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Mr. Blunkett: Again, I welcome the tone of the hon. and learned Gentleman's contribution. I am prepared to listen to people's views on the safeguards that hon. Members and the public will require on the disclosure of previous convictions and in cases of double jeopardy. New compelling evidence will have to go through the triple locks that I described before a new case can be made and the previous verdict cancelled. Those provide a real safeguard for double jeopardy cases. We must take account of the knowledge that we now have, and we have the ability to convict the guilty, not the innocent. Justice is not only about protecting people from perpetrators, but about ensuring that those who we come to know are guilty are convicted as guilty.
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): There has been a great deal of sound and fury in the media about the White Paper, signifying not very much. There is much in the document that hon. Members on both sides of the House and people throughout the criminal justice system will welcome. Before I ask three specific questions, may I point out that the test that my right hon. Friend adduced in deciding which criminal convictions should be relevant to the case and of assistance to the court is the test that we already have? It is not a new test. On the example that he gave, the previous convictions of a person who says that he has never violated a woman before would be considered relevant in any event. To enshrine the test in statute would not cause a great problem.
There are three matters that do and, I anticipate, will cause problems, and I ask for my right hon. Friend's assistance. The first is double jeopardy. He gave the example of DNA evidence, and I certainly would not be against a specific provision relating to that.
Mr. Blunkett: First, I can confirm that I am aware of the Law Commission's work on previous convictions and I know that some of the practice, which is variable across the country, is insecure. That requires us to refine and extend provision so that people are very clear about what previous convictions apply and in which circumstances they can be used. Secondly, I am aware that there is concern among all hon. Members about double jeopardy. I seek to make my case this afternoon, and I shall seek to do so when we bring legislation before the House.
Lady Hermon (North Down): On behalf of my colleagues in the Ulster Unionist party, I warmly welcome the Home Secretary's statement. He will be aware that, in the past two years, there has been a review of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland, culminating in the final stages of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill in the House last night. Can he ensure, in consultation with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that the good changes that he recommends in his statement are also introduced in Northern Ireland?
Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale): As a non-lawyer, but as somebody who has supported a child victim through the criminal justice system, I believe that the most dreadful thing is that the process destroys any concept of justice at such a young age. The proposals should enshrine changes to the process which instil in young people the courage to pursue the high principles of justice.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the process makes as much common sense for ordinary non-legal people as possible? The process, rather than the end result, brutalises peoplethey understand the court system to a degree. It is often a matter of simple things such as prosecutors not being willing to talk to victims because they believe that victims play a minor role in the court process, rather than acknowledging that they play a central role, given that the crime happened to them.
Mr. Blunkett: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that a previous statement to the House addressed the issue of tailoring the youth justice system and the handling of youth witnesses in a way that lessened the adversarial nature of the court system in England and Wales. We learned a great deal from the Scottish experience, and have tried to ensure that young people's experience of the court system will encourage them to come forward as witnesses and to play a part in the system in future. All too often, that does not happen.
On the right hon. and learned Gentleman's earlier question, I have already made my position on previous convictions clear. I want to make clear my position on mode of trial. We are dealing with serious complex fraud cases, of which we believe there will be about 15 to 20 every year. There may well be more in terms of detailed network organised crime and intimidation. The right to opt for jury trial will remain in all the cases that are currently outside the parameters that I described, including the extension of magistrates courts' sentencing powers. The leak of the document that was handed to The Independent may have misled people into believing something different.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): In the light of what the Select Committee on Home Affairs said two years ago and what my right hon. Friend said today, is it not right that someone who has been acquitted of murder or another very serious offence should, if compelling evidence is produced, and if all the triple lock safeguards show that it should happen, be brought before the court again on the same charge? I ask my right hon. Friend this question. What sort of respect would it be to the memory of a loved one who has been murdered if a person has been acquitted, compelling evidence is found, and no further case can be brought, as is the position now? Surely justice demands, if only for the sake of the memory of that murdered person, that if there is such compelling evidence, and despite the earlier acquittal, the person concerned should be able to be charged accordingly.
Mr. Blunkett: I agree with my hon. Friend that it is entirely wrong that such people should be allowed to go free while those whose lives were ruined by their child or other loved one being killed cannot get justice. It is a strange judicial system that can protect us from someone by putting them away for perjury, but not for the offence that they actually carried out.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): In view of the Home Secretary's proposal that the right to jury trial be ended in the case of serious fraud casesin the apparent belief that juries are too bewildered by the complexity of fraud trials to convict, and that fraudsters exploit thatis he aware that over the past four years the Serious Fraud Office has had a 92 per cent. conviction rate in cases that it has brought? Does he expect the
Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful for the notice of the right hon. Gentleman's question through this morning's edition of The Daily Telegraph. I adhere to three of his four principles, but I fall short on double jeopardywe simply disagree on that. Yes, I do expect more fraud cases to be brought and to be successful, because the current enormous difficulties arising from persuading people to take up jury service for prolonged, complex fraud cases lasting up to a year and dealing with them under the current arrangements will be overcome. A very large body of information now backs up our proposals.
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): On sentencing, my right hon. Friend may be aware of the conviction last year of a constituent of mine for causing six deaths in a road traffic accident while under the influence of drink. Recently, on appeal, his sentence was cut by one third. Does my right hon. Friend recognise the hurt that is felt not only by the families of the victims, but by many other people in my constituency who have had not only to suffer such an awful, terrible thing happening, but the reduction of the sentence on appeal?