Human Rights

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st December 2000.

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Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York 12:00 am, 21st December 2000

What representations he has received on the impact of the implementation of the human rights convention on criminal prosecutions. [142368]

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

As expected, challenges based on the convention are being heard by the courts in criminal cases. Prosecutors are well trained and have been well prepared for those challenges. We have also established a system to identify appeal cases that have such wide implications for criminal justice that they should be recommended for fast tracking to an earlier ruling from the higher courts. Our experience in the first three months is that we have not seen an explosion of cases or chaos in the courts.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

Is it not a source of embarrassment to the Solicitor-General and the Government that defendants in criminal cases are now pleading a right to silence under the European convention on human rights, especially in road traffic cases? Is not their embarrassment compounded by the civil courts' recent decision to rule that the Deputy Prime Minister cannot be judge and jury in planning policy decisions and that that right will be withdrawn? Will the Government accept that the implications of introducing the European convention on human rights into UK law are far beyond the realms of anything that they imagined in terms of possible interference with this country's justice system?

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

I am not embarrassed at all. The hon. Lady will know that recently, in the Privy Council, the court said that the right not to incriminate oneself was not absolute. The so-called speed camera case—it was called that even though it had nothing to do with speed cameras—clearly established that the devices were effective. The court said that the matter is one of balancing rights. In the leading judgment, Lord Steyn said that one has to take into account the rights of victims and others, in addition to the rights of defendants.

The hon. Lady also spoke about the planning cases. Yes, the divisional court held that the provisions were incompatible. We are appealing the case and the matter is sub judice. [Interruption.] Opposition Members are not interested in human rights, as is demonstrated by their interventions. We have said that it is a matter of changing culture.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

Can the Solicitor-General reassure the House that the courts will have the resources and powers to deal with appeals more speedily than they are often dealt with in alternative environments?

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

It is the case that the fast-tracking procedure has worked effectively with a number of important challenges on human rights grounds to particular criminal provisions. The criminal division of the Court of Appeal has already heard appeals and we are expecting a judgment either today or tomorrow on a number of important challenges, one of which concerns the bail provisions.

I return to the point that this is not simply a matter of examining the decisions of the courts. The Human Rights Act 1998 will be judged a success not in terms of cases in the courts, but in terms of changing the culture of public authorities ranging from the largest Departments to public bodies operating in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Attorney General

Is not the greatest attack on human rights the Government's proposal to introduce, for a third time, a discredited measure to restrict the right to jury trial? We all know that the Solicitor-General is a man of huge influence in the Government. Why does he not use that influence to persuade them to drop the Bill?

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

Well, we have been around that particular track a number of times. The point is that the royal commission appointed by the previous Government—and the Narey inquiry—recommended that particular change and it is sensible that judicial resources be matched to the nature of the case. Trivial or small cases ought not to have the full weight of the Crown court, for example, directed to them.

However, we halve introduced a number of protections. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we introduced a right of appeal so that defendants unhappy with the decision of the magistrates court that a matter should remain in that court can appeal to a Crown court judge. The hon. and learned Gentleman has, of course, conducted a campaign against the legislation, but we say that it is an element of modernising the criminal justice system, which, unfortunately, was left in bad shape by the previous Government.