Column 722an element of deterrence and an element of rehabilitation. That is the only means of having sentences that are just in the round. As for the Opposition's new clauses 4 and 5, drugs education and drugs prevention are important and well-established elements of the Government's strategy for tackling drug misuse. They must, however, be integrated with the other elements of our strategy, which, apart from providing adequate treatment services, allow for vigorous enforcement action against drug traffickers and provide the courts with high maximum penalties to deter drug traffickers and dealers. The co-operation between local authorities, police and other agencies and communities to which new clause 4 refers is already an increasingly common feature of local initiatives to tackle drug misuse. Clearly, the local authority needs to get together with all other local agencies with an interest in drugs prevention to agree a combined strategy. But local response to drugs problems must take account of local circumstances. A multi-agency programme needs, therefore, to be responsive to changing needs and patterns. The right approach, I suggest, is through a proper blend of encouragement and guidance, not through the creation of additional statutory duties for a single agency.
The Government's strategic framework for tackling drug misuse has been in place since the mid-1980s. It involves simultaneous action on a number of fronts, which, in view of the Opposition's criticism that there is no coherent strategy, I shall lay before the House. We do have a coherent strategy, of which educating our children on the dangers of drugs misuse is a vital element. The national curriculum requires schools to teach aspects of health education, including aspects of drug misuse.
Mr. Maclean : I resent the implication of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Of course we are appalled at any loss of life resulting from drug misuse. It is very clear that, without the comprehensive, coherent strategy that we have had for the past few years--without all the efforts to crack down on drugs coming into the country and on misuse in the country and to educate youngsters in the avoidance of drugs--the hon. Gentleman would not be holding up just five fingers. Indeed, the number of deaths would be so much greater that he would need to hold up five fingers a hundred times over.
Mr. Flynn rose
The Government are committed to ensuring, through the national curriculum and in other ways, that schools continue to equip young people with the knowledge, skills and attitude that they need to promote their immediate and long-term good health. Education has been backed by anti-drugs publicity. Since 1985, the Department of Health has spent increasing amounts on national drug prevention, information and public education campaigns. In 1993-94,
Column 723some £5 million has been spent and independent evaluation has shown that the campaigns have succeeded in raising awareness of the problem.
There have also been innovative developments in drug prevention. The drugs prevention initiative was launched in 1989 as a partnership between Government and the community to promote the prevention of drug misuse. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes paid tribute to it. Teams are now operating in 20 locations to mobilise local communities to stop young people and others at risk taking drugs and help them realise the harmful consequences. Many successful schemes are in place and the initiative has been involved in the funding of more than 900 projects.
Mr. Flynn : If the programme has been so successful, why is it that, after 15 years of this policy, there is illegal drug use in 90 per cent. of our prisons ? If we cannot keep drug misuse out of our prisons, how can we hope to keep it out of our schools, pubs and clubs if we continue with the Government's crazy policies ?
Mr. Maclean : Drug use is endemic in western Europe and the United States. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will support the proposals in the Bill to stop drug misuse in prisons through the searching of prisoners and proper drug testing in prisons. I shall welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for that policy, but that is only one plank of our policy to deal with all aspects of drug misuse.
The collective experience of the work of the 20 drug prevention initiative teams in local communities is being pulled together and co-ordinated. It will provide valuable information about the approaches that can be effective in drugs prevention and about the factors that influence their effectiveness, on which we shall base future action. In addition to all those measures for reducing the demand for drugs, we are putting considerable effort into reducing the supply and demand through effective enforcement action. Police and customs continue to work hard to reduce the supply of drugs coming into the country, with notable success. Indeed, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) pronounced on many seizures at the beginning of his speech. He referred to the success of customs and the police under this Government in tracking down illegal drugs entering the country. We have made tough penalties available to the courts for use against drug traffickers, including up to life imprisonment for dealing in drugs such as heroin and cocaine. The United Kingdom's laws for getting at the profits of the big guys behind drug smuggling are among the toughest in the world. I hope that the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) will welcome that.
