The Solicitor General: The Law Officers meet the DPP regularly to discuss a range of criminal justice issues, including sentencing for murder. The Government have said that we will establish a review of the law on murder, and the Home Secretary will announce the way forward shortly.
Ian Lucas: Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, approaching 40 years after the abolition of the death penalty for murder, it is now appropriate that we have a detailed and mature consideration of the law as a whole relating to murder and the sentencing relating to it?
The Solicitor General: Yes, we need to consider all those issues. Last August, the Law Commission produced a report on the law in relation to murder and made some recommendations. The Home Secretary has made it clear that he wants to retain the mandatory life sentence for murder. None the less, we need to consider the wider issues presented by murder and the law on it, and the Home Secretary will make his announcements on the review in due course.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)
(Con): I welcome the hon. and learned Gentleman to his new appointment. Does he agree that one of the reasons why the mandatory life sentence for murder should be retained is that that is the way to ensure that anyone who is released is released on life licence and can be recalled if necessary? Were a
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change to having finite sentences for murder introduced, someone could not be so recalled, which would be likely to cause serious public disquiet.
The Solicitor General: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his best wishes on my appointment. He makes a valuable point. In any review of the law on murder and sentences for murder, we will need to examine that issue. The Government's key responsibility is to ensure that we maintain confidence in the criminal justice system, protect victims and bring the guilty to justice. We must therefore have penalties in which the public can have confidence.
Edward Miliband (Doncaster, North) (Lab): I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his attention in the past few days to the case of John Barrett, who was given a life sentence for the manslaughter of Denis Finnegan, who lived in my constituency. Does he agree that the criminal justice system owes a massive apology to the Finnegan family for a systemic failure that meant that they were not told for two months about the halving of Mr. Barrett's tariff from 15 and a half years to seven and a half years? May I urge him to take action to ensure that such appalling disregard for families' rights never happens again?
The Solicitor General: This is a bad case. I agree that the criminal justice system owes an apology for errors made by the agencies in failing to tell the family about the reduction of the sentence. Lessons need to be learned. The Crown Prosecution Service has spoken to Mr. Finnegan's brother and sent him a written apology for the agencies' failures. I met the Crown prosecutor for London yesterday to discuss the case. The Government have made it clear that victims should be at the heart of the criminal justice system, but this case provides an example of where that has not happened. We are putting new measures in place to ensure that it does not happen again. If it would help, I would be happy to meet the Finnegan family.
Most sensible people would recognise that murder is a uniquely abhorrent crime, but they would also recognise that murder can take place in a variety of circumstances, which should be recognised by the courts. Is not the most important factor in establishing confidence in the court system, and in ensuring that victims and their families recognise its integrity, the need to have honesty in sentencing so that people clearly understand what the
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sentence means, how long the person will stay in prison if it is a custodial sentence and what will happen when they are released from prison short of a full life sentence?
The Solicitor General: It is certainly important that people who are sentenced and the general public are aware of the implications of a sentence. That is why it is crucial that the judge should make clear in sentencing the reasons why a particular sentence has been passed. It is also why we have been clarifying, over recent years and particularly in the 2003 legislation, the basis on which decisions on sentencing should be made. Much of what the hon. Gentleman said is right and I agree that it is important to maintain confidence in our criminal justice system.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Is it not wrong for the Government to have signed an extradition treaty with the United States that is not reciprocal? British citizens can be extradited to the US on suspicion whereas the US, quite rightly, requires a higher burden of proof for its citizens to be extradited from the US to here. When are the British Government going to stand up for the rights of British citizens rather than sign unequal treaties? Will the Solicitor-General suspend the treaty until the US Congress passes into its law a fully reciprocal agreement?
The Solicitor General: I entirely disagree with the right hon. Gentleman's analysis. There are similar arrangements in place for extradition for 48 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, European countries and the US. Precise reciprocity in extradition arrangements is impossible because legal systems are different. Today, arrangements with the US are broadly comparable in most respects, including with respect to the standard of information needed for requests either wayfrom the US or here. We now require information that is similar to the US requirement of probable cause. Before 2003, we required a prima facie case, which is a higher requirement than probable cause. We are satisfied that the balance of reciprocity is comparable now. We are doing the right thing now, and we believe that making it more difficult for those accused of crime to be brought to court, as the right hon. Gentleman wants, is the wrong approach.
Wednesday 22 JuneOpposition Day [2nd Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on special schools and special educational needs followed by a debate entitled "Threat to the Integrity of the Electoral System". Both arise on an Opposition motion.
Will the Leader of the House give us, as a matter of urgency, an opportunity to discuss the Home Secretary's decision to ban protests from a wide area around the Palace of Westminster? The Government have already tried to introduce house arrest without trial; now they want to ban political protests around the mother of Parliaments. Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that such actions make it more difficult for this country to stand on the moral high ground when criticising repressive regimes such as those in Burma and Zimbabwe?
Talking of Zimbabwe, last week the right hon. Gentleman brushed off my request for a statement on the situation there. He will have read in today's papers that circumstances in Zimbabwe continue to go from bad to worse. Why is it not possible for a Foreign Office Minister to come to the House and tell us what the Government are doing to help to forge an international response to the problems?
May we have an early debate on the suspension of the regulations introduced in the House two years ago to implement the food supplements directive? The right hon. Gentleman will know that the European Court of
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Justice has made a provisional decision that the directive cannot stand, but the regulations will still come into force on 1 August. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us an opportunity to suspend them, so that organisations no longer have to work with them although they may be set aside shortly? That would remove the black cloud that currently hangs over the industry.
Did the Leader of the House have an opportunity to drop in to the "race against time" lobby on Duchenne muscular dystrophy earlier this week? As he will know, this is a terrible disease that threatens the lives of many children in my constituency and, I suspect, in his. Will he make time for a debate so that we can discuss the research programme that is trying to sort out the problem and deliver a real solution for those children, so that we can discuss ways of helping to give them a better future?
Finally, may we have a debate on local dialects so that the House can congratulate the Leader of the House on his success in entering the dictionary of cockney rhyming slang? The website cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk gives the example: