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Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I welcome the Bill. Naturally, as I represent a Northern Ireland constituency, the first welcome aspect of the Bill is that it covers Northern Ireland and is, therefore, what occurs only too rarely-- legislation that covers Northern Ireland properly. The fact that provisions relating to Northern Ireland can be included in the Bill with so little difficulty gives the lie to those who say that there is a particular difficulty in legislating for Northern Ireland in the normal way.
One of the other excuses with which we are presented for not legislating for Northern Ireland through a proper Bill is the so-called need to maintain what is laughingly referred to as the integrity of the Northern Ireland statute book. I am glad that the Minister has the grace to smile at that reference.
I note that the Bill will amend five Northern Ireland Orders in Council. We have been told in the past that that cannot be done because it would somehow affect the integrity of the Northern Ireland statute book. I am delighted that we are legislating for Northern Ireland properly.
I also welcome the Bill because of its central provision--the establishment of a criminal cases review commission. I am glad that that single commission will be established to cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Office published a consultation paper suggesting that separate provision be made for Northern Ireland. That proposal did not commend itself to me and my colleagues for a number of reasons. Northern Ireland is a small jurisdiction with only a limited number of people involved in the legal profession. There are only 10 High Court judges. Only a limited number of people are involved in criminal work, whether at the Bar or as solicitors. In any small profession, everybody knows everybody else. That makes it difficult for people to be genuinely objective when they are asked to consider the possibility that their friends or colleagues have made a mistake. They also tend to have convinced themselves that they are running a good ship and that they are all fine chaps--unlike those terrible people across the border in England where, because there are so many of them, rogues might get into the profession and all sorts of mistakes be made. A little esprit is built up among the members of a small profession, which is not especially healthy.
Some of that attitude exists also in the one jurisdiction in the United Kingdom that is not affected by the Bill, which is Scotland. My connection with the Scottish legal profession is limited. The Minister has extensive connections with it and I think that he will confirm that it suffers from the same failing of being fond of congratulating itself, but not so good at looking objectively at itself.
I am glad that there is the possibility of outsiders looking into the profession objectively. That raises the possibility of people involved in the legal profession in Northern Ireland contributing to the work of the commission in England and Wales. They will be able to contribute an element of objectivity.
Another reason why we were not enthusiastic about separate provision for Northern Ireland is that anything to do with the Northern Ireland Office is becoming
Column 75increasingly tainted by sectarianism. Indeed, when the Northern Ireland Office sets up any body, the first thing that comes into its mind is the political and religious affiliation of the person involved. If there were to be a separate, single commissioner for Northern Ireland, as the Northern Ireland Office suggested, we know that the very first consideration in the minds of Ministers making the appointment would be political and religious affiliation. The same would be the case were there to be a separate Northern Ireland commission.
In that undue sectarianism that the Northern Ireland Office is injecting into every part of political and social life in Northern Ireland, there is the evil influence of the Anglo-Irish secretariat. I hope that, when appointments to the commission are made, the Home Office, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office will be careful to ensure that the advice that they receive from the Northern Ireland Office is not tainted--as almost inevitably it will be--by the machinations of the secretariat, whose influence extends into almost all aspects of the work of the Northern Ireland Office.
I note that the Bill contains a provision to appoint to the commission persons with experience of the legal system in Northern Ireland. The relevant clause includes Northern Ireland legal qualifications among the criteria for those to be appointed to the commission. However, I have not seen any reference, or heard any statement by Ministers, on whether they intend to appoint one, two or any people with knowledge of the legal system in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Minister will deal with that point when he replies. We need some indication of the extent to which people with experience of the legal system in Northern Ireland will be involved in the work of the commission.
I want to deal now with some of the substantive provisions in the Bill. Clause 2 provides for the new test that the Court of Appeal will use in determining whether to quash convictions. A number of hon. Members have already referred to that. I agree with the point made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) when he referred to the word "unsafe". I hope that that word will be given a wide interpretation and that the court will take the view that a conviction is unsafe if it "may be" unsafe. I hope that the exclusion of the words "may be" from the clause will not narrow the interpretation. That is an important point. The Minister will have noted the concern expressed by Justice that it will have the effect of narrowing the provision.
