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Viscount St. Davids: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware that many members of the Civil Service appear to be ignorant of the existence of the Welsh Language Act and are too often quoted in the national press as stating or implying that English is the only language used in the UK that has a status recognised by statute?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, my noble friend was kind enough to send me one such press cutting. I can understand why it has got his goator perhaps I should say wedi cael ei afr. Such statements are wrong in fact and wrong in principle. If they have been made, we regret it.
Viscount Tonypandy: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a widespread belief in Wales that Welsh is the language of Heavenin which case he should give further consideration to the extent to which it is official?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, English is a very catholic language and is influenced by many things. I am not aware of any current use of Welsh, but in view of what my noble and learned friend has said, perhaps that should be encouraged.
Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, since I have the responsibility for promoting the Welsh language on earth, in view of the Government's excellent record in the UK in this field, is it now their intention to become a signatory to the European Charter promoted by the Council of Europe for regional or minority languages?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, the question of whether we should become a signatory to the European Charter is still under consideration, but nothing in that charter would require us to do more than we have already done for the Welsh language. We are proud of our record over the past 16 years in the support and promotion of Welsh in Wales.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, are we not overlooking yet another language in the UK, much used in official documents and known as gobbledegook? Should not that language be suppressed as much and as firmly as possible since it is usually unintelligible to any linguist?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, certainly, and my noble friend will be interested to know that today a document called Plain English and How to Speak It arrived on my desk in the Department for Education. I hope that we shall endeavour to do that in future even if we have not done so entirely in the past.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I have had to wait a long timeI think it is about 10 monthsfor the noble Lord to be able to ask me a supplementary question about Europe. I am glad that he has done so, and I agree with him.
Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, if we may return, even briefly, to the general ambience of the Question on the Order Paper, and since the question of the Welsh language has been raised, will the Minister tell the House which public utilities and private companies in Wales have prepared and had accepted schemes for the use of the Welsh language in the services that they provide? Will he tell us when precisely the Government hope to lay before both Houses of Parliament the guidelines prepared by that excellent body Bwrdd Yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Board) as required by the Welsh Language Act 1993?
Viscount St. Davids: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Treasury is reported in the press as having consulted the provisions of the Welsh Language Act in formulating the criteria for open-ended investment funds? Will my noble friend please ensure that all government departments follow that excellent example?
Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, as we have just a minute on the clock, may I ask the Minister an easy question to which I have no doubt he will know the answer off the top of his head or out of his brief? Will he tell us whether Welsh-speaking prisoners in English prisons are or are not allowed to have Welsh language books, periodicals and videos?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, there is no prohibition on them having such things. Whether they are provided for Welsh speakers or speakers of any other language on this planet depends on the conditions in the prison and the prison authorities, but it is in principle our policy that such material should be provided within reason.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill consolidates the statutory system for the licensing of operators of heavy goods vehicles which was set up by Part V of the Transport Act 1968. That system was modified by the Goods Vehicles (Operators' Licences, Qualifications and Fees) Regulations 1984, part of which implemented obligations arising under the common transport policy of the European Communities.
Both the 1968 Act and the 1984 regulations have been heavily amended. The most recent amendments, made by the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 and which are yet to come into force, will replace the present system of licensing whereby operators' licences expire five years after they are issued with a system of continuous licensing. Under the new system, operators' licences will continue in force indefinitely unless withdrawn on grounds relating to the licence-holder's conduct or on other grounds.
The law in this area is much in need of consolidation, and I should like to take this opportunity to thank the draftsman for continuing this important consolidation work. If your Lordships are content to give the Bill a Second Reading, it will be referred in the usual way to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. I commend the Bill to the House.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill is a measure of very great importance for it goes to the very heart of our criminal justice process, to its effectiveness and its integrity, and to the public's confidence in the effectiveness and rightness of that system. We all share a desire to see our criminal justice system process operating to the highest possible standards of fairness and integrity. We all share the goal of a system that wherever possible prevents miscarriages of justice in the first place and which is capable of delivering swift and effective remedies when things have not worked out as they should. The Bill will help us achieve these goals.
