Oral Answers to Questions — Witnesses (Immunity from Prosecution)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23 July 1979.

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Photo of Mr Chris Price Mr Chris Price , Lewisham West 12:00, 23 July 1979

asked the Attorney-General what is his policy for granting witnesses immunity from prosecution.

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

My policy and that of the Director of Public Prosecutions is to grant immunity from prosecution only in those rare instances when we are satisfied that to do so would be in the interests of the administration of justice and the public interest generally. Each case is considered on its own facts and merits.

Photo of Mr Chris Price Mr Chris Price , Lewisham West

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think in retrospect that the decision to grant immunity to Mr. Bessell was a mistake? Will he bear in mind in future, when considering whether immunity should be granted, that it might be granted on certain conditions so that those to whom it is granted do not abuse it by taking vast fees from newspapers to make money out of the trials in which they are to give evidence?

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

When immunity was granted to Mr. Bessell, whatever the circumstances, I did not occupy my present office. I have not considered, and have not been shown, the papers which led to that decision. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that to grant immunity in order to enable a witness to make sums of money is one matter which would be taken into account and, if I were deciding, it would certainly influence me in granting such immunity.

Photo of Mr Jeffrey Thomas Mr Jeffrey Thomas , Abertillery

In view of the clear strictures of Lord Justice Lawton on the use by the Crown of "supergrasses", does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that immunity from criminal process should be granted only in the most exceptional cases and should never appear to be tantamount to a bribe?

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

On the matter of the supergrass that the hon. and learned Gentleman is considering—I imagine it is the case of Mr. Lowe—I remind him of what my predecessor said: Having studied the case of Charles Thomas Lowe, I am satisfied with the way in which the Director of Public Prosecutions discharged his duty in that case."—[Official Report, 18 April 1978; Vol. 948, c. 131.] I have to tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that I do not know the facts which led to that decision. On the other hand, although it is an unpleasant fact of life, there are now and again occasions on which, in order to achieve convictions against really bad villains, it is necessary to use people who are termed supergrasses.