I was impressed by the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) when he gave his exegesis of clause 2. I want to hear more of his thoughts. He made an interesting contribution. Indeed, he whetted my appetite when he referred to the article by Sir John Smith. I hope that we will be able closely to consider such matters in Committee. Having said that, I support the broad thrust of clause 2, which replaces the various different overlapping terms in earlier legislation with a single test--provided that that single test is expressed broadly enough to, if anything, widen the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal.
Clause 13 sets out various criteria on which the commission can refer cases to the Court of Appeal. I understand and agree with the thinking behind the phrase "a real possibility", in the commission's view, that the
Column 76court will reopen a conviction. However, I am not as happy with the qualification that the evidence or argument on which that real possibility must be based must be one that has not already been raised. It is unnecessary to limit it in that way.
I understand the thinking behind it; it is a thinking that pervades so much of the criminal justice system. Rather than looking at the merits of a particular case, we look at the procedures and the way in which things have been done. A former colleague of mine characterised it as the criminal trial as a game. We look to see whether the lawyers and other persons acting for a defendant did the right thing at an earlier stage: for example, if they had the opportunity to raise a point, but failed to do so, the point could not be raised subsequently.
Clause 13 provides that, if the point, the evidence or the argument has been raised in the court or on appeal, the commission cannot use it as a basis on which to refer the case. That is unnecessarily restrictive. The point may have been raised, but not adequately; or it may have been raised in connection with some other points and the cumulative effect of the commission looking at it again may result in its deciding that the case should be referred to the Court of Appeal.
I thought that the thinking behind the changes in clause 2 and in other parts of the Bill was to widen the basis on which the commission could operate and to remove unnecessary technicality from its approach.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that, if it is exactly the same evidence as was raised before, and which the Court of Appeal had had the opportunity to consider, and there was nothing new, different or revised about the evidence, the commission should again refer back to the Court of Appeal, perhaps hoping that there might be different judges? What would be the point of that?
Mr. Trimble: My point is that the commission should not be trammelled or restricted. It should be open to the commission to exercise its judgment without any technical limitation. The Minister rightly says that in the sort of cases that he mentioned we would not want to refer the matter back to the court. However, there may be circumstances in which a point has been raised before, but when the commission looks at it again it thinks, "Ah, this point should be considered again." Those cases may be exceptional, but the commission should be free to do that if such cases occur. The argument is to give the commission the flexibility and the power to act if it considers it desirable to do so.
One of the main points in the debate involves investigations and how they should be conducted. There has been quite a bit of disagreement on the Bill's provisions, which, in effect, require the commission to use existing police forces for investigations. I understand the concern that has been expressed and that there will be problem in relation to public credibility, but there is much merit in the Bill's provisions.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who acts as adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales, said that only the police have the necessary expertise. That is valid, but there is more to the Bill's merits than that. It would not be desirable to create a special body of detectives who were employed by the commission so that it had its own police force to undertake investigations. That body would be an
Column 77anti-police police force, it would be viewed by police forces elsewhere as a special anti-police unit, and it would create a series of new institutional loyalties and jealousies and a defensiveness on the part of police forces elsewhere which would be inappropriate. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said that, after initial resistance, there had been a sea change in approach in the Court of Appeal in England. He is right on that. That change was welcome. A sea change has taken place in the approach of the House and of the Government to these issues--we should acknowledge that. We want a sea change in the culture and attitude of a number of detective forces. We want to open them up to new thinking. They will find it easier to do that if police forces are involved in investigations.
