The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, proceedings have been commenced in one case under the War Crimes Act 1991. The Crown Prosecution Service will take decisions as to possible prosecution in other cases once police investigations have been concluded and all relevant evidence has been fully considered and analysed.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that reply. As to the first limb of the Question, regarding Mr. Serafinowicz, aged 85, when is it expected that the committal proceedings, which started as long ago as 4th January, will end; and when is it expected that the substantive trial will start?
As regards the second limb of the Question concerning the remaining cases, six or seven of which have been under investigation since Hethrington in 1988, will my noble and learned friend accept that the purpose of this Question is not to thwart the will of another place, nor to stifle prosecutions, but to seek to contain the delay which affects the prospect of any fair trial?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, of course I accept what my noble friend says regarding the purpose of his Question. So far as the committal proceedings to which he referred are concerned, they were commenced on 4th January 1996. They were adjourned until 19th February 1996. Evidence was heard from 19th February to 1st March 1996 inclusive, and the proceedings now stand adjourned until 18th March 1996. The current best estimate is that committal proceedings will be completed by mid-April. I do not have information as to when, if at all, there will be a trial.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, that is primarily a matter for Parliament. The House of Commons took a decision in relation to the promotion of the Bill, which eventually became an Act as a result of the application of the Parliament Acts.
Lord Richard: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that I totally agree with his remark at the end of his intervention? To give those charged under this Act a fair trial we need an open judicial system, which we have; a careful collection of evidence, which we have; and we need that evidence to be analysed in public, which it will be. Is it not time, somebody now having been charged under the Act, that the courts were allowed to get on with their duty?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I have no doubt that the committal proceedings will go forward with all reasonable expedition under the chairmanship of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, who is presiding on the occasion.
Baroness Elles: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that the chief prosecutor at the documentation research centre at Ludwigsburg, in Germany, has decided that no more prosecutions of these suspects will take place because of their age and because of probable sickness? Is that a view that my noble and learned friend would share?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, that would be a view taken in the circumstances by that particular official. So far as this country is concerned, the responsibility lies with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General. I report their views to the House; but these decisions are personal responsibilities of theirs.
Lord Mayhew: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord recall that the Hethrington Report argued that the great difficulty in regard to prosecution was the age of the witnesses and the suspects? That was eight years ago. Will he agree that, as the years go by and these proceedings drag on, the whole process becomes increasingly distasteful? Is it not becoming apparent that the other place, and the Government, might be wise to accept the advice of this House on the subject?
I think I am right in saying that the Hethrington-Chalmers Report indicated that there was a case for prosecution, at least in some cases. I do not profess to give the whole sense of what was quite a long document; the part to which the noble Lord referred was not the whole.
Lord Beloff: My Lords, will my noble and learned friend agree that, at a time when further massacres are being perpetrated against the Jewish people, it is the height of bad taste to try to draw a veil over even greater atrocities in the past?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, as I said, my position is that Parliament, having regard to the history I referred to, put this Act on the statute book; and the executive authorities, my right honourable friend the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions, are carrying out the duties that fall to them in consequence of that statute.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord confirm that the alleged crimes took place 53 years ago? Can we be sure that the evidence of identification, particularly if it is taken over television, will be reliable?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, that is a matter for the court of trial. Noble Lords would be surprised, if not astonished, were I to give a view about that at this stage. That is a matter for the court of trial. It would be a tremendous impertinence on my part, not having heard any of the evidence or seen anything on the television about it, to express a view on that matter. The noble Lord may have his own view but I do not think that it would be right for me to express mine.
Lord Mowbray and Stourton: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that with the recommendation of the government of which the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was a member--namely, that in the interests of justice further prosecutions would be a mistake--we are looking back with hindsight at a Labour Government which uttered great words of wisdom with that advice?
Lord Shepherd: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord answers that question, I believe that I follow the wish of the House in asking whether the noble Lord the Leader of the House would move to the next Question.
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps we may split the difference. My noble and learned friend might like to answer the question as briefly as he is able and we can then move on.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, we have made no representations to the Russian Government about the death sentence passed on Oleg Gordievsky, nor has Mr. Gordievsky asked us to do so.
Lord Bethell: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. But does she share my view that the Russian Federation's willingness to cancel the death sentence and indeed to pardon Mr. Gordievsky would be seen as a measure of the new Russia's willingness to live in peace with the western world, with Partnership for Peace, and with the principles of the Council of Europe? Does she think it would be very desirable that the Russians should do away with that death sentence?
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