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Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. That being the case, what has changed since the release of Private Thain? The noble Lord said that circumstances were different. What is different except the political situation?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, political considerations did not influence my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in her decision on the previous recommendation of the Life Sentence Review Board. Each case is treated on its merits. The details of the particular cases of Fisher and Wright distinguish them from that of Private Thain. That is the reality. That was what the Secretary of State looked into again following the judicial review proceedings.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the defence and the judge. He said that the Government had no control over how they conducted their respective responsibilities. The Government have overall control over the mounting of a prosecution. Has the Minister looked at the prosecution file? Can he inform the House why it was that only one side of the evidence was put forward by the prosecution as part of its case?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I have not looked at the prosecution file. But the fact is that the decision was made by the court and was upheld by the Court of Appeal. It is that decision which noble Lords believe that the Government can reverse. The Government cannot reverse that decision; they have no power to do so, and it would be improper were they to do so.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. As I understand it, he will be in charge of the promotion of the Bill next Monday which gives the Secretary of State absolute authority to release terrorists at any time of her choosing. I do not want to bracket the guardsmen with terrorists, but would they have been in a more fortunate position after Monday if they had been terrorists?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, let me make it clear that there are two separate and parallel procedures open to the guardsmen. One is the existing procedure under which the Life Sentence Review Board will look at the position again in October and make a recommendation to the Secretary of State. The alternative procedure--subject to both Houses agreeing the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill--is that the review body established under the new legislation could also look at their cases because they had been convicted of scheduled offences.
I cannot predict how quickly that body will operate and what priorities it will have for its work. The prisoners now have two alternative ways forward. They will have lost nothing by having the second procedure--if Parliament agrees--indeed, they may well gain some time by it; in other words, the new body might deal with their cases more quickly.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I am in some difficulty. I think that the Minister asked what I would advise them to do with regard to those two procedures. The Minister must understand that I am not instructed professionally in this matter. They will have to seek professional advice. I doubt whether they will seek my advice. Therefore I am not in a position to advise them. We shall read the Minister's most helpful speech. There are two avenues. If either of those avenues is taken on the advice of whoever they consult, why, in effect, cannot ministerial discretion--the delegation of the royal prerogative--be granted for immediate release? That is what I am after. I cannot advise these men unless I am instructed to do so. I am entitled to say, in the name of justice, under the royal prerogative, release these men.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, there is, of course, the third avenue to which I have referred, but it is not for the Government to give this type of advice. There is the Criminal Cases Review Commission. I have offered to send the noble Lord's papers to the commission as being the most appropriate procedure for dealing with miscarriages of justice.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I believe that I have answered all the specific questions. Most of them, I repeat, concern the way in which the court operated, the judge's decision, and the way in which the defence conducted the case. I do not know that I can say any more on that.
As regards the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, which related to the whole legal basis for this and many other cases, all I can say is that I will draw his remarks to the notice of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I do not think that I can do more than that. Let me give the assurance that political considerations have in no way influenced the Government's approach to these two cases.
I have listened carefully to all the views that have been expressed. I can give noble Lords the assurance that these cases will continue to be considered, as they have been to date, solely on their merits, without reference to any other extraneous considerations.
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