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Stephen Lawrence

Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th March 1997.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 12:00 am, 17th March 1997

To ask the Attorney-General what discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions regarding the murder of Stephen Lawrence. [18853]

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Brighton, Pavilion

My right hon. and learned Friend and I meet the Director of Public Prosecutions frequently to discuss matters of departmental interest, and I have been kept informed about the case.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Is this not a case where, so far, evil has triumphed over justice? Is it not a matter of deep regret that no one has yet been brought to justice for a racially motivated crime of murder that was committed nearly four years ago, despite the fact that a newspaper has named the people whom it considers responsible for that terrible crime? What will the authorities do to try to ensure that those who put Stephen Lawrence to death will at long last be brought to justice?

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Brighton, Pavilion

The hon. Gentleman is quite right that it is a great injustice that those responsible for the killing have not been brought to justice. However, he might like to bear in mind the words of Mr. Justice Curtis, who heard evidence on the voir dire at the Old Bailey from a person who said that he had witnessed the killing. Having heard the only witness on whom the private prosecution relied, the judge said: Where recognition or identification is concerned, he simply does not know in ordinary parlance whether he is on his head or his heels. In directing that the evidence should not go to the jury—and I commend these words to the House—the judge added: To do so would amount to an injustice. Adding one injustice to another does not cure the first injustice done to the Lawrence family.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it does not impugn the sincerity of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) to remind him that if the qualification to the right to silence had been in operation when the murder occurred, the outcome might have been very different? Perhaps he would remind the House, and the public at large, that Labour voted against that reform.

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Brighton, Pavilion

As my hon. Friend said, Conservative Members do not find it easy to forget that, in contradistinction to Opposition Members. He knows from his discussions with people who practise in the courts that the modification of the right to silence that we introduced in the teeth of protest and opposition from the Labour party is bringing great benefits. People answer questions more freely in the police station, and they go into the witness box in court.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane , Rotherham

Will the Solicitor-General join me in congratulating the Daily Mail on ensuring that the issue does not escape the public gaze? Will he also join me in praising the Prime Minister on the remarkable rebuke that he gave last week at Prime Minister's Question Time to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), who tried to make race an issue? Will he condemn the Conservative Members of Parliament in the west midlands who are meeting in a conspiracy to seek, once again, to make race an election issue in British politics—something that British people of all colours will utterly reject?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman's question is well away from the substantive question.

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Brighton, Pavilion

As a former Member of Parliament for Leicester, South, which had about 19,000 Asian constituents, I do not need lessons on the importance of race and the vileness of racial crimes from the hon. Gentleman or any of his hon. Friends. We have been in the vanguard in tightening up the law to ensure that a wider range of incidents involving racial misconduct are treated as criminal offences. As for the Daily Mail, we live in a free society with a free press. The hon. Gentleman might not be quite so supportive of that paper's actions if evidence comes to light relating to those against whom charges were dismissed in the magistrates court and a prosecution is brought against them. I say that because, unfortunately, the likelihood of an abuse-of-process argument succeeding on the grounds of prejudice has been increased by such publicity.