|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
4 Dec 2002 : Column 922continued
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 Scotlandincluding by the fourth estateas 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
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 forwardand there has been a topical example of that recentlywill 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?
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
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 investigationincompetence, in other wordsshould 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.
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. 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.