Criminal Justice Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 30th October 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Labour 5:30 pm, 30th October 2003

My Lords, as your Lordships know, I take a position against any interference with the rule against double jeopardy. We shall meet that in the fullness of time. However, I want to support the amendment as a position short of that.

Of course, we understand that there should be cold-case reviews now that DNA evidence has developed—and the science of DNA has developed. It should be possible to go back and look at samples taken from scenes of crime and perhaps find a culprit.

It is very different to have cold acquittal reviews. I suspect that once the measure is passed, there will be every temptation for police officers to remember cases in which they were involved and decide to revisit them in the hope that they may secure a different result. In practical terms, it is not a proper use of the prosecution authorities and the investigative powers of the police given that the police fall short in obtaining convictions on the cases currently going through the system. There is only a 25 per cent success rate in securing convictions against all the crime that takes place. So that is not a good use of the resources of our police and prosecuting authorities.

However, there is something much worse than that. We live in a society of which I feel very proud because it protects liberties—or it has done. People who are still alive who have been acquitted of serious crime—properly acquitted; we are not only discussing the guilty but the innocent—will fear the hand on the shoulder, the terror that is created by not allowing people to have a fresh start after an acquittal, the finality that has been part of our system. The feeling that when you leave a court, it is over and you rebuild your life is now stopped in its tracks.

We are creating conditional acquittals, a conditional form of verdict, not the proper verdict with which we have always lived. That is what is so terrible about the provision. The explanation given by my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General was that he had met the mother of a victim of murder whose killer had confessed, having been previously acquitted. He asked, "How could I ever look that mother in the face again?" I, too, know how awful it is when one is confronted with victims who have experienced terrible pain, but we must have peace for all of us.

In our society, we must sometimes make rules that do not deal with the individual pain for people such as Mrs Ming. I know that the amendment will not give peace to her, but it will mean giving peace to the many people who have until now been acquitted. That is why I support the amendment; that is also why I think that the whole business of taking away the rule is so wrong. The principle has been there for good reason, so I support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. I hope that he will be persuaded to support other subsequent amendments, which deal with gross interference with a principle that is there because it is part of the glue, cement and security for people that the state cannot again come and put its hand on their shoulder.

There are now rumours afoot that Winston Silcott, released from custody on parole last week, is one person on the list to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, referred. I am concerned that we shall create victimisation of a kind that we should not know in our country.