The Bill is designed to reinforce and extend the powers of the courts in criminal appeals and to establish a new and independent system for identifying and correcting miscarriages of justice. In so doing, the Bill implements some of the key recommendations made by the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in July 1993. I pay tribute to the manner in which that wise and eminent body under the chairmanship of the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, has illuminated the way forward in this major area of change. With the benefit of the consultations which we undertook following publication of the Royal Commission's report, we are able to bring before your Lordships' House legislation which will, I believe, be of immense, and lasting, public benefit.
I now turn to the detailed content of the Bill. Part I clarifies and strengthens the powers of the respective Courts of Appeal in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland. All the provisions either respond to the recommendations of the Royal Commission or improve the Courts of Appeal's operations in other ways.
The Bill places an appeal against conviction on a point of law on the same footing as other appeals against conviction and sentence. Leave to appeal in such cases will therefore be required in future, save where the trial judge has certified the case as fit for appeal. This provides a sensible mechanism which will filter out those appeals on a point of law which are without obvious merit.
The Bill clarifies the grounds for allowing and dismissing an appeal. It replaces the current formula which involves three confusing and overlapping grounds with a simple test. Under the Bill, the court will allow any appeal where it considers that a conviction is unsafe. It will dismiss any other appeal. This simple test effectively consolidates the existing practice of the Court of Appeal. I was delighted to see that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice welcomed it when the Bill was introduced in another place earlier this Session.
The Bill lowers the threshold for the admission of fresh evidence by the Court of Appeal along the lines recommended by the Royal Commission and provides a means for beginning or continuing an appeal on behalf of a person who has died.
The Courts of Appeal in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland respectively will be able to direct the new commission to investigate certain matters relating to an appeal before the court on its behalf and to report its findings to the court. Although we believe that this power is likely to be needed only rarely, it represents an important addition to the court's powers to remedy wrongful convictions.
Part II of the Bill deals with the establishment of the criminal cases review commission. At present, the power to refer cases to the Court of Appeal where a miscarriage of justice may have occurred lies with the Secretary of State. But, as I believe we would all now agree, this is not the most appropriate place for such powers to lie. A fresh approach is required in which these powers are exercised by a new, and independent, body; hence the creation of the commission.
The commission will be constitutionally separate from, and independent of, both government and the courts. It will examine cases in England and Wales and Northern Ireland and determine whether they should be referred to the courts in the respective jurisdictions. It will be able to refer any conviction or any sentence, or both, to the relevant court. And it will be able to refer summary cases as well as those which were tried originally on indictment. The commission will be accessible and open. It will have strong and effective investigative powers and it will be well resourced to carry out its task.
The final decision on any case which is referred will continue, however, to rest with the courtsthe relevant Court of Appeal, if the case was tried originally on indictment, or the Crown Court, or a county court in Northern Irelandfollowing the referral of a summary case. The Government believe that this is the right division of responsibilities, the commission investigating and referring and the courts determining the resulting appeals.
The members of the commission will be appointed by Her Majesty the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. All appointments will be publicly advertised and candidates selected based on their ability to do the job in hand. At least one-third of the members will be required to be legally qualified and two-thirds must appear to the Prime Minister to have experience or knowledge of the criminal justice system. One member, at least, must have relevant knowledge or experience of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. We believe that given their requirements, members of the commission will between them bring as wide a range of relevant knowledge and skills to the work as it is possible to provide. And they will need all of their skills, for the task which they face is a difficult and complex one.
The financial memorandum in the Bill sets out our best estimate of the additional costs involved in setting up the commission. I believe it sufficient to say therefore only that we believe that the commission will be properly resourced and able to deal with its anticipated workload as efficiently and as effectively as possible. We believe it possible, at least initially, that the commission may receive up to twice the number of representations as are made to the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Office at present. The commission will need to employ up to 60 staff. That is about three times the number currently engaged in such work within my department and that of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
The recruitment of its staff will be a matter for the commission but we expect that it will comprise, like the membership of the commission, a broad mix of legal, investigative and administrative skills and experience. These posts will, like those of the members of the commission, be filled following open advertisement.
In establishing a strong and independent body we have not lost sight of the need to ensure that the commission is fully accountable for its work. That is a necessary counterpart to its independence. The Bill contains provisions that will require the commission to report annually to the Secretary of State. It will also be required to keep proper accounts. Both its annual report and its audited accounts will be laid before Parliament.
