Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Categories of Offences) Order 2004
Lord Ackner (Crossbench)
My Lords, in my submission the Home Office press release of
"The court must not admit evidence under subsection (1)(d) or (g) if, on an application by the defendant to exclude it, it appears to the court that the admission of the evidence would have such an adverse effect on the fairness of the proceedings that the court ought not to admit it".
That was providing the judiciary with a clear discretion that they must see that justice was done. It is accordingly in my view grossly improper to indicate by a press release that,
"the strong presumption should be that the conviction should be revealed to the jury".
The Executive are not entitled, in giving a press release or any other release, to make a comment which has no statutory support purporting to reduce the discretion upon the courts to do justice, which not only exists without statutory support but where there is specifically statutory support for that.
The same press release gives the game away by saying that the order will,
"enable juries to have much greater access to information about a defendant's previous convictions and other misconduct where such information is relevant and likely to throw new light on a case"—
I emphasise the following words—
"without unduly prejudicing the fairness of the trial".
What an extraordinary phrase to use. According to this, there is no harm in prejudicing the fairness of the trial provided you do not do it "unduly". What on earth does "unduly" mean? I suppose it means provided that you do not ignore what we, the Executive, tell you is the strong presumption that you should reveal the conviction to the jury.
With regard to the question of training, I adopt all that has been said on the issue of timing. Your Lordships may remember that the Lord Chief Justice and the judges of the Court of Appeal Criminal Division discussed this among themselves on Report on
"The provisions as a whole are extremely confusing and will prove very difficult to interpret. They will result in lengthy arguments in court, more appeals, and more scope for technical errors on the part of the trial judge that could give rise to convictions being overturned. Evidence that would previously have been considered neither admissible nor relevant will apparently be treated as both admissible and relevant".—[Hansard, 4/11/03; col. 730.]
This is a manifestation of an excessively authoritarian department—the Home Office—supported, sadly, by the Prime Minister. It purports to deal with the enforcement of its own clauses, which are designed, as has been pointed out, to increase the rate of convictions. In my respectful submission, this is the type of legislation that was so strongly criticised by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, in the recent interview reported in the last issue of the Spectator. Accordingly, I support the Motion moved by the noble Lord.