|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Clinton-Davis: I thank my noble friend for giving way. I intervened earlier to ask what consultation had taken place between the Home Officeor whoever else is involvedand the Law Society, the Bar Council, and so on. My noble friend said that she would respond.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I do not believe that we have had specific consultation with either the Law Society or the Bar Council on the two clauses. The noble Lord will know that, in the ordinary way, consultation takes place on many of those issues.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I wish to register the Committee's thanks for the courtesy and detail with which the noble Baroness has presented the Government's arguments. Although we may not agree with her, we can only respect and admire her full answer. Further to the comment made by her noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, is it not true that our particular difficulty with the clauses is rooted in the
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Of course it would have been better if we had had a fuller opportunity to discuss the matters, and if the clauses had been more fully debated in another place. One of the beauties of your Lordships' House is that we have the luxury to do just that. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of this opportunity. I am sure that we are having a very similar discussion to that which would have surrounded the decision on whether we retain the data on those acquitted. Members of the Committee will know that our practice in the past was that, if an individual was acquitted in accordance with our law and the procedures, he would be entitled to have the DNA information contained on the record expunged.
We know from the two cases that I have outlined, and the 400-plus that have followed, how important the retention of that information has already proved to be. One need only look at the newspapers to see daily proof of the good use to which DNA evidence can be put. So much evidence that comes before our courts can be besmirched, argued with and undermined because it may convict the innocent and may allow the guilty to go free. An objective tool that we can use both to free and to convict is therefore very powerful.
There need come to light only one of the sort of cases we have discussed for the public to say, "We simply do not understand why the system is deliberately disabling itself from giving us justice when the same is easily obtainable". We must address that question.
Lord Alexander of Weedon: If the noble Lord could give way for one moment, I could answer one of the questions that he very thoughtfully raises as a keen supporter of Justice, of which I am chairman. Inevitably, as the noble Baroness says, there appears to have been no time to consult any bodies. But we have submitted to her very clear representations, which we have circulated to a number of noble Lords. The submission states:
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: I wish to raise the question of why there was no consultation with the Human Genetics Commission, of which I am the chair. The issue raised by my noble friend of how access to genetic information can assist justice raises very important matters with regard to public expectation, which have been explored by the commission. The public want to see that information used to deal with crime.
However, concerns are expressed about the creation of a national database without proper consent from the whole public. There has not been consultation on the matter. There are advocates of that approach. Professor Jeffreys, the discoverer of DNA for police investigation, has said that either everyone should be on the database or the matter should not be approached in the way that the Government propose. It would help if those involved in the issues were consulted. I am afraid that the Home Office has not been in touch with the commission that I chair. The other matter that I wish to raise
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: Sorry. I wish to raise the following point because it is important. A distinction should be made between samples and matters that are purely "the barcode" kept by the police. Many advocate that the barcode could be kept but that the issue of samples is of real concern and should be debated much more publicly.
Lord Dholakia: I thank the Minister. She said that we have powerful evidence for why we are recommending the retention and collection of samples, but if the case is so powerful, why was it not included in the Bill when it was first introduced in the House of Commons? As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, the matter was introduced very late in the day and I do not think that there was proper consultation. I could have quoted from Justice or the Law Society, both of which have shown great concern about the proposal that the Government are introducing.
The issue that bothers us most is the erosion of the rights and liberties of individuals and that there has not been proper consultation with the bodies that matter. Even at this late stage, it would be appropriate for the Government to consult those organisations before Report. If they do not, I am certainly bound to consult them, bearing in mind what the Minister said.
I remind the Minister that she mentioned the case of someone who was acquitted after serving a long term in prison. But that case is not relevant to what we are discussing. The amendment would not have helped that case. The person was charged, so the sample would have been retained and there would have been no problem in that respect. We are talking about 300 or 400 out of the hundreds of thousands of cases that go before the court, so this is a matter of serious concern, unless there is a public debate on this particular issue. I do not intend to press the amendment to a Division.
Lord Clinton-Davis: If my noble friend the Minister were to say at this late stage that the Government are prepared to enter into consultation before Report, which they have not done, would the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, be satisfied?
Lord Dholakia: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clinton Davis, but my answer would depend on the outcome of the consultations. I have got the preliminary views from those organisations but I will certainly return on Report after further consultation with these bodies, irrespective of whether the Home Office has consulted them or not.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: I am always fascinated by demands for consultation. Have the bodies concerned made representations to the Minister? Have they asked to meet the Minister, and if not, why not? Why should it be necessary to hold up the passage of the Bill because interested bodies cannot be bothered to take the initiative?
Lord Dholakia: If the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, had listened to some of the answers put forward, he would have heard that this provision was introduced at a very late stage in the House of Commons and I do not think that the organisations involved had the opportunity to consult the Minister. However, I do not think that it is too late to consult them, and all that I intend to do therefore is to mention to the Minister that we will certainly be in touch with the organisations. If we feel on Report that the argument about the collection of samples has not been advanced, we will press appropriate amendments to a Division.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I reiterate what I said right at the beginning of the debate. Of course, in relation to all or any of these matters we remain open to discussion. We have already indicated that we will have the usual meetings with the Front Bench and other interested parties between now and Report. For the sake of the record, I make that offer once again.
I say openly both to Justice and to my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis that, in relation to the Bar and the Law Society, in accordance with our usual practice, we will consider any representations made to us about any other issue arising from the Bill. I would love to answer the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, but I will do so on another occasion.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page