The point has been made that the police may not be especially effective in investigating the police, but we must consider what the commission will do in its approach to the matter. It can direct the inquiry. It needs to have available to it persons who are in a position to assess the quality of the investigation that a police force is undertaking. The commission may direct a particular police force to undertake an investigation; it can give some directions and so, in a sense, control that investigation. It needs, however, to have on its own staff persons who are in a position to assess the quality of that investigation so that, if it has not been conducted properly, they can take it away from certain police officers or a police force and place it elsewhere.
I notice that the Home Office consultation paper mentions in paragraph 83 the possibility of the commission employing among its staff persons with experience of police work and police investigations. This is perhaps the line that people should consider. On its staff, the commission should employ police officers with experience in these matters. They would not conduct investigations, but they would be able to advise the commission on the conduct of investigations that the commission has placed with police officers.
Mr. Maclean: I confirm that it is the Government's view that that is a sensible way to proceed. We want three or four serving police officers to work on the commission as directing staff, fulfilling the very role that the hon. Gentleman has described.
Mr. Trimble: I am delighted that the Minister has confirmed that that is the way in which the commission will operate. It is the best way to go. It provides flexibility. To proceed in that way will be a more efficient use of resources; it will be better than the commission employing its own police force. It reinforces my earlier point about the need for a broad and flexible approach on the matter. I am delighted by what the Minister said.
In our response to the consultation papers, we expressed concern about the Bill's provision that enables the commission to consider any case immediately after the 28-day period for appeal has passed. We suggested that the commission should, in deciding whether to investigate a case, have regard to the failure to appeal or to apply for an extension for time to appeal. Legal representatives of an accused person should not regard going to the commission as the easy way out; they should not do that instead of going to appeal. Hon. Members should be concerned about that and I hope that the
Column 78commission will be concerned about it, too. I was pleased to note that Justice voiced the same concern in its suggestions on the matter.
Hon. Members have referred to the Police Complaints Authority and the Independent Commission for Police Complaints for Northern Ireland. Neither the Bill's provisions nor Ministers' statements show what the relationship will be between the complaints bodies and the commission. It is obvious that an alleged miscarriage of justice could give rise to a complaint to the Independent Commission for Police Complaints for Northern Ireland or to the Police Complaints Authority in England and Wales; it could also, however, lead to an application to the commission. What will then happen?
In the Home Office consultation paper, it was suggested that there might be informal arrangements between the two bodies to co-ordinate inquiries and to prevent overlap. I am not sure that that is sufficient. It may be necessary to consider further what the relationship will be between the complaint bodies and the commission. In considering the two, one should regard the commission as the superior body. If necessary, it should be able to have referred to it a case that is proceeding simultaneously through the two complaint bodies.
If I may stray a little into purely Northern Ireland considerations, I am not sure that it is desirable even to have a police complaints body if we have the commission and an independent police authority, which I hope will continue, part of whose function should be to examine whether the police are dealing adequately with cases. Far too many overlapping jurisdictions are being created. A little bit of rationalisation may be called for.
I referred earlier to Northern Ireland concerns and to the comment by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South that, a number of years ago, a sea change occurred in the attitude of the Court of Appeal in England and Wales. I regret that a similar sea change has not taken place in the attitude in Northern Ireland courts. In recent years, only one major case has been referred to the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal--what is known as the UDR Four case. I regret that, a couple of years ago, the judgment of the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal in that case showed the attitude of mind that had been present in the Court of Appeal in England before its sea change in attitude. That attitude tends to represent any miscarriage of justice simply as a technicality. It says, "These men are really guilty, but we are having to let them out because there has been some error by the police officers." The Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland contrived the result by quashing the convictions of three of the people involved, but not a fourth--that of Neil Latimer. He is just as innocent as the other three, but he remains in prison simply because the Court of Appeal has not been able to face up to the fact that, as in the cases in England and Wales, the police had decided to "improve" the evidence.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South referred to the way in which the police sometimes appear to conduct sessions where they rewrite all their notes. Sometimes, senior police officers are involved in that. Lawyers acting for the UDR Four are convinced that exactly the same phenomenon occurred and that, at some point, the interviewing officer sat down and decided to rewrite the notes. Some of the rewriting was revealed by electrostatic document
analysis--ESDA--testing and led to the convictions of three of the four being quashed. Unfortunately, justice has not been fully served.
