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Lord Beloff: My Lords, if the noble Lord was referring to the Indian Supreme Court, I shall plead ignorance. I do not know how it is constituted and therefore it would be improper for me to comment upon it. When people talk about the supreme court, they normally have the United States in mind.
The idea of a ministry of justice is a continental one. Is even the noble Lord, Lord Lester, happy at some of the judicial proceedings in neighbouring countries? Does he really think that there is something admirable about the way in which some ministers in a previous French government are now being tried in an extraordinary public way and under an extraordinary set of procedures which we would find alien?
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, as the noble Lord has asked me a question, perhaps I may answer it. Of course I do not consider that everything which happens abroad is better than what happens in this country. To the contrary, I consider that we have the finest serving judiciary in any democracy. But I should have thought that, as the noble Lord apparently regards the current Prime Minister and his Administration as somewhat Hitlerite in tendency, he should be grateful that the European Convention on Human Rights gives effective protection against the misuse of power.
The historic constitution dates from the Middle Ages. It comprised the Monarchy--we have a monarchical constitution--and associated with it were the more important members of the aristocracy and the Church and ultimately representatives of the other ranks in the population who were thought to have a proper voice. The king, council and parliament were known often as the High Court of Parliament. That is an important point to remember because a distinction was not made between a remedy for a particular wrong which the council--often, in practice, that would mean the Lord Chancellor--was called on to adjudicate, and a more general grievance which, in the end, was corrected by legislation. Those were thought parts of the same procedure by which governments would see that individuals were protected and that the people at large had the institutions and the legislation which seemed appropriate.
I can see no good reason for giving that up. It may well be--obviously it is the fact--that, as the machinery of government has become more complicated and the amount of legislation is much greater, the Lord Chancellor of today may find that the political aspects of his post demand more time than was demanded of
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, referred to the other constitutional legislation that has gone through the House, notably in regard to devolution. It is interesting to recollect that when the Liberal Government, in the Judicature Act, abolished appeals to the House of Lords--it did not last for long--they made an exception for appeals from Scotland and Ireland. In others words, there is a good deal to be said for looking at the role which, in the light of these changes, this House, in its judicial capacity, and of course the Privy Council, which is associated with the Law Lords, may play and should play in holding together the United Kingdom.
We should begin by appreciating that we have a monarchical constitution which embodies counsel in the broadest sense and Parliament; and the Law Lords should manage to play a role that fits in with that constitutional settlement.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I have one thing in common with the noble Lord who has just spoken. We both speak without recourse to notes. I do so from physical disability; he does it from natural genius. I wish strongly to submit one proposition which may appeal in one way or another to a number of noble Lords. I believe that our judiciary as constituted, led by the Law Lords who are so highly esteemed, is a supreme bulwark, particularly in these latter days, against mob rule and the menace of the tabloid press.
Perhaps I may offer one example before coming to my main illustration. Recently, the Home Secretary of the day increased the sentencing tariff on two young boys who committed a terrible crime. The courts held that to be unlawful because he appeared to have been subject to undue pressure from the tabloids.
My main example is that of Myra Hindley who as a woman in her early twenties was sentenced, about 33 years ago, for her part as an infatuated accomplice in terrible crimes. For many years she has been an exemplary prisoner. She has gained an honours degree from the Open University and has been recommended for open prison by the Parole Board--a recommendation that was rejected by the Home Office. I have visited her for 30 years and I know her to be, today, a deeply religious woman. Not so long ago her tariff was increased from the 30 years that was first pronounced by the Home Secretary. Now the sentence is that she should remain in prison until she dies. No one could pretend that the seriousness of her crime has increased in the meantime.
To what is that due? There are no prizes for giving the answer. It is due to persecution by the tabloid press. Not so long ago the Sun newspaper, which I read every day--when I agree with it I enjoy it, but not otherwise--described Myra Hindley as "an evil monster." The newspaper knows that to be untrue and could find out the truth, if it were interested, by visiting a whole series of priests who would testify to the contrary.