The legislation that we introduced in 1986 enables the courts to deprive drug traffickers of their ill-gotten gains and makes the laundering of drugs money a criminal offence. The legislation has been strengthened by the Criminal Justice Act 1993 and, by the end of the 1992, we estimated that we had confiscated more than £42 million of drug traffickers' proceeds. All those factors come together in a comprehensive anti-drugs strategy involving Departments spending more than £500 million a year in the war against drugs.
We recognise the need, however, to review the strategy and to ensure that the policies that we are pursuing are correctly identified and are co- ordinated effectively. To
Column 724that end, we have announced the establishment of a central drugs co-ordination unit. One of the unit's main tasks is to work closely with Departments to ensure that drugs policies are planned, developed and implemented within a clear strategic framework.
The unit's immediate task is to review our strategy on drugs and make recommendations for its continuing improvement. It will certainly not hesitate to say if it believes that greater attention needs to be paid to drugs education and prevention. A statement of our strategy will be published in due course. It will cover all drug policies, not just drug prevention, and will present a comprehensive and co-ordinated response to the problem. It will start by building on our successes--our successes in the drug prevention initiative, our successes in the safer cities programme, our successes in education, our successes in the work of the police in cracking down on illegal misuse, our successes based on Customs and Excise seizures, and our successes with other initiatives, such as that in King's Cross, mentioned by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, all of which are happening in the police force under the tenure of the Government.
Finally, I shall say a few words about the proposal of the hon. Member for Newham North-West (Mr. Banks) to decriminalise the supply of cannabis. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestions. I will not go into detail about the proposal that he has laid before the House, as many of my hon. Friends have effectively demolished it. The Government have no intention of legalising or decriminalising any currently banned drug and we believe that we have overwhelming public support for that view.
Mr. Tony Banks : I understand that the Minister will not address the arguments, but will he give one assurance to the House--that he has never used cannabis in any form at all ? Will he ask the Home Secretary to give that pledge also ?
Mr. Maclean : Yes, I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. If we are talking about personal use, I can give him that assurance. I have never used it in my life and I can assure him that I did not try it or inhale it. I have never tried it-- [Interruption.] I shall tell him why. It was mainly because I thought that some of people whom I saw using it at university were pretty inadequate, weedy souls. [Interruption.] Those of us who participated in the Territorial Army were not, and we are better for it.
A recent survey of drugs usage and attitudes to drugs of a sample of more than 4,000 people in four cities confirmed that most--66 per cent.--believe that all drugs currently prohibited should remain illegal and less than 8 per cent. thought that some drugs, such as cannabis, should not be controlled. In a recent radio interview, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Paul Condon, was also against the legalisation of cannabis. It is against every international conference and rule on drugs that the United Kingdom and the United Nations have signed.
I know that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West at one point complained that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was appealing to the grass roots. I do not think that he realised what he was suggesting. My right hon. and learned Friend is not appealing to the grass roots in increasing the penalties for class B and class C drugs. He is appealing to plain, simple common sense. Decriminalising drugs is a defeatist step. It
Column 725sends the wrong message to society, especially to the young, that some drugs are not harmful. That is dangerous. It has no place in our thinking and I reject the Opposition amendments.
Mr. Michael : That was not so much a speech as a self-indulgent rant and it did not do justice to the debate or to the subject. The police, local authorities, customs and many others are trying to develop coherent policies for the problem of the scourge of drugs and drug-related crime and only the Government are incoherent in undermining the very prevention the Minister has purported to advocate. It was a sad and unhelpful response. British society, individuals, families and communities cannot afford the Government's short-sighted and self-indulgent response.