Column 79I understand that with regard to the latest application to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to have the case of Neil Latimer referred again to the Court of Appeal, the Secretary of State has said that he is minded that the doors have not yet closed and that he is prepared to consider any fresh information that may be relevant. I am glad that he has said that. However, I fear that this case would fall within the category mentioned by the Home Secretary in his speech. He said that there might be cases in which new evidence would, for some reason, be inadmissible and that that would be an appropriate situation for the use of the royal prerogative. I hope that that possibility will be looked at in this context, because it may be the only way in which we can solve a serious miscarriage of justice in Northern Ireland.
Interestingly, the UDR Four case is the only case in Northern Ireland so far in which there has been serious disquiet about conviction. That is somewhat ironic. The cases of miscarriage of justice in England and Wales have involved jury decisions. The Diplock courts in Northern Ireland, with a single judge, have been, with this solitary exception, free from mistake. I have often commented to people who criticise the Diplock single-judge courts that I find it strange that people concentrate so much on them, when, by and large, a reasonably good quality of justice is delivered, yet ignore the 98 per cent. of criminal cases in Northern Ireland which come before single-judge magistrates courts.
We have had single-judge courts in Northern Ireland since 1935. All magistrates courts are presided over by resident magistrates. In resident magistrates courts, we do not get the same quality of justice as we have had in the Diplock courts. My experience of magistrates courts is limited. I had a short, although distinguished, criminal record. Apart from that, my only other acquaintance with magistrates courts was appearing once as a witness in the context of the protests against the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
I remember that, when the police disclosed to us the police witness statements about the evidence that would be given in court, I and everyone else who read them fell about laughing because the police evidence was so laughable. However, I had reckoned without the magistrate concerned--no names, no pack drill. I am told by those who practise regularly in the magistrates courts that he has never been known to disbelieve the police. That is the quality of justice that occasionally occurs. For that reason, I am delighted that the Bill extends to summary cases--magistrates court cases--the power to have miscarriages of justice remedied through a referral back of the case. A clear gap in our legislative provision has now been remedied. As I have said, we welcome the Bill and we shall support its principle. The opportunity may arise to look more closely at some of the points of detail that have been mentioned.
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam): May I give a warm welcome to this extremely important Bill and say what a pleasure it is for me to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), who is accompanied here in the Chamber by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux)? Not only
Column 80do I have great respect for them both, but I welcome the fact that the Bill encompasses Northern Ireland. I welcome the fact that we are not going down the same old route of having to provide for separate legislation. The Bill is a good example of Ulster being seen as part of the United Kingdom--a position with which I feel totally happy and comfortable.
I do not accept the criticism that there has been undue delay with the Bill, which required careful thought and planning. It was not a matter of the Government at any time objecting to its principle; that was not so. There has always been deep and grave concern about miscarriages of justice. We have never been afraid of taking a good look at sacred cows. I would not like there to have been a knee-jerk reaction just to satisfy critics. That would have forced us to make decisions in haste which, on closer analysis, we might later have regretted because we had not paid sufficient detail to some aspects. Our system of criminal justice results in relatively few convictions of the innocent, but one conviction of an innocent man or woman is one too many. By the same token, it means that somewhere out there, there are guilty men and women at large. We are keenly aware that, somewhere, the bombers of Guildford and Birmingham are still free. They have not been brought to justice, and we do not know whether they ever will be. I only hope and pray that they have something of a conscience which will burden them to end of their days, but I wonder.
