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Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for more fully explaining the provisions. Will the commission have the power to employ former policemen as investigating officers? I am not talking about replacing the police force, but given that an understanding of what the police do in investigations is not given to everybody, might not a former policeman have a useful role to play?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord's point, under the law serving policemen have particular powers of investigation which cannot be replicated in other bodies. Therefore, there will be a distinction in how such people are engaged by the commission. If other people are engaged, they will not have the same powers as are enjoyed by serving police officers.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, is seeking to clarify an important point. The financial statement refers to the cost, to which I referred earlier, as being £4.3 million for accommodation and administrative overheads. Do I understand that there is provision within that sum for the in-house investigations to which the noble Lord refers if that is what the commission wants?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am not dealing with costs at the moment; I am dealing with the powers not only of the commission but of serving policemen and others engaged in the investigative work. I shall refer to the question of costs in a moment.
A major change from the current arrangements will be the use of police investigators working under the active direction and supervision of the commission. That, and the power of the commission to insist on an outside force, provides the necessary independent element in such investigations.
My noble friend Lord Alexander was concerned that the review body should have a core of investigators among its staff, such as seconded police officers. We agree. It is our intention to have among the commission's staff people with a police background, but we believe that their efforts will be most useful to the commission if they are employed in advising members on the direction and supervision of a number of investigations rather than being forever away from the commission, embroiled in detailed inquiries on the ground.
Extending that point, my noble friend Lord Alexander asked: why not give the commission its own investigators to look into particularly difficult and contentious cases? The problem is that almost every applicant will consider his or her case to be difficult or contentious. If some cases were deliberately withheld from the police on those grounds, how would other applicants be given confidence that they had been fairly treated and what incentive would the police forces have to take responsibility for imperfect investigations if they were barred from correcting mistakes made in difficult cases? It is a question of other people being engaged in such work "where appropriate" and of incorporating the use of directly employed staff.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, expressed concern about the need for the commission to be properly funded. He also raised that point in an intervention. It will be our aim to ensure that the commission is properly funded, consistent with our obligations to ensure that public funds are used with regard to value for money. The value-for-money aspect cannot be disregarded. The police already undertake substantial investigations in such cases from within their existing resources. We do not at present
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice was concerned about the extra burden from sentence referrals. The Secretary of State has the power to refer any sentence imposed following a conviction obtained on indictment. We receive representations on sentence in about 50 cases each year. Some are representations on the sentence alone, while some cover both conviction and sentence. Some decision has to be made about how they are to be dealt with in the future. We considered three options: leaving the power with the Secretary of State; providing an extended right of appeal to the courts; and transferring the power to the new commission. We concluded that giving the task to the new commission was the best, most cost-effective and sensible solution. The commission is empowered and resourced to investigate and could take on the question of an alleged wrongful sentence without difficulty.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, was concerned about the costs of in-house teams for investigations. The costs of in-house investigations have not been assessed and we have insufficient data on which to base such an assessment. As I have said, the police at present meet the costs of an investigation by them into an alleged miscarriage of justice on behalf of the Secretary of State. No figures are available for those costs. They are not recorded separately from those regarding other investigations by the police. The Government consider that providing an in-house team would not be cost-effective because, first, it would add considerably to the commission's costs. Demand for investigations into larger, more complex cases is likely to fluctuate and it is therefore difficult to establish a unit of optimum size. At times, some of the officers in the unit would be under-occupied; at others, necessary investigations could be delayed because the officers needed to do the work were engaged on other cases.
Officers of such a unit would have to be accountable for the exercise of police powers and subject to disciplinary arrangements in respect of their operational duties. Special arrangements would also be needed to give them access to training opportunities and to keep them in touch with developments in police practice, investigative techniques, and so forth.
Experience shows that in a significant number of cases the investigation required is straightforward. It would be far quicker and more cost effective to ask the force concerned to undertake the work. It knows the background to the case and where to find the people concerned. It would be less effective to use a group of officers unfamiliar with the case to make the same inquiries. If trained, experienced investigating officers were to be seconded to the commission they would not be available for other duties when not investigating for the commission. All of that is with the caveat that, where appropriate, of course the commission would employ the right people for the job in hand.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice asked about appeal procedures being created for judicial recommendations in mandatory life sentence cases. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is aware of the noble and learned Lord's concerns and has written to him on that point. We are not convinced that the issues raised are straightforward. There is a difference between mandatory and discretionary life sentences, and the different procedures are established to reflect that difference.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred to handing over inquiries to the police, especially when they are investigating police propriety. The proposal is not to hand over inquiries to the policethe point made by the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees. The commission's independent members and staff will be directing and supervising police inquiries as closely as they consider that to be necessary. There should be no doubting the thoroughness with which the police already investigate miscarriages of justice, but of course that point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon.
My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway put up a marker. I wonder whether he will forgive me and allow me to think more about that marker. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, asked me about legal aid, and whether it would be available to those wishing to make representations. Legal aid through the green form scheme will continue to be available to those wishing to make representations to the commissionwhether initially to the commission or at a later stage in the light of the results of any investigations by the commissionbut no additional provision is needed, because once the commission looks into a case it will of course be doing any necessary investigations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and others, were concerned about disclosure. She asked the straight question as to whether there would be a presumption in favour of openness. I can unequivocally answer yes, subject of course I hope the noble Baroness will understand thisto the necessary confidentiality in relation, for example, to witnesses.
The noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, referred to the work of Cardinal Hume and others who made representations on behalf of the Guildford Four. Perhaps I may pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, because I am aware that he was a member of that group of people which did such sterling work.
I hope that noble Lords will forgive me but I shall address the individual points much more fully in Committee. The Government recognise the importance of establishing a new review body which will be of long-term benefit to the maintenance of the quality of, and indeed public confidence in, the criminal justice system. I believe that the broad welcome that many of the provisions contained in the Bill have received will enable that goal to be achieved. My hope is that we shall establish the commission as soon as may be. I commend the Bill to the House.
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