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 Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative 7:15 pm, 30th October 2003

My Lords, I hope that it is not to add insult to injury time for me to add to this debate, even by the short contribution I propose to make. I believe that all institutions, being mortal, are accordingly imperfect. I do not believe that the dilemma which rightly has been occupying us for the last three quarters of an hour is capable of being perfectly resolved. In that I respectfully follow the noble Earl, Lord Russell. We cannot achieve perfection—that is to say a resolution of the dilemma in a way which would be certain to lead to a perfectly just result in every case.

I have asked myself why our forebears have held to the principle for so long that one bite is all that one gets if one is the prosecutor. I believe that that derived from the recognition that the exercise of the prosecuting arm of the state is intensely invasive of personal liberty and wellbeing. Never mind that it ends up in an acquittal, as it frequently does because of the burden of proof. That will take place, typically, not months but years after the prosecution process has begun in the course of which liberty has been curtailed or there has been bail; everyone is saying, "There is no smoke without fire"; and for a police officer there may be suspension, sometimes for years. I believe that that is why our forebears have held to this.

I have asked myself whether that is sufficient reason for retaining it today, and I believe that it is. The prosecution has the whole panoply of the state behind it. Certainly, there is the burden of proof, but by starting prosecutions they can invade the liberty of the individual to a ghastly, albeit a necessary, extent. Is it necessary twice? I cannot believe that it can be right, in the language of the right reverend Prelate, to impose a life sentence upon someone who, indeed, may have been innocent and rightly acquitted. That is the high watermark of this argument. I believe that it is a point that has not been reached by the arguments, with which I deeply sympathise. Anyone who has been a Member of Parliament for many years, as a number of us have, knows the depth of feeling on the other side of this argument. However, it is the duty of this House, where we do not have to deal with the pressures of constituencies, to look ahead right down the line to the likely and foreseeable consequence of what we may achieve with the Bill as it stands.

I believe that right-thinking people will deeply regret the day that this constitutional principle is abandoned, if that is, indeed, what happens.