It is a disappointment that the Minister has failed to accept our constructive proposals to tackle drugs and drug-related crime. From the Minister's complacent response, it is clear that he will not accept our new clauses. He will clearly not act. In view of the importance of other debates tonight and of other debates on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, which, in many ways, will touch on the same topics to which we shall want to return, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
(1) The Secretary of State shall within one month of the date of Royal Assent of this Act lay before both Houses of Parliament a report describing what plans he has to set up an independent body to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the timetable within which he proposes to do so.
(2) The White Paper referred to in subsection (1) above shall describe the Secretary of State's intentions in respect to the following :
(a) the membership of and method of appointment to the body ; (b) the numbers and functions of the employed staff of the body ; (c) the powers of the staff and members of the body and those of the body itself ;
(d) the provision of legal aid for those alleging that they are the victim of a miscarriage of justice ;
(e) the method and criteria by which the body will select cases for investigation ;
(f) the method and criteria by which cases and issues of law will be referred to the Court of Appeal and the relationship between the two bodies ;
(g) the extent to which the body should disclose documents and the results of its investigations to the alleged victim of the miscarriage of justice ; and
(h) the extent to which the body will employ its own staff or will use others for the investigations.'.-- [Mr. Mullin.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
The Secretary of State shall, within one month of Royal Assent, publish a report setting out his proposals for the establishment of a body to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice in the light of the report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice.'.
Column 726June 1988, Sir John Farr, the former Member of Parliament for Harborough, and I tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill which would have established such a tribunal. I recall that my speech on that occasion attracted some derision, not least from the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), who is now a Minister in the Foreign Office, but who was then a Minister at the Home Office, and the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), who now presides over the education of our children, but who was at that time the Minister in charge of locking up innocent people.
What attracted derision in particular was my assertion, which is still controversial in some circles, that innocent people had been convicted of the M62 coach bombing, the Guildford and Woolwich bombings and the Birmingham bombings. It is a matter of record that, today, all 18 of those to whom I referred on 16 June 1988 have had their convictions quashed and are walking the streets with compensation in their pockets.
In July 1990, prompted by the collapse of the Guildford and Woolwich cases, Sir John Farr and I tabled an amendment to the Courts and Legal Services Bill along the lines of the new clause today. It was opposed on the Government's behalf by the then Attorney-General, the right hon. and learned Member for Tunbridge Wells (Sir P. Mayhew), who professed himself satisfied with the present procedures. In particular, he expressed the view that the powers of the Court of Appeal were adequate to deal with alleged miscarriages of justice. Much water has passed under the bridge since then. Besides the collapse of all the main terrorist cases of the mid-1970s, to which I have already referred, there has been a long series of other cases in which convictions have had to be quashed after evidence given at trial by police officers, forensic scientists and others was found to be mistaken, false or doctored. There have also been cases in which vital evidence has been deliberately suppressed, not only by police officers, but by senior lawyers acting on behalf of the Crown, one or two of whom have gone on to high judicial office.
Twenty-three people have so far had their convictions quashed following the discovery that the West Midlands serious crimes squad had been systematically forging confessions over a long period, although not one of the officers involved in any of those cases has been charged, let alone convicted of a criminal offence. The three men convicted of the murder of PC Blakelock at Broadwater Farm have had their convictions quashed, as have two young women, the Taylor sisters, who were convicted of a murder with which, from the outset, it never seemed likely that they had anything to do. Among the saddest cases was that of Stefan Kiszko, whose conviction was quashed in February 1992 after he had spent 16 years in prison for an offence that scientific evidence available at the time proved that he could not have committed. Tragically, Mr. Kiszko died earlier this year. I make no complaint about the fact that our legal system makes mistakes ; that is inevitable under any system of justice. What I complain about is that we lack a mechanism for facing up to mistakes even when it becomes obvious to sensible people of all political persuasions that something is seriously wrong. In most of the cases to which I have referred, a gargantuan effort was required to persuade our criminal justice system to own up to what had gone wrong. It involved years of campaigning by the victims
Column 727themselves, by their relatives, by journalists and broadcasters and, occasionally, by that rare animal, a lawyer prepared to work without payment.
