat, this is Committee stage. Everything that is discussed at Committee stage I shall take back, reflect upon and consider. I shall come to these points again, if pressed, at Report.

Lord Bridge of Harwich: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for his support of the amendment. I entirely accept his proposition that if it were accepted, additional safeguards may be required, in particular a requirement that an appeal by the Crown should only lie with the consent of the Attorney General. That is an eminently sensible proposal.

I listened with care to the noble Baroness. I hope it is not arrogant to say that I felt some sympathy for her in having to present such a difficult brief. It was suggested that the issue we are debating is the same as that we debated earlier in the year on the Criminal Appeal Bill. That is not right. If that amendment had been carried, it would have introduced an interlocutory appeal against the grant or refusal of a stay in all cases. I have only determined to return to the charge because I observe in Part III of this Bill that the Government themselves deliberately introduce an interlocutory appeal relating to the judge's decision in the course of a preparatory hearing on questions of law and admissibility of evidence.

The one issue which the noble Baroness did not address is how any distinction can be drawn between the opportunity for delaying tactics--vexatious applications for leave to appeal by defendants in relation to interlocutory appeals on issues of law or admissibility of evidence--and delaying tactics which will be available in the case of an application for leave to appeal against the refusal of a stay of execution. If the Minister intends to take the matter back for consideration, I hope that she will direct her mind and the minds of others to that issue.

Is there a distinction to be drawn? If not, is it not apparent that an interlocutory appeal on this issue has just as much to be said for it as an interlocutory appeal on the other issues which the Government themselves introduce? On that basis, I shall not divide the Committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

19 Dec 1995 : Column 1565

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 107:

Page 16, line 2, leave out subsection (8).

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 107, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 108 and 111.

For the purpose of speaking to these amendments, it may assist if I deal first with the amendment introducing the second new clause after Clause 24, which is the substantive amendment from which the amendments to Clause 24(8) and 24(11) arise. The purpose of these three amendments is to improve the drafting of the Bill. Their effect is otherwise neutral.

The second new clause after Clause 24 makes provision for Crown Court Rules. Under subsection (1) of the new clause Crown Court Rules may provide that,

    "except to the extent that disclosure is required by rules under section 81 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (expert evidence), or by section 5(5) of this Act"--
(disclosure of the details of an alibi and evidence in support of it)--the defendant need not disclose the identity of defence witnesses nor whether the accused will give evidence. Subsection (1) in effect replaces Clause 24(8). The only difference between the two provisions is that the new subsection substitutes the words, "by section 5(5) of this Act", for "by any provision of Part I of this Act".

Subsection (2) of the second new clause after Clause 24 provides that Crown Court Rules may make provision as to the minimum or maximum time that may be specified under Section 24(11) for compliance with a specific requirement contained in an order made under Clause 24. As a consequence of this amendment, the reference to Crown Court Rules in Clause 24(11) is not needed. I beg to move.

Baroness Mallalieu: I support the amendment. I am grateful that the Government listened to anxieties expressed in many quarters following the consultation document which required the defence, in relation to the earlier part of this legislation, to disclose the names and addresses of witnesses. I am glad that the spirit in which that earlier part is now drafted is to be reflected in Part III.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page