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I thank my hon. Friend. I understand where the hon. Lady is coming from, but every single one of us must accept that we cannot pick and choose; it is an absolute incumbent duty on us as MPs to scrutinise the legislation that comes before us.
If that is not our prime purpose today, what is? Surely legislation is the business of this House, and it is the business of Members of this House to scrutinise that legislation.
Stephen Pound: Before I give way, I hope that it is not necessary to remind the House that the case of McKenny v. Foster would be affected if the Bill were to come into law. That case concerned a person who died. It is that important.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not want a debate on procedure to erupt at this point. We are still dealing with the Bill. If I have anticipated what the hon. Lady might have wished to say, it is perhaps better that it is not said and that we proceed with the Bill.
Stephen Pound: It would be a foolish man or woman, Mr. Deputy Speaker, who ever attempted to qualify or interpret your comments. Your word is law: you speak ex cathedrawe know that. However, I felt that it was appropriate to respond to the hon. Lady, even though I would not have made the point myself.
The principle I apply when scrutinising the Bill is to ask who gains and who loses. I can see that there is a gain to the owners and keepers of animals. Limiting strict liability in those cases makes life slightly easier. That is not the main purpose of the Bill, however. As the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire has graphically expressed, the purpose of the Bill is to tidy up an area that is unclear. Of the just under 30 respondents to the autumn 2006 consultation from DEFRA, only the Ramblers Association initially objected to some revisiting of the legislation. In fact, after consultation, the Ramblers Association changed its view and said that it would support the principles of the Bill. The only people who remained utterly wedded to the original Bill wereI hesitate to say itpersonal injury lawyers. However, my concern is that when we have a series of legal cases, a series of judgments, a series of many cases
It appearing on the report of the Division that 40 Members were not present, Mr. Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next sitting of the House.
Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): It has become a parliamentary convention for Members to say that they are delighted to have secured an Adjournment debate, but that is not quite true in this case because the circumstances that have led to my securing this debate are of such concern to me, my constituents Luke Atkinson and Michael Binnington, their families and their legal representatives.
What has become a tragedy for all involved began as a simple family holiday to Cyprus in August 2006. I want to give a brief account of what happened according to the human rights organisation Fair Trials International, which has been working closely with Luke and Michael. On their first night in Cyprus, Luke and Michael went to a local nightclub with six other members of their family. Unfortunately, a fight broke out after a local man was accused of touching a girl who was part of their group. One of the boys subsequently sustained a head injury and went to a clinic to get medical attention. Some local boys on mopeds followed them in a threatening manner, with coshes; they alluded to having a knife.
Luke and Michaels uncle, Julian Harrington, who had been asleep, was called and drove to the scene in his hire car. First, he went to the club and picked up Michael and Luke before heading to the clinic. At some point thereafter, Julian encountered two boys on a moped driving towards his car the wrong way down a one-way street. Neither of the boys was wearing a helmet. The car clipped the moped; that resulted in the rider falling off and hitting his head on a pole. Tragically, his passenger, who also fell off, later died from head injuries.
Julian was charged with manslaughter and grievous bodily harm on the basis that he had deliberately driven into the moped three times. Even the survivor of the incident said that the car bumped into the moped just once. Although Luke and Michael had been only passengers in the car, all three men were deemed to have formed a common purpose in wishing to harm the two victims and were charged with exactly the same offences. I will return to the idea of common purpose and to the decision to press charges against each of the three men, but first I want to finish the background.
Mr. Harrington was advised that if he pleaded guilty, he would receive a sentence of between six and 10 years imprisonment. According to his lawyer in Cyprus, the trial judge gave an indication that Julian should change his plea and that the prosecution should consider its case against Michael and Luke. Julian was given very little time to reach a decision and was understandably confused by the trial process in a foreign country. The circumstances are murky, to say the least. Nevertheless, he decided to plead guilty to avoid a sentence in excess of 20 years, and also to save his nephews and their wider family from any more uncertainty and potential misery.
Mr. Harrington received a very severe sentence of 15 yearsfar in excess of that usually given to Cypriot nationals found guilty of such offences. The consequences
for Luke and Michael were initially more positive. Although they had to stand trial and were subjected to a fierce media frenzy, open abuse and threats in court, they were duly acquitted by the three judges of the assize court and returned to England to get on with their lives.
This debate has arisen because of the prosecutions subsequent decision to appeal against the acquittals to appease public expectation of a conviction. No new or additional evidence was presented by the prosecution, but on 29 January 2008, the supreme court of Cyprus held that the assize court had not given proper weight to the evidence and declared Luke and Michael guilty of manslaughter and GBH. The two boys were due to be sentenced yesterday, but at the last minute the hearing was suspended until 4 April. Needless to say, they are determined not to return to Cyprus to serve any sentence and have vowed to fight the inevitable extradition proceedings from the Cypriot Government.
I hope that I can prevail upon the Under-Secretary to do one of two things. The first and most important is to intervene directly with the Cypriot Government to fend off the initiation of extradition proceedings and to encourage a full review of the case and its handling. The second is to appeal to the Home Secretary to resist the extradition application if and when it is made.
Two key issues strike me as having a bearing on the case. The first is the right to a fair trial. There should be no doubt about the inflammatory effect of the case on public opinion in Cyprus. It was, indeed, a tragedy for the victims, their families and the local communityI do not seek to diminish that. However, there has clearly been an incentive for the Republic to achieve the maximum retributive justice and claim credit for doing that.
The unusual length of the sentence that was handed down is indicative of the publicperhaps even politicalpressure that has been brought to bear on the court in this case. All three defendants, but especially Luke and Michael, were tried in the press as much as in court.
I had been led to believe that the legal system in the Republic of Cyprus is very similar to our own. Indeed, the Republics legal tradition stems in part from residual English statute law and the court must have regard to both common law and equity. Nevertheless, the more I look at the case, the more fundamental the difference between the administration of justice in the UK and that in Cyprus appears to be.
When the assize court found the two men innocent, the prosecution appealed against the decision so that the desired result could be achieved. However, rather than hold a retrial, the supreme court substituted its own verdict. Luke and Michael were convicted by three judges who had never heard the evidence against them in open court. The decision to substitute a verdict instead of ordering a retrial is extremely unusual in most jurisdictions. Indeed, I have been told that it is without precedent in most banana republics, let alone established western democracies. If the Under-Secretary knows of other examples, I should be grateful if she would place them on the record in her reply.
By way of comparison, I want to consider the circumstances that would prevail if a similar case occurred in this country. Since the Criminal Justice Act 2003and, indeed, before that in certain rare circumstancesBritish
prosecutors have been able to appeal against acquittals. However, such an appeal can be ordered only with permission from the Director of Public Prosecutions if there is new and compelling evidence and if it is in the public interest. In other words, there are rigorous checks and balances. Even in the event of a successful appeal by the prosecution, the outcome for the accused is a full retrial.
An alternative regime, under section 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1972, allows the Attorney-General to refer a point of law, which arises out of a trial on indictment that resulted in an acquittal, to the Court of Appeal. Such a referral clarifies the legal issues at stake but, crucially, without affecting the acquittal of the defendant. Those two approaches of English law have in mind the paramount need to do justice to the defendant, regardless of the desirability to the state of securing convictions.
uphold, vary, set aside or order the retrial of a case as it may think fit,
it substituted its own verdict instead of ordering a retrial. If the supreme court had serious doubts about the safety of Michael and Lukes acquittal, it behoved it, in the interests of justice, to order a retrial and not simply overrule the assize court.
When I met the acting high commissioner of Cyprus yesterday, he was firmly of the opinion that the decision to overturn the acquittal was purely and simply a judicial decision of the supreme court. However, the appeal of the original acquittal was not initiated by the court; rather, it was initiated by the state. We are therefore entitled to ask how far the decision was political and how far it may have been influenced by the oxygen of publicity and the tinderbox of public opinion.
Until about 10 years ago, the Cypriot Attorney-General did not have a right to appeal against an acquittal by the assize court, but since then I understand that about 60 per cent. of acquittals have been appealed. The constitution of Cyprus includes the relevant provisions of the European convention on human rights and fundamental freedoms, which Cyprus has adopted and which includes the right to a public and fair trial. It is the belief of many of those involved in the case that the trial that all three men received was far too public and not fair enough.
Article 6 of the European convention on human rights guarantees the right to trial by an impartial tribunal within a reasonable time. Yet months after being acquitted, Luke and Michael may face extradition to Cyprus as a result of a prosecution appeal whose major motivation appears to have been public opinion. The two men are also placed in an invidious position by the fact that Cyprus has a two-tier legal system, which gives them no further recourse to appeal their conviction or sentence after such an arbitrary ruling by the supreme court.
My final concern about the conduct of the trial is about the way that Julian Harringtons entry of a guilty plea was handled. I am grateful to the acting high
commissioner of the Republic for clarifying that although there is no formal mechanism of plea bargaining in Cyprus, a timely guilty plea can be accepted in mitigation. However, for better or worse, Mr. Harrington believed that he had some incentive to give up years of his lifehe thought that he was getting something in return. Indeed, he got far more than he bargained for, and so did his nephews.
The question that must be asked, and answered, is: what reasons could Julian Harrington possibly have had to fall on his sword to no purpose, unless he had been led to believe somethingor rather, misledby the Cypriot authorities as to the likely consequences of his guilty plea? In other words, it would seem that there was some sort of plea bargaining or informal understanding. That fact alone should justify pressure from Her Majestys Government for a full review of the case by the Cypriot authorities and, in the interim, the refusal of any extradition proceedings that may be brought in due course in respect of Luke and Michael.
My second strand of argument is an attempt to address the substantive issue of law at the heart of the casethe concept of common purposein so far as I am able to do so without being an English lawyer, let alone a Cypriot one. I have had the opportunity of seeing the supreme courts judgment, some of which makes disquieting reading. The judgment quotes from Michaels statement in the following unequivocal terms:
I am innocent. When I got in the car, driven by Julian, it did not enter my mind there and then that there was anything wrong going on. I didnt know where he was going and I was very drunk. I never intended to hurt anybody and I was in no position to do anything or to prevent anything from happening.
The Assize Court did not attach any weight to these unsworn statements, which it considered totally unconvincing.
Even more worryingly, there is a claim that Lukes testimony had mentioned Julian Harringtons exhortation Lets get them!when the boys got in the car. Luke denies that that was part of his testimony. The legal basis for prosecuting Michael and Luke, as well as Julian Harrington, was that the three had cooked up a plan for revenge and had all agreed upon it.
In that context, the words Lets get them! have chilling connotations and call to mind the case of Derek Bentley. That case is remembered up and down the country for Bentleys shout of Let him have it, Chris! to his accomplice, who subsequently shot and killed a policeman. It is remembered also as one of the most famous miscarriages of justice, and one that was rectified by a posthumous pardon for Bentley after 45 years.
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