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7.52 pm

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I beg to move,

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    and fails to discriminate between nations abroad which are democratic and respect human and civil rights and those which are undemocratic, tyrannous, fail to respect democracy, human and civil rights, repress their populations and pay scant regard to the rights of women.

I shall read from a judgment, which states:

    "Just consider the course of events if this action is allowed to proceed to trial. If the six men fail it will mean much time and money will have been expended to no good purpose. If the six men win, it will mean that the police are guilty of perjury, that they are guilty of violence and threats, that the confessions were invented and improperly admitted in evidence and the convictions were erroneous."

The judgment continues:

    "This is such an appalling vista that every sensible person in the land would say that it cannot be right that these actions should go any further."

That was the judgment of Lord Justice Denning, then Master of the Rolls, before the Court of Appeal in November 1979 on the Birmingham Six. I quote that judgment because in that case the defence had the opportunity to examine the evidence, to examine the policemen and to go through all the statements that were made. Of course the defence did not know that the police were lying through their teeth, that the forensic evidence was doubtful and may also have been tampered with, and that the defendants had had the living daylights knocked out of them in order to obtain the confession.

Lord Denning said that that was an appalling vista. The entire establishment would collapse--the police, the justices, the prison service--yet in that case the police evidence was open to examination. What will happen under the Bill?

A policeman will go into the dock and say, "Mr. X is, in my belief, a member of one of the proscribed organisations." The defence will say, "My client denies that. Where is your evidence?" The policeman will say, "I cannot show you my evidence, because it is covered by a public interest immunity certificate. You cannot look at it. But that is my belief, and I know all about it. I have spent 50 years sniffing out terrorists. I have known them man and boy. I can tell a terrorist by the way that he will not look you straight in the eye. And he has an Irish accent"--or an Iraqi, Malaysian or Kurdish accent, or some other accent--"and I know them." The judge will look at the distinguished policeman, who has served years in the counter-terrorism squad, and say, "We must pay attention to what he says."

The accused will say, "I am saying nothing." On the basis of that, and on the basis of the policeman's evidence, which cannot be examined, that person can be convicted. He cannot be convicted on one of those grounds alone, but he can be convicted on both in conjunction. If that is the case, the word of a single police officer is to be taken. When the matter of the word of a policeman and the accused remaining silent was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), it was not contradicted.

Let us consider the safeguards. In fairness to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I must say that, since it was announced that the word of a policeman alone would be the criterion, and that was greeted by an outcry, some progress has been made. The Bill now requires corroboration, weak though that may be. I concede that, but the weakness of that corroboration depends on the accused. The second rule that has been made so that the

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Bill does not fall foul--on the face of it--of the European convention on human rights and the Murray case is that the suspect must have access to legal advice at some time before he is subject to a caution, a suggestion or a charge.

What happens if the solicitor says, "Say nothing--that is my advice to you"? The suspect says nothing and, coupled with the other matters that we have mentioned, is found guilty. What happens if the solicitor asks to see the evidence and the police say, "Sorry, it is subject to a public interest immunity certificate"--[Interruption.]My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) thinks that I am getting it wrong, so I will give way.

Mr. Bermingham: My hon. Friend is getting it wrong. I suggest that the solicitor would ask at the police station and then at the hearing what was the basis of the police officer's evidence. If the police officer says, "I am not prepared to tell you," how can the man answer questions? So the corroboration goes. If the case gets to the Crown court, the solicitor asks again what is the basis of the public interest immunity certificate. The judge in the case will have seen the evidence on which it relies. The judge will monitor the trial thereafter. If points come out that tend to show that what is said to be in that hidden evidence is not so, the question of immunity begins to move. Historically, immunity has moved in a number of cases, and prosecutions have cessated.

Mr. McNamara: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but that is not necessarily the case. It will depend precisely on what action the judge happens to take. It will not depend on the benefits of what my hon. Friend thinks will happen. With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend--I understand the point that he makes--I do not think that what he says happens in real life. I base my opinion on Lord Justice Denning's saying what an appalling vista that would be.

The other point is access to a solicitor. We shall have--as we already have--two tiers of law. People in this country will have the benefit of a solicitor sitting beside them all the time and an audio transcription of the proceedings. As was said earlier, audio recording saves a lot of time and bother. There can be no contradiction. The recording is there. The suspect has said it.

However, in Northern Ireland that does not apply. A person may be informed of his right to access to a solicitor for advice, but the solicitor does not sit in on the interview. We do not have audio recording in Northern Ireland, although as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has pointed out, we could have it within a week if the RUC pulled its finger out, because the equipment has been available for a long time. If necessary, the RUC could take everyone down to Strand road police station for interview, where we knowthe information is--[Hon. Members: "Equipment."] Sometimes it was where the information was as well.

My point is that an accused could be done for refusing to incriminate himself, and on the word of a policeman, subject to whatever caveats my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South may make, without the protection of proper legal advice during the interrogation. I put it to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that that will create real difficulties if one person is found to be wrongly accused or it is felt that a person has been treated unfairly.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South suggested that as many as 300 people could be affected by the Bill. That is a lot of people among whom to start dissent. That is more likely to undermine the Good Friday agreement than the evil of the Omagh bombing. We know why the Omagh bombing was done. It singularly failed.

In providing access to a solicitor, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was trying to meet the problems raised by the European convention on human rights with regard to access to advice. People will recall that the judgment in the Murray case was that the length of the period of detention coupled with the absence of legal advice amounted to a denial of that person's human rights, and therefore a breach of the convention.

However, the court also drew attention to the increasing possibilities of compulsion as a result of the denial of the right to silence and the inferences that could be drawn from it. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend has met that point. Nor has he met the need to balance the rights of the accused and the rights of the prosecution. There is no equality between the two in such cases, so I believe that the Bill runs foul of the European convention. Certainly the United Nations Human Rights Committee drew attention to that matter.

When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary came to the House to speak about the international criminal court and the great step forward that had been made, the right to remain silent and to have no inferences drawn from that was specifically written into the convention. So we are in breach of all three conventions.

Mr. Dalyell: I am a signatory to my hon. Friend's amendment. One of the reasons is that, on the right of silence, such a lawyer's lawyer as Lord Ackner has expressed grave doubts about what we are doing here.

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