Previous SectionIndexHome Page

4 Dec 2002 : Column 922—continued

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, and I cannot but agree, because that is the thrust of this part of the Bill. My hon. Friend

4 Dec 2002 : Column 923

enables me to demonstrate that there are lawyers whom I like very much, and who are really good friends of mine.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Give her a job.

Mr. Blunkett: I shall make representations on my hon. Friend's behalf.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth) rose—

Mr. Blunkett: We have started something now.

Annabelle Ewing: I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. He referred to the proposed reporting restrictions on retrials south of the border. Significant concerns have been expressed in Scotland—including by the fourth estate—as to whether press-gagging orders made in England will be imposed on Scottish courts. If that is the purport of the Bill, does the Home Secretary accept that the best place to consider such significant changes to Scots law would be in the Scots Parliament, not in Westminster?

Mr. Blunkett: I think that the Government should, with the Executive of the Scottish Parliament, seriously consider how to proceed. I should be happy to do that. I put my hands up and say, as I always do, that if I had a straight answer, I would give it.

Simon Hughes: The Home Secretary properly understands the difficulties that could arise with a retrial if press coverage of the first trial remains in the minds of a future jury. He knows too that there are wider concerns about the press coverage of trials the first time around, which begins from the moment a person is arrested. We can all think of such cases, without needing any reminder. Does the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues across Government have in hand any review of the way in which the press can at present get away with condemning people, in effect, from immediately after their arrest right through to the end of the trial? Is that an item on the agenda? It is a big concern across the country.

Mr. Blunkett: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. The Attorney-General has warned the press about the matter, and he repeated the warning only recently. There have been causes celebres in which press coverage has made it very difficult to pursue a trial properly. I am sure that that has been inadvertent, but it is also inept. I have in mind an example of that. We need to be mindful of the problem.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) raised a substantive point at the beginning of his question. The difficulty that he described arises when a trial moves from one court to another. Judges must bear in mind the influences affecting the case.

There is a myth about judges' lives, but I shall be careful about how I phrase what I want to say. There are people who sometimes suggest, mischievously, that judges live in a cocoon, a different world. I am not one

4 Dec 2002 : Column 924

of them, as I believe that judges could be influenced, if they were not careful, by what they read and heard. They steel themselves against that possibility and are able to accept the facts as they are presented. They make a judgment on the basis of the facts, and advise juries to do the same. They would advise retrial juries in the same manner, and we trust juries—we have all just agreed that we do—to judge according to the facts.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Will the Home Secretary give way again?

Mr. Blunkett: I will give way one more time to my hon. and learned Friend, as a generous gesture to someone who took the trouble to table an amendment against giving the Bill a Second Reading.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: I am very grateful to the Home Secretary. May I say straight away that I do not want to attempt to inveigle myself into the category of lawyer that he mentioned a little while ago? I know that I certainly will not so inveigle myself.

Will the Home Secretary accept that many people are worried about the double jeopardy proposals? Their concern arises not from some liberal adherence to the rights of defendants, but from the fact that double jeopardy is the primary rule that discourages rotten policing. If a witness simply fails to come forward—and there has been a topical example of that recently—will that be sufficient grounds for an application to reopen a prosecution?

Mr. Blunkett: The Attorney-General and the Appeal Court will assess whether there is clear and compelling new evidence in a case. That double-locked gateway will mean that the situation outlined by my hon. and learned Friend will not arise. However, I will make representations on his behalf as well in the future, although they might not be quite the same as the representations on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones).

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): The Law Commission's report into double jeopardy made it clear that cases should be retried only when evidence did not become available until after the original acquittal. Does the Home Secretary agree?

Mr. Blunkett: Evidence that is clear, compelling and, in particular, new falls into that category. I am concerned with the word Xnew". No new evidence would have been available at the original trial.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Blunkett: I will, as I love the right hon. Lady and I want her to sharpen her teeth for future work on the Select Committee on Home Affairs.

Miss Widdecombe: I am very grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. I invite him to draw a distinction between Xnew" and the phrase Xcould not possibly have been available". If, for example, the new evidence is a scientific advance such as DNA, which

4 Dec 2002 : Column 925

simply could not have been applied before its discovery, that new evidence could not possibly have been available at the trial. However, if new evidence is brought that was not available but, with more diligent policing could have been, there is a distinction between the two. I am sympathetic to these aims, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman is being invited to make that distinction.

Mr. Blunkett: I knew that it was a good idea to give way because I do not disagree with the right hon. Lady. I do not believe that we would want failure of the investigation to be used and I do not believe that the Court of Appeal would allow it to be used. I did not respond by acknowledging that a witness failing to come forward would not, in any circumstances, be likely to be agreed by the Attorney-General and the Court of Appeal for this reason: even with the internet, mobile phones and satellite television, someone could return from abroad who could not be interviewed at the time as opposed to not being interviewed because of failure. That is why I was not definitive on the example that was given. It is important that we allow the Attorney-General and the Court of Appeal to do their job, within the parameters of this afternoon's debate and the assurance that I hope I have given, that failure of investigation—incompetence, in other words—should not be the test. I shall turn now to part 11 because I am sure that we will come back to these issues in Committee, on Report and beyond.

Chapter 1 of part 11 is about relevant evidence and bad character. Chapter 2 is about reported evidence, material in writing, previous statements being available and witnesses being able to use their statements rather than simply testing their good memory, parrot-fashion. Chapter 3 refers to miscellaneous matters.

We believe that if we are careful and proportionate, we will get this right. We believe that in recommending that we should ensure that when a husband is accused of battery or rape and the defence is that he has been sweetness and light to his wife, the evidence available, including arrest or conviction, should be relevant. That is an extension of and consistence in applying what the Law Commission recommended and, to a moderate degree, what is already practised but is spasmodic and inconsistent in its application.

Part 12 is about sentencing and part 13 covers miscellaneous activity.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): I am not a lawyer, but am I the only person who is astonished at the sentences that are handed down to people who pervert the criminal justice system by deliberately lying to courts? The maximum sentence for perjury is seven years. Does anything in the Bill offer advice to the courts as to the appropriateness of sentences that allow people who have perjured themselves to go to an open prison with days off to go to the pub and make social visits miles and miles away from their prison? It is a serious point.

Mr. Blunkett: I am pleased to have given my hon. Friend the opportunity to make his point but I shall not be drawn into discussing it this afternoon, partly

4 Dec 2002 : Column 926

because it is not directly relevant to the Bill and partly because recently more heat than light has been shed on the issue.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): In paragraph 653, on page 133 of the explanatory notes kindly provided with the Bill, reference is made to the extra pressure on and costs for the Prison Service both of the measures to which the Home Secretary has already referred and those to which I think that he is about to refer. Can he reassure me that resources will be available to deal with those pressures? Secondly, will he address the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) during Prime Minister's questions, when she rightly referred to the overall pressure on prison places? Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman assure me that resources will be devoted to dealing with the problem of recidivism? Every provision in the Bill will be as nought if we do not stop people going back into prison because they have reoffended.

Next Section

IndexHome Page