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 Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 5:30 pm, 30th October 2003

My Lords, it is always extremely daunting for someone who is not a member of the legal profession to intervene in a debate such as this, but I have been trying to follow the deliberations on the Bill. In many ways, I am sorry that we have been denied the much fuller debate that we were anticipating earlier this afternoon. I wanted to participate in that debate, but I must not stretch the rules of the House by trying to introduce my comments by the back door. The noble Lord the Liberal Chief Whip shakes his head firmly at me.

However, it is in order to make two points, because they could be made about many amendments. The first is that, as the Bill has proceeded, I have become more and more profoundly disturbed. I see the issue addressed by the amendment not only as an issue in itself but as symptomatic of what is at fault in the Bill as a whole. I am disturbed because it has become clear that the Bill will change the whole culture of our nation.

Fundamental to the life of this nation—I say this as a layman in legal matters—has been the principle that you are innocent unless you are proved guilty. If you are declared not guilty in a case, you are then innocent. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester made an important intervention during the Minister's summing up yesterday about a new category of citizenship that was being introduced in a sort of netherland.

I therefore emphasise that, exactly as my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws said, among many people who thought that the matter had been settled in the court, there will be that fear of the hand on the shoulder. She is absolutely right.

Because I am a layman, I live perhaps more in the real world out there than do others who are totally preoccupied with the niceties of the law. I live in a world that is increasingly dominated by the media. If much of the media were unconvinced by a verdict that had been properly reached in the court, the media would find a way of hounding and pursuing the person whom they believed was guilty for months and years ahead. I believe that this legislation will open still wider the door to that type of persecution by the media.

Those considerations are basic to my position. I turn to the specifics of this amendment, which I applaud and welcome. As an ordinary citizen, I have always seen another principle as fundamental to our way of life—the principle that we do not have retrospective legislation in the United Kingdom. That is simply a fundamental matter of principle and the amendment is right to address it.

I say to my noble friends on the Front Bench that of course I understand the pressures under which the Government are operating. Of course I understand the sophisticated crime with which they are now confronted, the terrorism and all the rest. However, what worries me is that we should not inadvertently give a victory to the terrorists who are trying to destroy the very society we are trying to protect. We should not give a victory to the organised crime that is trying to put our legal system under pressure by actually beginning to erode the society and the values of the society that we feel to be so important. I am deeply grateful that this amendment has been moved and I fully support it.