Coroners and Justice Bill
Lord Tunnicliffe (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has proposed an amendment that would limit the scope of the criminal memoirs scheme to memoirs about heinous offences. This is intended to be in addition to government amendments to restrict the scheme to offences that are triable only on indictment. Given the concerns raised in the House about the potential breadth of the scheme, I understand why the noble Lord should seek to limit it in this way. The House will recall that the original scheme would have applied to offenders who exploited material about any offence. On Report, the House agreed amendments to limit the scheme to offences that were triable on indictment or triable either way.
The government amendments in this group go a good deal further by limiting the scheme to memoirs about the most serious offences, namely those that are triable only on indictment. This is a significant move. Indictable-only offences make up a very small proportion of criminal cases dealt with by the courts, and no more than 2 per cent of all convictions in 2007. Indictable-only offences include very serious crimes such as murder, rape and manslaughter. Offenders who profit from exploiting material about these offences are likely to be the subject of cases that cause the greatest concern to surviving victims or bereaved families.
As a result of our amendments, the scheme will no longer cover offenders who exploit material about offences that are triable either way. Our amendments have the considerable advantage that there can be no doubt which offences will be covered by the scheme. Limiting the scheme to memoirs about indictable-only offences that are heinous lacks that advantage. "Heinous" is undefined in the amendment and is not known in our law. If it were adopted, it would be far from clear what crimes the scheme would cover. It is extremely undesirable—we would say wrong—to introduce this considerable and unnecessary uncertainty to the scheme. Limiting the scheme to indictable-only offences draws the scheme sufficiently narrowly—no further narrowing is needed. Indictable-only offences are, by definition, the most serious crimes in our law. It is clear which offences are included in the group and which are not.
A final, crucial point is that Clause 157 already requires the court to consider the seriousness of the offence to which the memoirs relate when deciding whether to impose an order. The court will automatically have regard to the fact that, for example, the memoirs relate to a particularly brutal crime, or to a crime that is not particularly serious in the overall spectrum.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, raised a series of points that I will not respond to individually. I believe that almost every point he raised was covered by my speech on Report. I learned a long time ago that giving the same explanation twice is full of hazard.