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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I certainly empathise with the thrust of what the right reverend Prelate said. However, the current legislation is fairly robust. The right reverend Prelate will know that the 1997 Act provides for victims of harassment to apply to the High Court for a civil restraining order. In the past such orders have successfully been obtained by victims of animal rights extremists. They include a requirement for the removal of information about individuals from websites. We shall reconsider the matter to see whether there is anything further that needs to be done although obviously I cannot guarantee what the outcome of that review will be.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, following what the right reverend Prelate said, with all of which I fully agree, are Her Majesty's Government taking positive steps to engage and bring together people of all faiths, whether they are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs or other, to recognise the danger that is emerging from the far Right, the fascists and Nazis, and to fight against that growing racism?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I certainly reassure my noble friend that there are many initiatives which seek to bring together people of different faiths to talk about issues of this kind. I refer not just to government initiatives but also to those instigated by non-governmental agencies. Opportunities to continue that process must be seized by us all as it is a

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matter of real importance. I certainly guarantee that this issue will continue to concern the Government and will be addressed.

Lord Renton: My Lords, have the Government no intention of ensuring that websites should exist only for lawful purposes?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have. The whole point of what many people seek to do is to fly very close to the wind so that they keep just inside whichever barrier is set for them. As I say, we shall continue to consider what we can do to make it increasingly difficult for them to adopt those positions with the facility that applies at present.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords—

Lord McNally: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the study carried out by the chairman of the Internet Watch Foundation, Roger Darlington, into extremism on the Internet in which he draws attention to the fact that much of this poison comes from the United States where providers are protected by the First Amendment? As the Minister may be aware, Mr Darlington draws attention to the fact that the Council of Europe brought forward a convention on cyber-crime with which the United States and Japan were associated. However, a number of countries are now pressing for a protocol to the convention covering racism and xenophobia. Is that a matter that Her Majesty's Government would support and is it a matter that Her Majesty's Government would take up with the United States given that they want co-operation on other matters?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have initiated inquiries of the United States authorities to establish whether hosting such websites constitutes a breach of US law, regulations or industry good practice. We shall continue to work with all those who are engaged in this work in a positive way to create better security. I shall certainly consider what the noble Lord said about the convention. I cannot give the noble Lord an answer from the Dispatch Box; I do not think that he expected me so to do.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the early 1990s information similar to that now being put on the website we are discussing was produced in printed form and had to be stopped through criminal proceedings? As she says that the law is robust, why cannot the law now be used to inhibit similar material being produced on a website?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, noble Lords will know that it is for the CPS and the prosecution authorities to make a decision in any individual case, whether breaches of the law have or have not occurred. I cannot second guess the judgments. That is why I said earlier that although there have not been any prosecutions to date, that does not mean that the law

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is not efficacious. It may simply mean that, in the given case, there was insufficient evidence. There is nothing to indicate that what was unlawful before is lawful now.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the activities of animal rights terrorist groups in particular using the web. Will she give an assurance that, as part of her department's work in the area, efforts will be redoubled to protect lawful businesses, which necessarily undertake well regulated research using animals?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can certainly tell my noble friend that we have made huge efforts to protect lawful businesses. He will be very familiar with our work on abuse by animal rights extremists in relation to Huntingdon Life Sciences and others. Those efforts will continue. The amendments that we made in the Criminal Justice Act are helpful, and we hope that they will be used in future.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, what is the estimate of the number of people involved in this situation, both those who receive and send the threats?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we do not have figures. The noble Lord outlined the nature of the site and the number of people put on it. We are not able to quantify how many are engaged in the activity. If we have the figures, I shall certainly write to the noble Baroness.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, would the noble Baroness care to comment on whether websites that publish personal data without consent could be in breach of the Data Protection Act and therefore prosecutable?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Data Protection Act may not precisely cover such issues. It has been very helpful that the UK ISPs have been robust in terms of together putting forward contracts that tend to exclude such data. We absolutely endorse that good practice and encourage all ISPs to continue to look at it.

Sudden Infant Deaths

2.52 p.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Lord Chancellor will discuss with the Lord Chief Justice the recent overturning of certain convictions in relation to babies in cot deaths.

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith): My Lords, acute public concern has been raised about prosecutions for homicide offences in relation to cases of sudden infant deaths, particularly in the light of three recent high profile cases. While the Lord

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Chancellor has regular discussions with the Lord Chief Justice about the proper administration of justice throughout the courts, he has no role in reviewing judicial decisions, whether generally or specifically in relation to cot deaths.

However, as Attorney-General, I have taken action to review the implications of the cases, with the support of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The action that I have taken includes establishing an interdepartmental group that is identifying and has already started to review relevant past cases.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I thank the Attorney-General for that helpful reply. Does he agree that it is a poor reflection on British justice that Sally Clark, Trupti Patel and Angela Cannings should have gone through hell for child murders that they did not commit? They were put through hell on the basis of the evidence of the expert witness Sir Roy Meadows, and statistical evidence that the Royal Statistical Society wrote to the Lord Chancellor to say had no statistical basis.

How many cases are there of women in prison convicted in relation to cot deaths, and of women who have been through the family courts and been separated from their children, with both categories being based on evidence by Sir Roy Meadows or experts using similar methods? Some people have said that there could be up to 250 cases. Is it not vital that the review that the Attorney-General is undertaking happens very quickly? Does there not appear to be some need to advise the courts that convictions need to be based on hard evidence, not statistical probabilities or checklists of psychological symptoms?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I of course entirely agree that the effects on mothers and their families of tragically losing children and then being accused or—worse still—convicted, in the event wrongly, of their murder are devastating. Obviously, it is the job of our police and child protection agencies to protect vulnerable children who are unable to protect themselves. The consequences of not acting or acting without due cause can be devastating, which is why it is so important to look very thoroughly at the implications of the cases.

That is why I moved swiftly after the Sally Clark verdict to establish the group. It is already reviewing 50 cases that concern the evidence of Dr Williams. We have not had the judgment yet in the Cannings case—it is expected shortly—but I have already asked the group to identify cases of sudden deaths of infants in the past 10 years. However, there is no central database.

There are different issues in relation to family cases, as the Crown is not a party to those. My interdepartmental review is concerned with criminal cases, and I cannot at the moment say how many cases

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there are. I shall try to write to the noble Lord when I can. However, I entirely agree that the issue is very important, which is why I have taken such action.


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