Criminal Justice Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 30th October 2003.

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Photo of Lord Donaldson of Lymington Lord Donaldson of Lymington Crossbench 7:15 pm, 30th October 2003

My Lords, we are now in injury time. I shall make two points and do so very briefly. The first is that I fully accept that it is a fundamental tenet of English law that someone is innocent until proved guilty. I go further and say that, if that principle can be strengthened, it is strengthened when someone is acquitted. For that reason, even at this late hour, I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General will consider at Third Reading whether Clause 61 should be amended.

Clause 61 deals with two different categories of case. One is where someone is acquitted in England—including Wales for this purpose—and the other is where he is acquitted elsewhere. Where he is acquitted elsewhere, there is no attempt to set the acquittal aside—it is accepted. But the question that the court must decide is whether in exceptional circumstances that acquittal should be a bar. That is what should apply in English cases.

In my view, when someone has been acquitted, he is entitled to say, if he wishes, "I have been acquitted; I am acquitted; I am still acquitted. The sole question is whether that acquittal will prevent me hereafter being convicted", and it is the Court of Appeal and so on which must decide that. I do not like the way in which the acquittal is quashed before the evidence has been heard. It would be far better to deal with it the other way. That is the first point.

My second point is that all the arguments against double jeopardy have centred on matters which are dealt with in Clause 64. In every case, whether it is inefficient or sloppy policing or media pursuit, those matters are dealt with in Clause 64(2). Of course, I respect the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Neill, but if this provision is passed, as I hope it will be, the media will have to think very carefully before they start a campaign to have someone's conviction set aside. If they do it with their usual enthusiasm, they will ensure that the Court of Appeal refuses leave on the grounds that it is no longer possible for the accused to have a fair trial. Faced with that dilemma, I have a nasty suspicion that the media will continue to pursue. Therefore no question of a second trial will arise. But I may be wrong about that.