Criminal Justice Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 30th October 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 5:45 pm, 30th October 2003

My Lords, I rise with some timidity in a debate which has been almost entirely undertaken by lawyers. That is the reason that I did not take part at Committee stage, although I did listen to all of it and I reflected. Having reflected, I would like to express some confusion about this amendment. To the non-lawyer, justice is first about the attribution of responsibility. That must come chronologically before questions of fair treatment for the perpetrator. When I sat as a magistrate or as a member of employment tribunals, it was the first question that people wanted answered.

Noble Lords who spoke for the amendment have placed other considerations before the attribution of responsibility such as not to hound someone more than once for the same crime and not to do so retrospectively.

Again, with great timidity I offer a layman's view of retrospectivity. It is right that a perpetrator should not be convicted if what he did was not considered a crime at the time he did it. But the offences in this connection are so serious that they have not only been held to be crimes for centuries; I think they would in most societies be marked as wrong by any reasonable person.

I also understand that to pursue an alleged perpetrator with fresh evidence once the closure of a judicial decision has been reached could be disproportionate; and worse, it could be abused by a vindictive or incompetent state. But for various crimes of violence, constrained fresh evidence would help in the attribution of responsibility.

Of course, guilty people have rights. That comes in sentencing, in the nature of the sanction applied, in treatment during the course of any sanction and after it is over. But to allow the interests of the perpetrator to go so far as to prevent the attribution of responsibility in the first place seems to me to be ultimately unjust. So I have great difficulty with the amendment.