Such campaigns have often had to be waged in the teeth of bitter abuse in the Murdoch press and elsewhere, some of it, in the past at least, orchestrated by Ministers. In the Guildford and Woolwich cases, it was only when faced with representations over a long period by a delegation comprising two former Home Secretaries, two Law Lords, the broadcaster Mr. Robert Kee and Cardinal Basil Hume that the Home Secretary of the day was persuaded to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal. To begin with, even representations from that distinguished body, to which I pay tribute, were insufficient to move the hard hearts in the Home Office.
Miscarriages of justice have many victims. First, they destroy or seriously damage the lives of those unjustly sentenced and the lives of their families. Secondly, the long campaigns that have to be waged to put right such miscarriages are distressing for the families of the victims of the crimes for which innocent people are sentenced. They have to see the gory details constantly raked over in public. Thirdly, a miscarriage of justice often means that the real criminal is still at large and free to commit other offences Finally, the criminal justice system is brought into disrepute by the stubborn refusal of those who preside over it to face up to realities that are often obvious to those of us who are not Home Office Ministers or Appeal Court judges.
Who can deny that the events of the past few years have brought the British criminal justice system into discredit around the world ? The new clause is intended, in part at least, to remedy that position. I should have preferred it to have required the Home Secretary to amend the Bill, but I am advised that it can be in order only in the form that it appears on the amendment paper ; therefore, it requires the Home Secretary to present detailed plans within a month of the Bill's enactment.
I note that the Home Office chose last Friday, after months of inactivity, to publish a discussion paper inviting comments on the proposed new review body. I welcome its appearance--belated though it is--although I cannot help wondering whether the timing has more to do with providing the Home Secretary with something to say in the debate this evening than with genuinely facing up to a problem that has been in his in-tray since the day he took office. The fact that, when I inquired this morning, it was not available even in the Vote Office--although I have now received a copy-- suggests that this could be little more than a cosmetic exercise. I see that the Home Secretary is shaking his head. I hope that I am wrong.
I shall comment briefly on what should be the main features of an independent review tribunal. First, it must be composed of persons of an inquiring frame of mind, preferably with a track record of scepticism towards the official version of events. Secondly, while it will of course need to contain some persons with legal training, it should not be dominated by lawyers since, with honourable exceptions, this is a subject where lawyers have traditionally been part of the problem rather than the solution. Thirdly, the tribunal must have powers to summon persons and papers and to conduct its own investigation. Fourthly, it must not be dependent on
Column 728officers of one police force to investigate the alleged misdemeanours of another. It is essential that it has its own dedicated force of investigators or the powers and resources to commission such a force.
Fifthly, the tribunal should be able, if it wishes, to recommend to the Court of Appeal that a conviction be quashed. It is not good enough simply to pass on new material without comment, which I gather is what is presently envisaged. Although the Court of Appeal has to a considerable extent cleaned up its act in recent years, history records that the legendary stubbornness of its judges has prolonged many celebrated scandals in the past 15 years. Sixthly, the tribunal should conduct itself with a sense of urgency and not at the leisurely pace with which the C3 department of the Home Office currently proceeds, bearing in mind the fact that it deals with people who may already have spent many years in prison for offences of which they are innocent. Seventhly, the tribunal should apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland, where many alleged miscarriages of justice have occurred. Finally, if the tribunal is to be credible, it will not be good enough simply to transfer to some outside agency the functions of the C3 department.
In 1982, the distinguished solicitor Sir David Napley told the Select Committee on Home Affairs that he was unable to recall "a single case where the Home Office has, as a result of its own investigations, felt able to recommend a pardon or any other recognition that a conviction was necessarily wrongful."