I accept that there has been a debate over quite a time and I accept that, 14 years ago, the Select Committee on Home Affairs agreed that we should eventually take a course of action similar to that proposed in the Bill. I refer to a quotation from the Select Committee's 1982 report on miscarriages of justice. In recommending that a new review body should be established, the Committee said: "Our main concern is that those cases which, following the initial sifting process, are thought by the Home Office to contain some substance, and in particular those involving a custodial sentence, should receive as thorough and expert a scrutiny as possible. We are convinced that there is a strong argument in favour of the introduction of an independent element at this stage, and that it is unreasonable that the Home Secretary should be expected to decide whether to grant a free pardon or to remit a sentence on the advice of his officials alone."
It was not only the Select Committee that raised those important points. The law reform group Justice made its own considerations. In a response to a Government reply to the Home Affairs Select Committee, it said:
"We accept that such a review body will not be infallible and will not satisfy everybody; we doubt whether this will ever be possible whatever system is devised. However, we believe that the present procedures are not capable of providing the requisite qualities of thoroughness, impartiality and independence that an inquiry into a serious complaint of miscarriage of justice requires. In his report into the investigation of the Preece case, the ombudsman stated:--
`A miscarriage of justice by which a man or woman loses his or her liberty is one of the gravest matters which can occupy the attention of a civilised society. And it seems to me that when an unprecedented pollution of justice at its source is discovered, quite an exceptional effort to identify and remedy its consequences is called for.'"
That is exactly what the Government are doing.
The detailed provisions for the establishment of a criminal cases review commission had to be carefully prepared and subject to wide consultation, hence the requirement for Lord Runciman to examine the proposition and to make considered representations in his report for the Royal Commission on criminal justice.
Column 81Submissions were sought and many bodies and people were interviewed. Further consultations have meant that the Bill goes further and goes into more detail than envisaged by Lord Runciman. The commission will, for example, be able to reverse summary cases dealt with by the magistrates court. A shoplifter will be able to have his case referred to the Court of Appeal or Crown court rather than seek a royal pardon, which is not satisfactory.
We must be wary of the pitfalls. On 26 October 1993, speaking in a debate in the other place on the royal commission report, Lord Windlesham warned that miscarriages of justice are
"easy to exploit for various purposes, including the pursuit of political capital."
Lord Ferrers, then Minister at the Home Office, reminded the House of the need to
"strike the right balance between, on the one hand, the public interest in the detection and punishment of crime, and, on the other hand, the individual interests both the of defendants and of the victims of crime."-- [ Official Report, House of Lords , 26 October 1993; Vol. 549, c.779- 81.]
We all agree that we must ensure that our criminal justice system operates fairly if we are to maintain public confidence in it. The system has worked to increase the chances of the guilty being convicted through the reform of the right to silence, the establishment of a DNA database and changes to identity parade procedures to stop them being abused. It is equally important, however, that only the guilty are convicted. The care with which Bill has been prepared will ensure a fair and efficient system to correct miscarriages of justice.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) was responsible, as he said earlier in the debate, for setting up the process to establish the commission for criminal appeals. He did so at a time when the public mood was at fever pitch, only hours after the release of the Birmingham Six.
I remember that day very well, because I took part in "Question Time" and the atmosphere in the studio was electric. The mood was rather confused, however, because, although everyone was quite rightly outraged about miscarriages of justice and about the fact that things had gone seriously wrong, another passion, which was promoting Irish republicanism, was blurring the edges, and those who felt it gave the Birmingham Six a heroes' welcome not just on their release but because they were pushing another cause. In a sense, that was unfortunate, because if there has been a miscarriage of justice, an individual, no matter who he is, is entitled to have the best justice that the country can provide.
It had been found that, among other things, the convictions of the Birmingham Six had rested on uncorroborated confessions. Concern was expressed about faulty, fabricated or withheld evidence, biased comments from judges and the reluctance of the Court of Appeal to overturn jury verdicts.
