Criminal Justice Bill
Lord Brittan of Spennithorne (Conservative)
During the course of the deliberations on this Bill, the word "balance" has frequently been prayed in aid. It is a reasonable concept to use in the handling of these matters. Therefore in looking at this provision it is reasonable to do what the previous speakers have done and try to weigh the benefits to be secured by this provision against the risks and dangers that flow from it. I have to say that I find myself wholly persuaded about the risks and not anywhere near being persuaded about the benefits. On the so-called ambush defence, what evidence is there of its use and how frequent is it? And what will be done with the material required as a result of this provision?
In a sense it is unfair to ask the noble and learned Lord to answer that question. All that this does is to require something to be done. The use that it is then going to be put to is out of the hands of this Chamber and of the legislature. Therefore, one can but speculate. But to speculate that the consequences would be unfortunate and unfair is not an unreasonable form of speculation. A witness who might have been persuaded with great reluctance to appear for the defence might take a very different view if he knew that he was instantly going to be given to the prosecution to be interviewed. That is not a far-fetched fear; it is one that makes sense for anyone who has had even the smallest contact with the criminal justice system over the years.
The bureaucracy that will arise is very real if the provision is used in any significant way. Without wishing to be unduly contentious at an inappropriate time, the other provisions in this Bill do not give me confidence in the Government's intentions. Their concept of balance is insufficient to give them the benefit of the doubt.