There may have been one or two exceptions since, but the same is broadly true today. It is a depressing fact that the C3 department generally sees its role as merely poking holes in evidence submitted by others. By way of example, one need look no further than the way in which it has mishandled the Carl Bridgewater case. It is obvious to all sensible people that the case against the four men convicted of that crime has now collapsed. There have been six police inquiries and still amateurs continue to turn up evidence that the police have failed to find or have wilfully misinterpreted. A mountain of new evidence has emerged. The foreman of the jury has called for the case to be reopened. Even an expert, Dr. E.W. Shepherd, commissioned by the Home Office to rebut the assertions made by other experts on behalf of the defendants, has come down on their side.
On 14 January this year, Dr. Shepherd wrote as follows to the Home Secretary :
"For my part I still have faith that you will choose to act . . . expeditiously given the gravity of the issues involved and the threat posed to public confidence in the criminal justice system and in the commitment of the police service to act with integrity. I look forward to early confirmation that this faith is well-founded." Since then, Dr. Shepherd has heard nothing from the Home Office except a bland letter of acknowledgement. I cannot stress too strongly that he was an expert employed by police officers acting on behalf of the Home Office to examine the case. That shows how difficult it is to persuade the C3 department to take action. The recent discussion document issued by the Home Office contains some ominous references to the Police Complaints Authority as a possible model for how the new body should operate. The only lesson to be learnt from the Police Complaints Authority is what not to do. I mean no disrespect to many of the honourable people who work for it and I suspect that some of them would agree with my
Column 729view. It is a powerless, timorous and generally useless body. What is more, even when it has recommended action, its advice has usually been ignored by the Crown Prosecution Service and others in authority. Most solicitors of my acquaintance would not touch the PCA with a barge pole. If the proposed independent review tribunal is to be modelled on it, we might as well all go home.
The tribunal that I envisage must be properly funded and empowered--above all, it must consist of men and women possessed of steely determination, bearing in mind the fact that they will have to confront some of the mightiest vested interests in the land. Talking of which, what has become of Sir John May's inquiry into the Guildford and Woolwich case ? The House may be surprised to hear that the Scott inquiry is not the only judicial inquiry proceeding at present. Sir John May's inquiry was set up in the autumn of 1989--four and a half years ago--in the wake of the collapse of the case against those convicted of the Guildford and Woolwich bombings.
Sir John got off to a promising start, with public inquiries into the subsidiary, but related issue--the conviction of Mrs. Annie Maguire and her family--and then he went underground and nothing has been heard from him since. He is said to be interviewing witnesses in private. I understand that some of the principal officials involved have declined to answer his questions and that some of his old chums in the judiciary are no longer on speaking terms with him because he is thought to have pursued the first part of his inquiry a mite too rigorously.
I mention that inquiry only to raise a wider point. If a judicial inquiry that is set up by the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General in an atmosphere of urgency can be derailed in that way, we should be under no illusions about the fate that awaits an independent review tribunal that is not properly empowered and resourced.
The idea has been around for a long time. It was first suggested by Lord Devlin in the mid-1970s. It was recommended in a unanimous report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs as long ago as 1982. It was so uncontroversial that it attracted the support of even the hon. Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) and for Reigate (Sir G. Gardiner). It was recommended by the Government's own Royal Commission on criminal justice, which reported in July last year. It is preposterous for the Home Secretary to claim that he has had insufficient time to consult. He has had a lot longer to reflect on that issue than on many of the other more controversial issues in the Bill. That is why tonight I and my colleagues will press new clause 6 to a Division. I commend it to the House.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : I fully endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said. He has an unenviable and wonderful record. It is unenviable because of the work that has gone into it, but wonderful because of his efforts to fight and to expose miscarriages of justice, principally the wrongful imprisonment of the Birmingham Six.
The House should listen carefully to what my hon. Friend has to say because I can recall dozens of occasions on which Home Secretaries and Home Office Ministers informed the House at the Dispatch Box, with absolute certainty, that the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Tottenham Three, Judith Ward and so on were guilty. They should be a little more cautious and be prepared to look into other evidence.