Today, we must put everything in its correct perspective. Time has not stood still. In recent years, the standards required of the police have been tightened. The codes of practice in the Police and Criminal Act 1984, commonly known as PACE, have virtually eliminated the risk of fabricated confessions. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) pointed out in his excellent speech, nowadays police interviews
Column 82are tape-recorded. Those codes of practice have served their purpose because allegations against the police have dropped greatly. None the less, if there is any error of doubt about how evidence or confessions were obtained, the conviction must be set aside. The strength of our system is that we will still admit that an error could have been made, even after the last appeal. I cannot vouch for any other country in the world that sustains our same enormously high standards of justice or goes to the same length of trouble as we do to get things right.
Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West): What does my hon. Friend have to say about identification evidence?
Lady Olga Maitland: I will not comment on that, because it should be considered in another context.
It was quite right for the Home Office to refer back to the Court of Appeal the case of Paul Hill, who was convicted of the IRA murder of 21-year-old Private Shaw in west Belfast. The Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Sir Brian Hutton, concluded that the conviction was unsafe and unsatisfactory. In his 42-page judgment, however, he said that Mr. Hill's credibility was seriously undermined because, on the balance of probabilities, a number of interviews that he claimed took place at Guildford police station never happened.
Sir Brian added that he felt that the Surrey police officers' evidence at the Belfast trial was probably true. However, the only evidence against Mr. Hill was a confession that he signed while under arrest at Guildford police station in connection with the Guildford and Woolwich IRA bombings, in which five people were killed. Sir Brian said he quashed Paul Hill's conviction because it rested on a fundamental principle of law that
"a civilised society cannot permit a confession--even if true--to be obtained by improper methods."
He added that it was "very probable" that Police Constable Gerry Queen fired an unloaded revolver through the hatch of a cell door at Guildford police station and that that "clearly constituted inhuman treatment."
It should be made clear that rendering a conviction unsafe does not necessarily exonerate the appellant; rather, it is the means of setting aside a conviction where there is the slightest doubt about the evidence. I pay tribute yet again to the fact that this country has the courage and the culture to bend over backwards to right a wrong. Whenever there is a sliver of doubt, a case is thrown out.
Mr. Ashby: Can my hon. Friend explain why the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six had to apply three or four times to the Court of Appeal before it finally got its finger out and looked at their cases again? How is that our country bending over backwards to right a wrong?
Lady Olga Maitland: In the end, the cases were reviewed and the verdicts were overturned, so how can my hon. Friend possibly question the outcome?
I welcome the establishment of the independent criminal cases review commission, because the current system is not entirely satisfactory. At present, we have a gamekeeper-poacher relationship, where the C3 department of the Home Office serves as the last resort for alleged miscarriages of justice. It can never be entirely
Column 83satisfactory for a body to be responsible in a quasi-judicial role for such cases, while at the same time being responsible for law and order and the police.
The Home Office, acutely conscious of the sensitivities involved, has tended to err on the side of sluggishness. As Lord Runciman observed in his report:
"The scrupulous observance of constitutional principles has meant a reluctance on the part of the Home Office to inquire deeply enough into the cases put to it . . . We do not think that is likely to change significantly in the future."
The Home Office and the Northern Ireland Office sift through about 750 cases a year, of which, on average, four or five are finally referred to the Court of Appeal. Only a few attract public attention or become causes celebres, such as the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the Maguires. The rest range from a conviction for possessing a television without a licence or driving without insurance to the most serious offences such as rape, armed robbery or murder.
The most recent references to the Court of Appeal, leaving aside the Guinness trial convictions of Jack Lyons, Ernest Saunders, Anthony Parnes and Gerald Ronson, are a fairly typical list of cases concerning people convicted of serious offences and serving long sentences. Those include Paul Malone, currently serving 15 years for robbery; Sammy Davies, convicted of rape; and Colin Wallace, convicted of manslaughter.
A clear example of miscarriage of justice was the case of Stefan Kiszko, who was convicted of raping and murdering a girl in Derbyshire. He spent many years in prison but always protested his innocence. The Home Office took up his case and found that forensic evidence was unreliable. Since he was first tried nearly 20 years ago, forensic science has developed a great deal, with many safeguards.
Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South): In the Stefan Kiszko case, it was found that forensic evidence had been withheld by the police. That is why that case was overturned.
Lady Olga Maitland: That could be one element of the reason, but I understand that subsequent forensic science has given us another interpretation of the evidence.
Judith Ward was convicted in 1974 of a number of terrorist offences, including murder. In 1991, her case was referred by the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley, after the scientific evidence was put in doubt by the discrediting, in another case, of evidence given by the forensic scientist concerned and after an eminent psychiatrist found that Judith Ward suffered from a mental condition that led her to fantasise and then confess to crimes that she had not committed. In June 1992, the Court of Appeal quashed all her convictions and she was freed having served 17 years in prison for crimes that she had nothing to do with.
I congratulate the Government on being supportive in the proposed establishment of the criminal cases review commission, setting aside a budget of more than £4 million for a staff of up to 60 people and a proposed body of 11. That is certainly no half-hearted measure. Compare that with the Home Office C3 department, which has a staff of 19 and a budget of some £750,000 a year.
Column 84Labour Members suggest that that figure and the scope and scale of the commission are insufficient.
Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East): The hon. Lady has given a litany of cases where miscarriages of justice have been put right and referred to cases on which people are currently campaigning. Does she support the attempt by the family of James Hanratty to prove that he was wrongly convicted?
Lady Olga Maitland: I cannot answer that question because I have not studied the case. If there has been a miscarriage of justice and suitable evidence comes to light, I feel absolutely confident that the case will be referred to the Court of Appeal.
If Labour Members are not satisfied with the fact that the commission will have a staff of 60 and a budget of £4 million, it would help the House if they said what they envisage. What do they mean by "inadequate resources"? Would they double the number of staff and the budget? They must be realistic. It is all very well to demand that more resources be given, which is the common cry of the Labour party, but it would be helpful if Labour Members said what budget they would propose.
Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North): The hon. Lady does not seem to be aware that the Police Federation of England and Wales has made it extremely clear that the commission's budget is inadequate if it does not include funding to pay for the officers who must carry out the investigations, for whom substantial extra funding will be needed. The nature of the investigations and the employment of officers mean that the overall funding required will be much higher than the sum suggested by the Government.
Lady Olga Maitland: The hon. Gentleman's point sidesteps the whole issue. What I am trying to get out of the Opposition, but which is clearly not forthcoming, is whether they will spend more money on the commission and, if so, how much. They seem to have made yet another open-ended spending pledge. I do not resent spending money on justice for everybody, but we should know exactly where the money will come from and what it will be spent on.
Mr. Jim Cunningham: I queried how the commission will be funded. If the hon. Lady remembers, I spoke of cuts in legal aid. Is she saying that the money saved from cuts in the legal aid budget will be used for the new review body?
Lady Olga Maitland: I do not think for one minute that a sensible approach to handling the legal aid budget can be equated with funding an expansion over and above what the Government propose for the new commission. It is nonsense for the hon. Gentleman to try to suggest that we are robbing Peter to pay Paul. No appellant will be deprived of the appropriate means to secure justice for himself. We are concerned that genuinely wealthy people are claiming support from the legal aid budget to which they are not entitled. There is no question of anyone without resources being unable to get funding for his or her legal defence.
Mr. Mike O'Brien: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way twice. She said that no one without resources will lack legal aid. Has she had conversations with Ministers in which it has been suggested that legal aid
Column 85will be made available for those who are deserving because they have no other resources, or does she not know what she is talking about?
Lady Olga Maitland: I have had constant discussions with my colleagues. My hon. Friends and I are all well aware that those who need it will get the legal support and aid that they need. We are concerned about extremely wealthy people who claim legal aid while living in luxury homes with huge back-up when it is obvious that they have the means to pay for their own defence.
