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Mr. Grieve: I am grateful for the Solicitor-General's statement and join the Attorney-General in acknowledging that yesterday's decision has serious and far-reaching implications. No one could describe that as an overstatement. We on this side of the House will do everything open to us to co-operate with the Government in facilitating any review that leads to the removal of miscarriages of justice. This is not a party political issue in any way whatsoever.
Law Officers will clearly have intermittent involvement in the work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Has the CCRC given any indication of how long it will take, as the first priority, to examine the
In an interview at the weekend, the Minister for Children used the expression "tens of thousands" of cases, although elsewhere I have seen the figure of 5,000. Some clarification would be helpful. Is it suggested that Law Officers have recommended that a judge should be appointed to trawl those casesas was apparently floated in the Minister for Children's interview in The Sunday Telegraph at the weekend?
What will be the role of the decisions of the General Medical Council in relation to Professor Meadowwhich, it has been suggested, will not be made until the autumn? Will that introduce a mechanism of delay in reviewing any of the cases, whether civil or criminal? Can the Solicitor-General help the House in relation to that matter? I am sure she agrees that delay could be critical. It may still be possible in some instances for children recently removed from their families to be returned. In other cases, as the Minister for Children explained in her interview at the weekend, that may not be possible. Each case will be different and involves a degree of urgency. The public and Parliament hope that some reassurance can be given that a system exists to bring order out of what I appreciate is an extremely chaotic state of affairs.
I am sure that the Minister for Children gave her interview with the best of intentions in providing some reassurance before yesterday's decision, but there are on the Order Paper outstanding questions from hon. Members dating from before Christmas, including from my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton)questions that have not received answers, notwithstanding public pronouncements by Ministers. It would be extremely helpful in providing reassurance for the future if those questions received speedy replies, rather than right hon. and hon. Members finding some of the points that they have raised touched upon in newspaper articles. I believe that letters from Lord Howe in the other place to the Lord Chancellor's Department last December have still not yet been answered.
The Solicitor-General may have no difficulty agreeing with the comments of Lord Justice Judge that in any civilised community, the conviction of the innocent is abhorrent. Is not this whole episode, therefore, a chilling reminder of the difficulty caused by the fallibility of human justice systems and the extreme difficulty that can occur when a desire to ensure that the legal system serves the victim starts to lead to assumptions against those who are tried? In this case, that has happened by means of expert evidence. Will the Solicitor-General gently remind her right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has in the past made pronouncements in the House on the need to move the criminal justice system so that it is more in favour of the victim, that if that leads to
The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman raised a number of important questions, and I shall try to deal with all of them. He asked for an indication of how long the CCRC would take before it made a decision to refer a case to the Court of Appeal. He will know that the CCRC will need to look at the transcripts of a case to satisfy itself on whether the conviction was based on expert evidence or whether other evidence led to the conviction. I can reassure him and the House that there will be a fast-track process, because we recognise, as do the CCRC and the Court of Appeal, that the situation is urgent.
I also agree with the hon. Gentleman that those cases in which the convicted person is not in prison are still urgent and serious, for the reasons that he gave. Those cases may have involved not only criminal proceedings but care proceedings, and we will therefore look at them with urgency. However, I assure him that although the situation is serious, it is not chaotic. A number of actions are under waywhat I would call the sensible onesand are being taken immediately. We are working with the president of the family division, the Court of Appeal, the CCRC, the Department for Constitutional Affairs and a range of other bodies on that. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's offer to contribute, with his expertise and background knowledge, and I extend that welcome to all hon. Members.
On keeping the House informed and answering parliamentary questions, we started our work in December because we heard the oral comments given by the Court of Appeal when it freed Angela Cannings, but the written judgment that maps out what we need to do next came only yesterday. I will ensure that all parliamentary questions, whether to the DCA, my Department or the Minister for Children, are answered properly and promptly. More than that, we will keep the House informed by written statements as we refine the numbers and reach a better understanding of the situation.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether we should generalise from the judgment of the Court of Appeal in this case to the criminal justice system as a whole. We are always concerned to ensure that no one is convicted of an offence that they did not commit. We always bear that in mind, but in this case and in these proceedings, we have work to do. We shall look at the convictions and ensure that if there has been an injustice, justice will ultimately be done, even though for many it will be many years too late.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon) (LD): No one can fail to be moved by the predicament of any victim of a miscarriage of justice, but it is difficult to imagine any more dreadful case than this in which to have to endure an unwarranted prosecution, let alone a conviction. The Attorney-General has acted swiftly, as he should, to enable challenges to be made to unsafe verdicts. Will the Solicitor-General confirm that all reasonable costs of any appellant, in civil as well as
There are also lessons to be learned in respect of other cases in other legal disciplines. Will the Solicitor-General tell the House what action she and the Attorney-General are taking in relation to those other convictions in which expert evidence has not only weighed heavily in the verdict, but has been decisive?
The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman raises the question of costs, compensation and taxation. We are considering those issues and we will address them. I cannot provide detailed answers now, but I will ensure that the House is informed as soon as possible. At the moment, we are focusing on dealing with cases in which people are in prison, or proceedings are under way.
I omitted to answer some of the questions that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) asked about family proceedings. I am afraid that we are not in a position to say in how many care proceedings cases the evidence of experts has proved decisive. But in Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss we have the benefit of an exceptional president of the family division, and we have the support of the Law Society and of many other organisations. We will ensure not only that injustices in the criminal justice system, but that any potential injustices in care proceedings are identified and acted on.
We should recognise that for women who have lost a child and then had another child taken away, prison is no penalty compared with the terrible suffering that they have endured. As we deal straight away with those in prison and those involved in criminal processes, we must bear in mind the absolute and utmost gravity of the situation facing those whose injustice is at the hands not of the criminal justice system, but of the family justice system.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): About a third of a century ago, I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department of Health. I have the clear recollection that the then distinguished chief medical officer, Sir George Godber, and his deputy, Dr. Henry Yellowlees, submitted a long statement on all the difficulties and uncertainties associated with infanticide and cot death. At what point were the certainties developed that could lead Sir Roy Meadow to say that there is a one in 73 million chance in these situations? Why not say that there is a one in 50 million chance, or a one in 100 million chance? How does a statistician reach such certainties in these circumstances? At what stage were those certainties introduced, by whom and on what basis?