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Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his questions. He asked whether the Official Solicitor is taking action. I believe the position is this: since the passing of new legislation the Official Solicitor does not have a role at this stage. The matter has become one for local authorities which, having taken care proceedings, are under an obligation to review those orders with regularity. They are required to bring matters back to court if that is their opinion. That, as I stand on my feet, is the answer I give to the noble and learned Lord but I shall see if there is anything further I can say or any correction to be made. If so, I shall send it to the noble and learned Lord and put a copy in the Library.

As regards his second point, I am grateful for his confirmation that there is nothing that he is aware of that has changed the burden or the standard of proof. I am well aware that there are many noble Lords and other commentators who will be watching the operation of the Criminal Justice Act as it goes through. I will not make any comment on particular provisions; we debated those at considerable length. We stand by the fundamental proposition that the prosecution must prove guilt and must prove it to the criminal standard.

Lord Morris of Aberavon: My Lords, I congratulate the Attorney-General on the speed with which he has acted, the all-embracing nature of his proposals and the priority he is giving to those in prison. Will he confirm that the category he is looking at is much wider than the cases involving Sir Roy Meadow. Further, given the eminence of Sir Roy in this field, what influence has he had on other experts in cases in which they have given evidence?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble and learned friend for his opening remarks.

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Coming from a former Attorney-General, it is gratifying to hear his approval. He is absolutely right in saying that the category is wider than those covering Professor Sir Roy Meadow or indeed the other expert, Dr Williams, whose name was mentioned in connection with the Sally Clark case. The Court of Appeal said in its important and thoughtful judgment that it is necessary to recognise that medical science is at the frontier of knowledge. There may be cases where there is no apparent explanation for a death or series of deaths but it may still be entirely innocent and not consistent with a criminal act. The review will go further and look at all cases where there is a sudden unexplained infant death and where the conviction appears to have been based almost entirely on expert evidence, whichever expert that may have been.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord address the particular problem which many feel is the most difficult issue that came out of the interview in the Sunday Telegraph referred to by my noble friend Lord Henley. In that interview the Minister said that it would not be possible—one assumed never would it be possible—for women who were found subsequently to be perfectly innocent of harming their children ever to get their children back. That matter worries many people because nothing could be worse than the denial of one's child. Will those women who had their children taken from them wrongly ever get them back?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I fully understand the concern which underlies that question. As I indicated before, the responsible Ministers in the DfES are considering the implications of this judgment and what, if any, steps need to be taken. I do not wish to prejudge what they may say. As a lawyer rather than the Minister responsible, I will simply say this. I do recognise that in children's cases the paramount consideration is the welfare of the child. I will say no more than that I can understand that there will be some cases—I do not say all cases—where a child may have been adopted or put into some long-term relationship. That child now has new parents, new family, new brothers and sisters. For any court dealing with that situation that may be a difficult issue to deal with—whether it is right to unravel that or to recognise that the child's best interest may be to be left where the child is.

Lord Laming: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his very helpful Statement. I am sure that the whole House is appalled at the idea of an innocent person being convicted of such an awful crime. Does he agree that we need to keep a very open mind in these matters? Sadly, there are parents who do deliberately harm their children. That being so, does he accept that we will always need expert witnesses? Rather than lose confidence in their role, is it not important that we take this opportunity to improve their training? Only this evening, guidance will be

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produced for those in the paediatric services on how people in this field can be alerted to early signs of deliberate harm.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, the noble Lord is right in everything he has said. We must all be appalled at the thought of a mother tragically losing her child or children and then, even worse, being accused and convicted of a crime which she did not commit. I made that point clear in an answer in the House to a Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont of Lerwick. He is right. It sadly is the case that there are parents who do deliberately harm, even kill, their children. They are among the most vulnerable of our citizens and we plainly have to do as much as we can to protect them properly. The noble Lord with his experience from the inquiry he chairs knows better than most just how awful that can be and how parents can do that. We will therefore need expert evidence in cases. However, he is also correct to say that we need carefully to consider how that expert evidence is produced. I would not go so far as to confirm today that we should have some overall training exercise for experts. The noble Lord mentioned one field for which the Home Office is responsible where further training is being given to pathologists and I very much welcome that fact.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I too commend the noble and learned Lord for the way in which he has dealt with an extremely difficult matter. Given his unique position in terms of public access via the broadcasting media, perhaps I may ask him to get across two matters over which there is huge public misperception? The first, already referred to, is the paramountcy of the interests of the child which is the prevailing principle in civil matters. However, that has no bearing at all on criminal trials. There has been a tendency—and perhaps by juries too—to believe that somehow a different standard of proof is involved where a child is the subject of an alleged offence.

Secondly, some noble Lords may have heard last night a leading spokesman for one of our most famous children's charities, suggesting—quite explicitly—that while no innocent parents or mothers must be convicted wrongly, no malefactors must ever be acquitted wrongly. That of course is an impossible proposition. There are a great many cases of greyness where one cannot be certain one way or the other. Unless the great British public—and particularly the tabloids—accept that to maintain the much admired standards of our system we must accept a certain number of wrong acquittals as the price of no false convictions, we will not get very far.

Finally, I do not think that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General responded to the point on legal aid raised by both Front-Bench spokesmen. If there is—and it seems inevitable—a large number of difficult and perhaps long cases arising out of the review, will he assure the House that legal aid will be available on the normal terms; and in particular that the extra sum, which may be large, will not be part of

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its annual total? That would further reduce the amount available for civil legal aid, which is already in crisis.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his commendation. He is absolutely right that there is a great difference—as I tried to explain—between civil and criminal cases. The paramountcy of the interests of the child is what rightly drives us and our family courts. That has no bearing in criminal trials. I am not sure that I share the noble Lord's worry that juries are affected by that in their verdicts. Of course we do not know exactly what is in the minds of juries, but I can assure noble Lords that all judges summing up in such cases will remind juries clearly and repeatedly that it is their job to convict only if they are satisfied on the evidence and to put emotions out of their minds.

I also agree with the noble Lord that it would be remarkable and wonderful if we had a system of justice that would always convict only the guilty and never acquit the guilty. However, we cannot have quite such a system. Our strong approach in this country—which I entirely endorse and which the Court of Appeal endorsed in its judgment yesterday—is that, occasionally, by relying on the burden and standard of proof—as high as they are—there will be some who are guilty but who will in fact escape because the evidence is not there. That is how it should be; and has often been put in the terms that it is better that some guilty should go free than that an innocent person should be convicted.

I cannot while standing here give the noble Lord the assurances that he asks for regarding legal aid—would that I had that control over a budget operated by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. Obviously, I have that issue in mind, and I shall want to make sure that there are no obstacles to the review taking place as it should.


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