I have no doubt that the commission will initially carry a heavy case load, investigating in a broader way and perhaps in greater depth some cases that are handled by the Home Office. I recognise that inquiries will be speeded up. Apart from big and complicated cases, the average time taken to complete consideration of a case is 36 working days. The commission's make- up is crucial to guarantee public confidence. Its independence and the selection of those who will serve on it are sacrosanct. I agree that it is appropriate that there should be a strong lay input with, as was pointed out in the royal commission report, knowledge and experience of any aspect of the criminal justice system. That will provide for plain common sense backed by an expert knowledge in a particular subject.
I suggest, however, that great care be taken to ensure that there is no danger of any pressure group, such as Liberty, making its presence felt in an area that must be completely apolitical. To err on one side or the other would seriously affect public confidence in the commission. We want people of integrity, probity, judgment and clear-sightedness; we want no whisper of politics, which would turn what should be a scrupulously independent, fair-minded body into a lobby organisation for one group or party or the other. I view that matter with the greatest concern. I trust that, when the body is set up, those independent standards will be maintained both now and in the future.
Some hon. Members have called for an in-house investigatory unit. I regard that as neither practical nor realistic. First, the work load will vary each year. No investigative unit could have all the necessary expertise for every sort of case. It is far better to bring in the appropriate investigators and supervise them from the centre, which has already been done by the serious fraud squad, who bring in accountants. The organisation could bring in forensic scientists or accountants, although it may not need such expert help all the time. In general, different branches of the police force will be used. They have an excellent track record on investigating alleged miscarriages of justice.
I am concerned about remarks made by Labour Members throwing doubt on the integrity of the police force. We heard unworthy gibing and querulousness from Labour Members, suggesting that our police force did not possess the standards of integrity that we demand of it. I accept that occasionally things fall down but, by and large, the police force has an excellent track record. I did not like the complaint of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) that cases referred to the Police Complaints Authority are generally not taken up. Such an insidious statement is not worth listening to--but we have heard it.
Column 86It has been suggested that journalists should be among the investigators on the commission. I am proud of my profession as a journalist, but I would never for a moment suggest that it is the right profession to serve on the commission. Labour Members said that they wanted campaigning journalists on the commission, and mentioned Paul Foot. I respect Paul Foot's powers as a writer, but I cannot say that I would feel particularly happy or confident that someone with a clearly defined left-wing bias in his approach to life could deliver a service with which I would feel totally comfortable. We must be scrupulously careful about the make-up of the commission and how it executes its powers.
I am proud that the Bill has come to the House and proud that we in this country will leave no stone unturned in our determination to bring justice for all. It should reassure the public that their last resort appeal will be most carefully considered, and any miscarriage of justice rightly rectified.
Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South): I welcome the Bill. This is the only such occasion that I can recall when every contributor has started by welcoming the Bill, which is important and has clearly been needed for some time. It meets the public need for a commission. The Opposition want it to be set up and operating as soon as possible, as there is much work to be done.
It is important to set up the commission because the most recent criminal justice Act, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, ended the right to silence and increased the possibility of miscarriages of justice rather than decreased it. Some of the safeguards suggested during the Committee stage of that Bill would, had they been accepted, have reduced the possibility of error. Regrettably, they were not accepted. I hope that cases going through the courts will be monitored to see whether ending the right of silence has achieved what the Government claimed it would--in terms of convictions where convictions were proper--or whether, as we suggested, it has increased the danger of miscarriages of justice.
In welcoming the Bill, I want to focus on those aspects of it which are not quite right. I do not believe, as has been suggested, that the Committee considering the Bill will be entirely without controversy, as some changes are needed. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to those issues.
I have four serious concerns. My first worry involves the grounds of appeal. Will the grounds of appeal still be too narrow to cover some of the cases which should be considered by the commission? My second concern involves the extent of the commission's powers. Will it be able to obtain all the evidence that it needs to be able to investigate a case properly?
Thirdly, I am concerned about the independence of any investigation when those conducting it are the same people as those responsible for the original decision. I would like to know the circumstances in which the same police force would be used and the circumstances in which another police force would be used to investigate a particular conviction. I would also like to know the