Not to be outdone, the Daily Mirror discovered not so long ago that four years ago Myra Hindley and another lady were left in charge of an eight year-old child for a short while. There was of course no damage to the child. That was regarded as a scandal. The matter was dredged up after four years for no reason at all except nastiness. The mother of one of the murder victims, a lady who had my sympathy and whom I got to know quite well at one time, died the other day. The Sun, keeping pace with the Mirror, took the opportunity to attack Myra again in a leading article--after 30 years! If that is not tabloid pressure, what is?
Therefore, I am not surprised that people in this House and elsewhere say to me, "I agree with you, my dear chap. Of course after all these years she ought to come out. But you can't imagine any Home Secretary having the guts to let her out, can you? Think what would happen to him. Think what the tabloids would do to him." That is what many people say to me about tabloid pressure.
What is the remedy? It is difficult to know how a Home Secretary is to summon up the courage. I hope that the present Home Secretary will do so. He is a Christian socialist and a man of integrity. But one must not be too optimistic under these pressures. I do not pretend for a moment that I could do his job. Many years ago when I became Leader of this House, my old friend, the novelist Evelyn Waugh, said he was so glad that I was not going to be Home Secretary. Otherwise, he said, we should all be murdered in our beds--not, perhaps some might think a fair estimate. No one who is a friend of prisoners is going to find it easy to persuade the public that they are safe in his hands. The Home Secretary has a heavy responsibility, as the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan knows, as do former Home Secretaries who are present for this debate. They are tempted to feel with Caiaphas, who said, "It is expedient that one man should die and that the whole people perish not." That is the great temptation when under these pressures. The Home Secretary is not only thinking of his career; he is thinking of the reputation of his government. These are far-reaching issues. The confidence of the public, he may feel, has to be maintained. However, I hope that that will not be the final answer.
There is one alternative; namely, recourse to the courts, which is now being done. I shall say nothing about the case, which will eventually go to the Law Lords. I have a different kind of confidence in them. I do not say that members of the judiciary are never subject to political influence. When Mr. Michael Howard was Home Secretary, in four years the prison population increased by over 50 per cent., although crime was going down. So one has to feel that the judiciary were influenced by political attitude. When it comes to individual cases, I shall go to my grave believing that the judges examine matters to the best of their ability. They are all human and are fallible. But to the best of their ability they view matters in an objective light.
Lord Renton: My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships are always glad to hear what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has to say and are very interested in it. His remarks about the independence of the judiciary are vital for us to bear in mind during this debate. Indeed, in Parliament we try to ensure that. We have the rule that when a matter is sub judice and before the courts we refrain from expressing views about it. That is as it should be.
My noble friend Lord Waddington, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and my noble friend Lord Beloff made excellent speeches, with which I agree. I can therefore keep my remarks quite short. Perhaps I should just mention that I was one of Britain's representatives at the Council of Europe at Strasbourg in 1951 and 1952. The European Convention on Human Rights was finally endorsed in 1951, and in 1952 I was appointed to the Legal Affairs Committee and had the responsibility, with the famous Belgian lawyer, M. Rollin, who represented Dr. Mosadek at The Hague, of giving advice to the Council of Europe as to the constitution of the European Court of Human Rights. In the two sessions that I attended, in 1951 and 1952, the Council was mainly concerned with giving guidance to European countries, some of which were newly formed or re-formed so as to save them from Nazi or fascist influence in settling what their constitution should be. At no stage did any of the British representatives or anyone else conceive that it would have the effect of changing our constitution. If by some mischance the McGonnell case turns out to be wrongly decided from our point of view, we shall have to think very carefully before we fall into the trap that it might create.
Yes, the separation of powers is broadly speaking a good constitutional principle. I hope that I am not generalising too much, however, when I say that every good principle can be strengthened by making good and necessary exceptions, and we should be proud of the exceptions in our constitution.
I start off with the position of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. He is the one person in our constitution who has the task of being a great co-ordinator. He is head of the judiciary, he presides over your Lordships' House, and he is a member of the Cabinet. His help and guidance enable a degree of co-ordination between the responsibilities of those three important parts of our constitution to take place.
The position of the Law Lords and their influence upon our legislation has already been well described. I would just add this. It has for generations been customary for the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls and sometimes others, like the President of the Family Division--Probate, Divorce and Admiralty as it used to be--to be Members of your Lordships' House. When they come here they never talk politics, but they give valuable advice to us about what has gone wrong