The commission, like other non-departmental public bodies, will have to work within the budgetary requirements imposed upon it. The Secretary of State will agree with it a corporate plan establishing its operational goals and levels of performance. Thus the commission will be fully accountable for the work which it does.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will continue to be responsible for the law under which the commission will operate but he will take no part in the day-to-day decisions and administration of the commission.
At present, the only means by which miscarriages of justice in summary cases can be corrected in England and Wales and Northern Ireland is the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. But although a free pardon removes the effect of the punishment, it is clearly unsatisfactory that the Royal Prerogative of Mercy does not quash or reverse the conviction. That is something
However, many summary cases are very straightforward. They do not need the kind of detailed investigation which the commission will undertake before referring cases to the courts. For these, the Bill provides in Part III a very simple and straightforward remedy by extending the existing powers of the magistrates' courts in England and Wales to reopen a case to rectify earlier errors. At present, only the cases of those who pleaded not guilty to an offence at trial can be reheard in this way. The Bill enables magistrates' courts to reopen cases irrespective of the plea made at trial or the time which has elapsed since the case was heard provided that this would be in the interests of justice. The Bill makes comparable provision for Northern Ireland. This is an entirely new power for the Province.
In view of the many changes that will be made as a result of this Bill, we have also considered whether changes should be made with regard to the availability of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. We have concluded, however, like the Royal Commission before us, that this would still be needed for the exceptional case. The Bill therefore empowers the commission to refer any case to the Secretary of State for him to consider recommending the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy and to give him its reasons when making such a referral.
It is necessary, however, to guard against the possibility that the role of the commission, and its responsibilities for investigating and referring cases to the courts, may be undermined by the Secretary of State's continuing capacity to receive petitions for a free pardon from others besides the commission. The Bill therefore also enables the Secretary of State, when considering whether he should recommend the exercise of the prerogative in relation to any conviction, to refer any matters to the commission for its opinion and then to treat that opinion as conclusive of the matter referred. This avoids the need for parallel investigations into the same matter having to be undertaken by two different authorities. And it ensures that any necessary investigation into the soundness of a conviction in a relevant case will be made by a body empowered, and resourced, to consider whether a miscarriage may have occurred.
The Bill gives the commission all the powers that it will need to carry out its investigations effectively and thoroughly. It will be able to obtain the assistance of police forces and other bodies by requiring them to appoint an investigating officer to make inquiries on its behalf and in accordance with its directions and, if necessary, under its supervision; require the appointment of an investigating officer from a different force or other public body from that which investigated the crime originally; insist that it approves the choice of the investigating officer before an investigation takes place; direct that any investigating officer cease to act as such and that he be replaced by another if his performance is not satisfactory; make its own inquiries,
The Bill requires the commission to be satisfied before making a reference that there is some new elementwhether argument or evidence in conviction cases, or argument on a point of law or information in sentence caseswhich the courts have not previously considered and which gives rise to a real possibility that the conviction or sentence will not be upheld by the relevant court so that it is of sufficient weight, in the context of the whole case, to merit referral. The Government believe those to be broad and sensible criteria. And they clearly define the boundaries between the commission's functions and those of the courts. We can see no useful purpose in the commission referring any case in which there is nothing new for the courts to consider.
The commission will give its reasons to the courts for referring the case. But that will not amount to a recommendation on the merits of the resulting appeal. As I indicated, that will be entirely a matter for the courts to determine in accordance with their normal powers and procedures.
As the House, I think, already knows, the Government agree with the Royal Commission that those seeking a review of their case by the commission should be kept properly informed of the progress of any inquiries being made into their case and that they should be given a full and reasoned explanation of any decision not to refer their case to the courts. The Bill therefore provides for the commission to give a statement of its reasons to the court when referring a casewhich it will copy to the parties to the resulting appealand its reasons to the convicted person when it decides not to refer.
The extent to which the commission will disclose information in other circumstances will be a matter for the commission itself to decide. As it will be conducting investigations, not legal proceedings, questions of disclosure will fall to be dealt with accordingly. It will also be able to keep applicants informed of the progress made in investigating their cases, and to disclose information to them so that in the interests of fairness applicants will be able to make further representations in the light of matters found by the commission.
