Extract from the response on behalf of
Mr Geoffrey Robinson MP to the memorandum from the Parliamentary
Commissioner for Standards appended to the Seventh Report from
the Committee on Standards and Privileges, Session 2000-01
11. Standard of Proof
11.1 The fundamental question of the standard
of proof has recently (21 December 2000) been carefully considered
by the Committee (in its Second Report for the Session 2000-2001),
albeit in the very different context of the complaint against
Mr John Maxton and Dr John Reid. In that context the Committee
reached three conclusions as to the appropriate standard of proof
to be applied:-
- A mere balance of probabilities is not enough;
- The allegations could not properly be upheld
unless the Committee were persuaded that they were "significantly
more likely" to be true than not true;
- It was not, however, necessary in that case for
the complaint to be established beyond reasonable doubt, since
it did not "involve criminal charges or criminal sanctions".
11.2 Taking that approach as a starting
point, in the case of Mr Robinson the position must be that:-
- A mere balance of probabilities would be even
- At the very least, the allegations could not
properly be upheld unless the Committee were persuaded that they
were "significantly more likely" to be true than not
- In this case indeed it is necessary for the complaint
to be established beyond reasonable doubt, because it does on
this occasion involve allegations of criminal conduct and the
prospects of criminal sanctions.
11.3 Two basic weaknesses of the Commissioner's
Memorandum are that:-
- It is unclear what standard of proof she is purporting
- She does not appear actually to be applying even
the loose standard she sets herself.
11.4 The Commissioner addresses the question
of standard of proof briefly in paragraph 6 of her Memorandum.
She identifies there a standard of proof "stricter than"
the mere balance of probabilities. What, however, is wholly unclear
is how much stricter?
11.5 On any view, the test would not be
strict enough if it fell short of the "significantly more
11.6 Certainly she has not applied the criminal
standard. See e.g. the references to doubt in paragraphs 158 and
163 and to lack of proof in paragraph 132.
11.7 Moreover, it seems clear that she has
not even applied the "significantly more likely" test.
Indeed it appears that she has throughout actually applied (at
best) a mere balance of probabilities test. This must be wholly
11.8 Never is the Commissioner's approach
in relation to disputed issues any stricter than the mere balance
of probabilities. On the contrary every critical finding is on
the basis of:-
- Either the mere balance of probabilities, e.g.
paragraphs 101, 125, 137, 139, 142 and 143;
- Or speculation and conjecture, e.g. paragraphs
140, 141 and 144.
11.9 It is clear that:-
- The Commissioner's conclusions are fatally flawed
not least because she has proceeded on the basis on far too lax
a standard of proof;
- The Committee must consider (no doubt with the
benefit of legal advice) what sufficiently stringent standard
of proof to apply;
- The Committee must then come to its own conclusions,
based rigorously on that standard of proof.
3 Seventh Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges:
Complaint against Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Session 2000-01
(HC 465)), Appendix 3. Back