Imprisonment for Life on Further Conviction for Certain Offences

Part of Orders of the Day — Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:49 pm on 20th March 1997.

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Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:49 pm, 20th March 1997

The amendments should not pass unremarked, because they represent a substantial climbdown by the Government from the wholly unreasonable position that they had previously adopted. Had the Government earlier displayed the same flexibility as they have been driven to demonstrate in the past few days, we might have had a much more constructive discussion about the best way to reform the law of Scotland.

The amendments that were accepted in the House of Lords have substantially restored the discretion of the judiciary on sentences for serious crimes. Perhaps more significantly, the Government have allowed an independent tribunal for Scotland to deal with miscarriages of justice. The Government rejected such a tribunal wholly and completely, notwithstanding the powerful and trenchant terms of the Sutherland report. At the meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee in Ayr last year, the Secretary of State for Scotland suggested dismissively that such a body for Scotland was unnecessary. Proud though we may be of the law in Scotland, we cannot assume its infallibility. In the past, the cases of Patrick Meehan and of Preece, among others, have shown that the legal system has been inadequate to deal with cases in which justice has not been properly done.

The amendments are a considerable improvement on the Government's original proposals. It is a great pity that they did not approach the matter in the constructive and consensual way that it deserves. I do not know whether the amendments will be described as driving a coach and horses through the Bill, but it is in a better state now than when it was first conceived. The Government could have had it in this condition if they had demonstrated any willingness to co-operate with the Opposition parties.