Criminal Justice Bill

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of The Bishop of Worcester The Bishop of Worcester Bishop 5:45 pm, 30th October 2003

My Lords, I have been trying to work out whether it would be better to say nothing until the next debate. However, so many speeches have dwelled on the wider question of the clause that it is difficult to avoid the two issues coming together in our minds. The reason for that is that the principle of retrospection—looking back—is built into the whole subsection anyway. Much said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, applies to that.

I want to speak directly on the last two contributions. I hope that the House will forgive me if, as a layperson in matters legal, I speak somewhat personally. In the book of Anglican martyrs in Canterbury Cathedral is the name of Jonathan Daniels, a friend and fellow student of mine at theological college who was murdered in Alabama in the course of civil rights work in 1965. His death was followed by a trial that, by any standards, was a travesty. It actually tried him rather than his murderer. The person was, first, indicted only for manslaughter and, secondly, acquitted even of that.

Noble Lords will know how intense are the friendships and feelings that arise in a student body. Our student body assembled the following autumn to face the reality of both the death of a friend and the acquittal—the final acquittal—of his murderer. I was the editor of the school journal. I still have the article that I wrote, and I still have deep inside me the sense that a deep injustice was done, and I would like that man got. That makes the argument for such a clause extraordinarily persuasive to anyone who has been through that kind of experience. Obviously there are people who have been through it with far closer friends or relatives—spouses, parents or children. Then I find myself thinking about what would be involved—giving a life sentence to acquitted persons.

The last Archbishop of Canterbury but three, Lord Coggan, invited the nation to consider the kind of society in which we wanted to live. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has raised that question for us all in his extraordinarily persuasive lectures and speeches. I need to ask myself the question: what kind of society will this create?

The previous two noble Lords who spoke raised the issue of victims who see no one brought to justice. That is very searing as an experience. But we should be clear: hundreds and thousands of such people in our society have to come to terms with the fact that justice has not been done. That is not because of an improper acquittal but because the person has never been brought to justice in the first place, has never been brought before the courts in the first place or was never discovered in the first place. The experience of living with an unresolved crime is terrible but many, many people undergo it. This subsection will make a difference only to a small minority of such cases.

I appreciate that the real issue is how we help such people to move on. It is also how we try to ensure that people are brought before the courts when they have committed crimes. That is a matter of policing and resourcing and so on, and of being tough on crime—if I may coin a phrase—and tough on the causes of crime. All those things arise in this issue. However, if we pass this measure, we shall give people the illusion that we are successfully doing something about unresolved crime when we shall actually be condemning to a life of fear people who have been acquitted.

I have one more thing to say. I understand—I was told this; I do not know whether it is true—that certain noble Lords are minded to support the clause and to resist the removal of the subsection from the Bill on the grounds that the possibility of retrial will exist only for the most serious crimes. I find that totally illogical. It seems to me to amount to saying that if I commit a burglary or am a pickpocket and am acquitted, I am in the clear, but that if I commit a really serious crime, I shall never be in the clear. I am not talking only about me but about every single acquitted person.

I know that the hurdles that have to be jumped are very high, but that will not be the perception of people who are likely to come within the frame of this measure. A person accused of murder or rape will live in fear. This provision is an incitement to gangs and enemies and to police and governments under pressure to bring forward cases that, in my opinion, should not be brought forward. I find this subsection, and in particular the retrospection involved in it, the most serious departure from the kind of society in which I wish to live.