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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am bound to say that I disagree with the noble and learned Lord. If one is in jeopardy, one is in jeopardy at two stages at least: one is guilt or lack of guilt, as a result of the verdict of the jury; the second important question of jeopardy--and for many defendants it is the critical question--is the nature of the sentence: prison or not, community sentence or fine. If, in January, one is given a sentence of 12 months' probation and, six months later, after an Attorney-General's reference, with the filters that the noble and learned Lord built into the legislative scheme, one receives a sentence of three years' imprisonment, I suggest that that is fundamentally an aspect of double jeopardy. Many of the arguments mounted against the noble and learned Lord's new scheme, which was to work admirably well in practice, were on that basis.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks and am happy to repeat, I am not impugning anyone's motives. I do not think that anyone can fairly have detected that in what I said. It would not be right to do so; I do not think that anyone who has spoken in this debate has discreditable motives. The only disharmony arose when some disagreeable comments were made about the noble Lord, Lord Warner, who simply attempted to develop his theme with noteworthy patience.
Lord Hutchinson of Lullington: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord looks irritated that he is interrupted, but he invites interruptions. He is a past master at not answering the question. Is he prepared to answer the very simple question put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander? He has spoken a great deal about other matters since. Will he answer it?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I answered it plainly. I said that the noble Lord had a perfectly good point but I could not conceive of every possible circumstance in which the magistrates would come to their conclusion. The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, may not like the answer; however, he is not entitled to say that I did not answer the question. I am not irritated on any occasion when noble Lords interrupt me, although if I continue speaking for much more than a minute, some of your Lordships will become irritated with me--quite unfairly.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, raised many aspects of great substance, and in some detail. He raised a question during our meeting yesterday about the state of the up-to-date material. I promised to get it to him as soon as possible. He is right to point out the statistical deficiencies. All I will say is that we ensured that the digest--which is all it was--went to him, pointing out the nature of the statistical
I am conscious of the difficulties of relying on statistical material because there is always someone who can challenge the variables, but according to the figures that I have the acquittal rate is 48 per cent for black defendants in the magistrates' court. I repeat that I am always conscious of the deficiencies of statistical samples. The equivalent figure for white defendants of acquittals in the magistrates' court is 42 per cent. In the Crown Court the acquittal rate is 36 per cent for black defendants and 30 per cent for white defendants. If those figures can tell us anything--and I repeat that I know the limitations of small samples--they show that the acquittal rate for black defendants in the magistrates' court is higher than the acquittal rate for white defendants in the magistrates' court.
Lord Wigoder: My Lords, I have been endeavouring not to interrupt at any stage, but I am tempted by that observation. Do not those figures merely demonstrate that more black people than white people are being wrongly arrested?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, of course that may be so, and indeed I volunteered in response to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that there are very significant variables. I do not think that your Lordships would expect me to justify any malpractice by the police: I do not. I have to remind your Lordships, when the Home Secretary is assailed for illiberalism, that it was he who introduced, as a Home Office Bill, the Human Rights Bill. It was he who set up--quite a while, I remember, after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, but not long after we came into government--that inquiry, determined that it should be in public, insisted that it should be fully reported in public and accepted immediately at least three-quarters of the recommendations.
I repeat that there are difficulties with statistics. That is one of the reasons why it would be helpful if we were able to pool the relevant material that is available. One can derive different conclusions from apparently perfectly respectable statistical material. I do agree that perception is important. I also think that we sometimes have a duty not to add fuel to the fire of misperception, and when those from ethnic minorities, whether black or Asian, have wrong perceptions of the fairness of our systems, if they are wrong we ought to be bold enough and confident enough and sufficiently strong in discharging our duty to tell them so.
I have not been able to deal with every single point that has been raised, even in the 23 minutes that I have taken this evening. Indeed, I am sorry to have taken so long, but I must repeat that my own prognostication is that we are not going to arrive at a situation where your Lordships agree with the Government's view. On the other hand, I ought to reiterate that the opportunity for consultation and for comparing different pieces of research remains available. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, referred to research about white Irish defendants. I have not seen that research; I first heard of it yesterday and I would be most obliged if she could provide it to officials so that they may study it and see how representative it is.
I will say just one more word this evening, if I may. I am convinced, having listened with care to what has been said--and I have not been out of my place for one second: I have listened to every syllable that has been spoken--that this is a proper and prudent way to go forward. I believe that we have a duty to make sure that this resource--I am not talking about money but about the resource of the criminal justice system--should be appropriately focused on those serious cases where the state and the citizen clash, because my own view is that that is the true value and glory of the jury system.
Lord Alexander of Weedon: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, perhaps I may trespass on the great courtesy and patience that he has shown throughout this debate, which has impressed us all though we know it to be typical of him, to answer one further short question. It is simply this: will the magistrates have to give reasons for their decision?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, again, I think that is something that ought to be part of the discussion that we develop. It is certainly something that needs to be considered in the context of the rules of court, and I am perfectly happy to receive any representations that are made. One would have to consult the Magistrates' Association. Ultimately it is a matter for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor as to how he determines the rules of court.
I take the noble Lord's sub-theme that giving reasons is beneficial in at least two respects. First, if it is an adverse decision, reasons sometimes soothe the wound. Secondly, often they make a better decision possible.
I should have mentioned one tiny point. I was going to write to the noble Lord. He slightly misunderstood the £5,000 question. The £5,000 relates only to the value of criminal damage, not to the value of theft.
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