Column 730Miscarriages of justice give rise to three enormous problems : the innocent are imprisoned ; their families suffer and the abuse that they suffer is as bad as being in prison : and the guilty go free. The work that has been done to expose such miscarriages of justice is important. Hon. Members would do well to read the books written by the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six and to see the film, "In the Name of the Father", which shows what really happens when there is a serious miscarriage of justice.
The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) seems to find this extremely amusing, but if someone is imprisoned for one third or half of their lives for an offence that he or she did not commit and receives nothing but abuse while trying to get justice, the hon. and learned Member should remember that, as elected Members of Parliament, our job is to act as a check on the Executive and to be prepared to speak up for causes that are often very unpopular. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South has bravely done so often.
Sir Ivan Lawrence : Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the theme of the film "In the Name of the Father" is that the prosecution deliberately hid the fact that it had a witness to the alibi of the accused, Gerry Conlon, who was not present at the crime ? That theme was completely concocted and has no relevance to the facts of the case or to the reason why the appeal was upheld.
Mr. Corbyn : The film that the hon. and learned Member is leading us to discuss emphasises what happens when a miscarriage of justice takes place. It is not a book or a record of every detail. It contains inaccuracies and everyone is prepared to admit that.
Mr. Mullin : I do not wish to discuss the film, except to say that the facts of the Guildford case are far worse than it makes out. The Court of Appeal released the Guildford Four because early drafts of forged confessions were found in regard to Patrick Armstrong. Since confessions account for the entire case against them, they were released.
Mr. Corbyn : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. He and other hon. Members are trying to stress the fact that all those miscarriages of justice exposed a method of preventing defence counsel from getting rightful access to information that could have prevented prosecution in the first place. That is a common thread, as is the thread of confessional evidence that is used to obtain conviction.
When one talks to people who have confessed to commiting a crime that they could not have committed and to being somewhere that they were not, one begins to realise what is happening in police stations and prisons throughout the country and what has led to those dreadful miscarriages of justice.
The cases that I listed received enormous publicity. If the hon. and learned Member for Burton is not prepared to watch a film--I understand that he is a busy man, with many commitments in the courts and elsewhere-- he may care to find time to read a book--perhaps those written by Hugh Callaghan and Paul Hill. Some very good books have been written by people who suffered in prison for years and he might benefit from spending a few hours reading them.
I recognise that we are dealing with only one part of a very comprehensive piece of legislation. I echo what my
Column 731hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South said about promised inquiries. I accept that we have had the May inquiry, a royal commission and other examinations of the issues. We had, coincidentally, a statement on Friday about a review process to enable people to gain access to the Court of Appeal. That is long overdue.
The cases that I have mentioned gained a great deal of publicity because of the dedication of the families and the supporters of those who had been wrongfully convicted and their preparedness to campaign on the issue. Many other people, however, who are in prison may have an equally strong claim to be victims of miscarriages of justice. The problem is that there is no one to campaign for them. They have no access to legal aid to get their cases brought forward. It is a matter of chance whether their cases are picked up by someone who is willing to give up the time necessary to ensure that those cases are heard in the Court of Appeal. That problem is at the core of the argument for some access to that court. It is not good enough to rely, hit or miss, on who happens to pick up a case. The campaign for the release of the Birmingham Six started with no money and just four people at a meeting. After a few years, however, that had developed into a magnificent campaign, which went far wider than just the release of those innocent men from prison on that important day. I could mention many cases, but I shall restrict myself to one, which is well known to the Home Secretary. A delegation has met the Minister of State, Home Office to discuss the Bridgewater Three. The Home Secretary is aware of a request that he should refer that case to the Court of Appeal, because fresh evidence has been submitted to him to suggest that the three men who remain in prison--the fourth tragically died in prison--did not and could not have committed the awful atrocity of the murder of Carl Bridgewater. No one is trying to minimise the appalling crime of that terrible death, but it does nothing for Carl's memory or for his family if the wrong people are in prison. We want justice to be seen to be done, which means, first, that those men should be released.
