Criminal Justice Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 30th October 2003.

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Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative 6:45 pm, 30th October 2003

My Lords, when I was a small boy, I learned history from an extremely attractive history master. One of the first things that we were taught, when I was about 10 or 11, was about habeas corpus. He said in the classroom that the point about not being able to be tried twice for the same offence was that one could go into the pub and say one was guilty and there was nothing they could do about it. That was held up as an example of British justice.

Mr Ling is long dead, so he did not write the script for the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General, who said more or less exactly that on a previous amendment, and how disgraceful it was. However, we must not tamper with old liberties; they are too precious and valuable. We gave the police powers under the Terrorism Act, and they have abused those powers—or it is alleged that they have abused them—over the demonstrations over the arms trade fair in the Docklands. If I were as confident in the police as I would like to be—and we have had too many instances of the police not being as good as we would like them to be—even then I would not be happy with the idea of having another trial for the same crime.

Let us assume that person X has committed a peculiarly foul crime, and the prosecution bog it up. Then they come along with some new evidence and up he goes again for the second time, the prosecution bog it again, and he gets off a second time. Is he going to be allowed to be prosecuted a third time? Even if that is a possibility, I would hate to see it. We are talking about old liberties, and old liberties are very precious. As the noble Lord, Lord Neill, said, other common law traditions are not going down this road, and I very much hope that we will not do so either.