But as possible miscarriages of justice often raise sensitive matters, their investigation requires careful handling. The Bill accordingly makes it an offence for a member of the commission, a member of its staff, or an investigating officer, to disclose any information gathered by the commission in the course of its activities, save in the circumstances set out in the Bill.
The Criminal Appeal Bill is a very important Bill. The public look to us to create a criminal justice system which is strong, effective and fair; one where the innocent have nothing to fear; one in which the guilty are rightly punished; and one, above all, in which all can have confidence. The Bill represents a further step towards making our system the best it is possible to provide. I commend the Bill to the House.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I hope that I shall be the first of many to welcome the Bill. As in another place, it has been welcomed by those on all sides of the House. The Opposition did not divide against it on Second Reading in another place, not that we should ever dream of doing so here.
As the Minister said, it is a very necessary and important Bill and it is long overdue. Without going any further back into history, we must pay tribute to Mr. Kenneth Baker for his response to the miscarriages of justice which became apparent during his term of office as Home Secretary and for his wisdom in appointing the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, as chairman of the Royal Commission. Unfortunately the noble Viscount has obligations today in Paris and he has asked me to express his apologies to the House for not being here, but he hopes to take part in the later proceedings of the Bill.
The Runciman Commission report two years ago received a very wide welcome; indeed, it was largely welcomed by the Government. We appreciate that. Of course we regretted that some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission were implemented in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act last year; but this recommendationwhich in many ways is the most important of all the Runciman recommendationswas not included in that Act and is therefore a year later than it might otherwise have been. Indeed, it is no secret that we were proposing to table amendments to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill to incorporate a commission or an authority very much along those lines. We were deterred only by the publication in April last year of the very fair and excellent Home Office discussion document which forms the basis of this Bill.
The fact that it is necessary and long overdue does not mean that it is an easy matter for which to legislate. The relationship between any independent authority of this kind and, in particular, the Court of Appeal is very tricky to establish and very tricky to maintain. It is essential that the Court of Appeal and the commission should have a mutual respect for and clear understanding of each other's role in order that they can operate effectively what is really rather like riding a tandem.
It is also extremely importantand I shall return later to this issuethat they should both have the complete confidence of the public and all those involved in the criminal justice system. I have some reservations about the ability of the Bill as drafted to provide that confidence. But in general it seems to us that this attempt to redefine the role of the Court of Appeal and to relate it to the new independent commission is very much along the right lines.
Of course, the existing system was never static. It underwent a number of changes during its life, some of which were very welcome, while some were less welcome. Sir John May, in his second report on the Maguire casehe was also a member of the Royal Commissiontalked about the self-imposed limits which the Court of Appeal set itself. It is well known that C3 in the Home Office, fulfilling the role which it is now proposed that the commission should fill, was essentially reactive rather than proactive: it responded only to recommendations rather than carrying out its own investigations.
If, therefore, the Bill is to succeed as fully as it might doand we are very keen for it to do so; indeed, we are most keen to be constructive in our approach to the Bill at all stagesthere are a number of defects to which I have to draw attention and which I believe will need to be considered most carefully. If I devote the bulk of my speech to those defects, that does not mean that I believe that the Bill consists only of defects.
The first defect must concern the appointment and the membership of the commission. The procedure proposed is that the chairman and the members of the commission should be appointed by Her Majesty on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The analogy for that is the procedure for the appointment of Lords Justices of Appeal. I am not in any way going to criticise that procedure except to say that it is very private; it is not at all open. There is no scrutiny of any kind of the appointment of Lords Justices of Appeal and perhaps there should not be. But such a commission, if it is to maintain and deserve public confidence, ought to be rather more open. We ought to consider whether there should be some sort of independent parliamentary scrutiny of the membership of the commission rather than the procedure proposed in the Bill. That is the first problem that I have with the appointment of the commission.
There are also rules laid down in the Bill for the membership of the commission. Fundamentally, such people would need to have a knowledge and understanding of the criminal justice system. My first reaction to that is to hope that it does not mean that a knowledge and understanding of the criminal justice system are equated with legal training. Indeed, there are many people other than lawyers who are involved in the system, who are knowledgeable about it and who ought
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