New evidence has been submitted to the Home Secretary concerning in particular the case of Pat Molloy, one of those convicted of the murder of Carl Bridgewater. The detailed evidence submitted to the Home Secretary reveals that Molloy was not the author of the confession, which he supposedly gave, as the police claimed at the trial. An investigation carried out, on commission, by a leading forensic psychologist, Dr. Eric Shepherd, agrees with the defence experts' reports. The alleged confession was obtained by the late detective constable John Perkins, who Pat Molloy said broke his teeth. Other evidence has been submitted about the way in which Molloy was treated and the manner in which he eventually made his confession, which resulted in his conviction and imprisonment and three others.
The Home Secretary is well aware of the evidence. A thorough inquiry has already been held about it and delegations have visited the Home Office. Two books have been written on the case, and that by Paul Foot has been published in a revised edition. There is a mountain of evidence to suggest that those in prison for the murder of Carl Bridgewater did not carry out and could not have carried out that crime.
Column 732It should not be in the gift of the Home Secretary to decide whether the enormous weight of evidence, which I believe is in favour of those in prison now, should be given the right to be heard in open court. That is the kernel of our argument. Those people should have a right of access to the Court of Appeal in any event.
The Bridgewater case is one of several hundred cases being considered by the Home Office officials. The process of reconsidering evidence is not new, but we want that evidence to be considered in the open. We want equal and real access to justice to be given to all people who believe that they have been wrongfully convicted. That is the basis of our argument and the basis of the argument of those who have served prison sentences.
I urge the Home Secretary, if he has the time, to look at a number of books written by the victims of miscarriages of justice in this country. He must appreciate that he has a responsibility as Home Secretary to ensure that real justice is available to all people, irrespective of who campaigns for them or the resources at their disposal. At the moment there is no access to legal aid for those who believe they have been wrongfully convicted. There are few lawyers who are prepared to work for nothing and a limited number of people who are prepared to endure the kind of subterranean media abuse that is heaped on those who campaign against miscarriages of justice. For those reasons, many cases are simply not heard. We need real access to justice. That is the synthesis of what we are arguing for in new clause 6, and I look forward to its support. Above all, I look forward to the day when we can say that everyone has real access to the courts.
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath) : I need to detain the House for only a moment, but I thought it appropriate that a Conservative Member should be identified with new clause 6. I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) not only on putting the case very clearly, as he did back in 1990, but, I thought, on making all the major arguments.
It is a pleasure to follow Lord Devlin, 18 years ago, and my Conservative colleagues on the Home Affairs Select Committee in 1981-82. The key point I found, reading through that sixth report, was in paragraph 11. The Committee reached the following conclusion :
"All our witnesses, apart from the Home Office themselves, felt that some opportunity for independent review would both add to the quality of the advice given to the Home Secretary and at the same time help to persuade petitioners and the public that each case had been given full and fair consideration."
I suggest that that is the kernel of the case that is being made tonight.
I draw to the attention of the House another brief quotation from the report. In paragraph 10, the Committee says :
"Both Justice and the Criminal Bar Association suggested that the chances of a petition ultimately being successful' might sometimes depend less on its intrinsic merits than on the amount of external support and publicity that it was able to attract."
I think that that is true. That should worry us, too.
I believe that, since Lord Devlin set to work, the climate of public concern about miscarriages of justice has greatly altered. I shall not rehearse the details of the Birmingham and Guildford cases. I think that it is now the talk in the pubs and clubs of our country ; it is not a rarefied matter simply for lawyers and Home Office officials.
