|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon for his remarks, which are gratefully received and come from a source of considerable experience in relation to the trial of serious sex crimes. I agree that child sex abuse is insidious and much more widespread than thought and that it should be a priority for the police.
I note what my noble and learned friend says in relation to the consent issue for children of 12 and under and that we will need to look at that carefully when the Bill comes to the House. As regards anonymity, he is right. My right honourable friend said in another place that he is presently inclined not to grant anonymity. However, his mind is not finally made up and he will be interested to hear the arguments.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, will the new measure mean that when schoolgirls announce that they are pregnant at the age of 12 there will be some prosecution? Is the Minister aware that there is great concern at the unreasonable number of children as young as thatthe latest case only two weeks agowho have said that they are pregnant but no prosecution seems to follow? Does the new measure mean that that situation will change? Unless there is a clear and unequivocal notice that children must not be attacked and made to have sex, I fear that it will continue.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the effect of the proposal, should it become law, is that a girl of 12 is not capable of consenting to sexual intercourse. It does not necessarily follow that in every case a prosecution will take place. First, there must be an investigation as to what happened in such a case. Secondly, I refer the House to paragraph 37 of the Command Paper. It states:
It must be down to the circumstances in every case. Obviously, there will be some serious cases but there will be others in which the kind of consideration referred to in paragraph 37 should be taken into account.
Lord Rix: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister and thank him for his prognostications when replying to the Second Reading of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill which I moved on 11th October last. In that reply, he went as far as he could in hinting that we might well hear something of a similar nature in the gracious Speech. Well, we did and today we have the Statement on the same subject. I am both glad and grateful.
Will the Minister confirm two points? Are all the proposals we made regarding vulnerable adults and those with a learning disability firmly stated in the Command Paper? When the eventual Bill is forthcoming, can the Minister assure me that the clauses will not be lost or diminished by the fierce
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, everyone in this House knows that the noble Lord over many years has campaigned to provide proper protection for vulnerable people in relation both to sex crimes and other matters. The noble Lord introduced the Private Member's Bill to which he referred as part of that campaign which has gone on for many years.
The precise detail is not the same, but the import of what the noble Lord sought to achieve in that Bill we seek to achieve in our Bill. He paved the way for it in his Bill and the debate which occurred on the Second Reading of his Bill reflected many of the concerns with which we seek to deal in this Bill.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, from these Benches, I thank the Minister for his Statement and offer a general welcome to the Bill which is in prospect, particularly in relation to the protection of those in our society who are most vulnerable. The Church has been involved in well publicised ways with paedophilia from the position of trust in which ministers often find themselves. The Church of England has in place as tight a regulation of these matters and protection of children as any institution in the country and we have worked hard for that. We now welcome the broader extension of the definition of those who are vulnerable in our society.
Defendants can also be vulnerable. In the general atmosphere in our society, which one could sum up as sexual chaos, there is a danger of looking for scapegoats. One sees that in the popular press all the time. I would ask the Minister to bear in mind the danger of embracing in legislation any definition of certain people who can be singled out in that way by the popular press. That leads me to suggest that some protection for those who are accused when it is one person's word against another might well be appropriate, but that will be for the detail.
The Minister also said that it would be inappropriate to discriminate in any way against those engaged in consensual acts in private which harm no one. Harm can take different forms. One of the untold stories in our society is of an epidemic of sexual disease of all kinds. AIDS grabs the headlines but there are many other such diseases. It is a little like deaths on the road; we do not like to talk about them because we are so fond of our motorcars. I hope that when we come to think about what does and does not harm people we can bear those wider issues in mind and test the question of non-discrimination against a wider concept of harm. We on these Benches will want to do that, although we acknowledge that it is improper for
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, even though no specific question was asked, I am told that I must rise in reply. I am grateful for the right reverend Prelate's welcome for the Command Paper. He raised a number of issues. He pointed out that defendants can be vulnerable in certain circumstances. That is true and it requires us to look at the appropriate protections. He also raised the issue of private sexual behaviour. Part of the proposals seek to try to bring an end to discrimination against homosexuality in certain circumstances which is specific in our law. That is one of the purposes of the Command Paper.
Lord Hooson: My Lords, as the purpose of the criminal law system is to convict the guilty and to protect the innocent, and as both are equally important, does the noble and learned Lord not agree that there is a great deal to be said for looking at our laws of evidence? Over the years I have suggested to two successive Lord Chancellorsnot to the present onethat we should do so.
As regards rape, for example, cases are fought over the question of consent; the difference between the seduction which has been a little overpowering and true rape. It is a matter which can be decided only by a jury, but it would be greatly assisted if there was a review of our laws of evidence. I have suggested over the years that we should consider the French system of an interrogating magistrate and adapt it for this country. A video could be taken of a man accused of rape being interrogated by a police officer in the presence of a magistrate. The video could then be produced as evidence in court. It is no purpose of a lawyer to be part of a conspiracy to cheat justice, and so the defence lawyer could be there to advise his client but not to interrupt the interrogation. The jury could then eventually see what happened on the video.
This could be an important development in our law. It is important to look at the evidenceat what is admissible and what is not admissibleand, as anyone who has practised at the Bar for any length of time knows, it is the initial reaction of a man charged with a serious offence which is often the key to the case.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I entirely agree about the importance of the evidential issues, particularly in cases of rape, which are peculiarly difficult. People on juries always find them extremely difficult to deal with.
As the noble Lord knows, we have looked at the issue from a slightly different anglethat is, by seeking to provide better protection for the victims of such crimes in the giving of their evidence. We have sought to reduce the strain on them by restricting the ability of the defendant to cross-examine in person, by providing greater protection in court and by softening the process to some extent.
The noble Lord suggests a wider range of changes, which we need to think about, but such changes are not covered in the Command Paper which addresses the issue of the substantive law relating to sexual offences. The introduction of a reasonableness element in relation to consent will enable a jury to look more critically at that issue. It still will not make it an easy issue, but it will give us a broader canvas on which to paint.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page