Column 733I believe that the onus is on the Home Secretary, if he does not wish to support new clause 6, to say what he will do instead, because there is a genuine problem. I do not believe that the status quo is acceptable to another decade. I therefore hope that the House will, after due deliberation, support this important new clause.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : I support the eloquent case made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who, as has been observed, has a distinguished and deserved reputation for his tenacity in seeing through some especially unpopular, but ultimately, no doubt--from his personal point of view--satisfying, campaigns to resolve substantial miscarriages of justice. As the House will have observed, new clause 6 embraces not only England and Wales and Northern Ireland, but Scotland. It is sometimes thought, especially by lawyers in Scotland, that our system is immune from miscarriages of justice of the type that has been mentioned. However, the cases of Preece and of Meehan, to which reference was recently made when we debated capital punishment, are eloquent testimony to the fact that miscarriages of justice can occur in any of the legal jurisdictions in the United Kingdom. For that reason, the clause as currently framed refers to Scotland as well. There is nothing wrong in the law reacting to a disturbing series of cases. What could be more disturbing than the series of cases to which the hon. Member for Sunderland, South referred ? Although I do not propose to rehearse them, it is worth pointing out from an historical point of view that a case that was equally celebrated in its time--that of Oscar Slater in Scotland--forced the legislature to introduce into that jurisdiction a right of appeal in cases where guilt had been determined by a jury. Recent history makes the clause not so much desirable as essential in order to establish public confidence in the judicial system.
No matter how the powers of the appellate courts are drawn, the existing machinery will inevitably be inadequate to get to the truth of some cases. That is particularly so in a system that leaves the determination of fact at first instance to juries, because appellate courts are reluctant to interfere with conclusions that juries have reached.
In general, that must be correct, but in cases like those of which we have heard this evening, the appellate courts' restrictive powers are inadequate to get at the truth of issues raised by allegations of miscarriage of justice. It is also important to remember that appellate courts deal with an adversarial system and are bound by the rules of evidence as they apply in the jurisdictions for which they are responsible.
The Select Committee on Home Affairs was remarkably prescient in the report to which reference has already been made. One cannot help but think that, had the terms of that report been speedily implemented, some of the events of the past 12, 13 or 14 years might have been avoided, to the advantage of our judicial system. One need not be seduced by film reconstructions of previous cases, because the real evidence is as compelling as any that might be required. Mistakes occur in the legal system. No one can prosecute or defend over a period without being aware that he or she has made a mistake in the course of presenting a case. No judge can sit over an
Column 734extended period without being aware that he or she has made a mistake in determining a case. Lawyers must acknowledge the fallibility of the legal system.
On that footing, I have little hesitation in commending the new clause to the House.
Mr. Gunnell : I shall not delay the House for long because, as other hon. Members have said, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has set out clearly what is needed with regard to a criminal cases review authority. We all await the Home Secretary's reply. Although I welcome the fact that he has published something, I was disappointed that the document had no time scale attached to it--apart from that related to the consultation process--because the matter is urgent.
My disappointment was accentuated by the fact that it was clear from the Home Secretary's comments in the debate on capital punishment that he takes miscarriages of justice seriously. He used the West Yorkshire case of Stefan Kiszko in a telling way when presenting his reasons for changing his position on capital punishment. He is clearly concerned that the issue of miscarriages of justice is extremely serious.
I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). The Carl Bridgewater case has been in the public domain for a long time, and significant new evidence has arisen. I hope that the Home Secretary will take that potential miscarriage of justice equally seriously. Those three men have been in prison for a long time. The case therefore needs to come before the Court of Appeal as rapidly as possible. Even if the Home Secretary judges that it should go back, there will still be a considerable delay before those people can be released.
Such factors underline the urgency of the problem. I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to tell us this evening what timetable he has in mind. We were disappointed that such a review body was not included in the Bill
Ms Corston : Does my hon. Friend agree that another factor contributing to the urgency that the Home Secretary should feel is the fact that, because people who are the victims of miscarriages of justice continue to claim their innocence while in prison, they are ineligible for parole ? That means, ludicrously, that the innocent serve longer sentences than the guilty.