Criminal Justice Bill

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Attorney General, Law Officers' Department, Attorney General (Law Officers) 7:15 pm, 30th October 2003

My Lords, we have debated at length on this occasion, as I believe we did in Committee, important points of principle. Distinguished lawyers are divided on this issue, as we have seen today. However, others have demonstrated that lawyers have no monopoly on wisdom, no monopoly on what is the sense of justice of the community or on what will give confidence to the community in the justice system, which is for everyone and not just for the lawyers.

For that reason I very much commend to your Lordships what was said by my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, which was simple, clear and compelling. It represents in essence why the Government accepted recommendations which were successively made by the Macpherson report into the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, by Lord Justice Auld and by the Law Commission that we should bring in this exception to the double jeopardy rule for very serious offences. The Home Affairs Committee also supported it. A large body of people have very carefully considered this matter, weighed up the arguments on both sides and come down in favour of this exception.

We do not expect these reforms to apply other than in exceptional circumstances. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen and, indeed, to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that it will not be the case that every person acquitted will fear the possibility of a further trial. That is simply not the position. However, we believe that the existence of the power will benefit justice. It will strike the right balance—balance it has to be—between finality and the public interest in ensuring that those who have committed the most serious offences can be brought to justice.

Because we have debated the issue, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do not deal with all the points raised. I think that that would be wrong because the arguments have been clearly set out.

We have thought hard about many of the points raised and have therefore introduced safeguards, as noted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. The Director of Public Prosecutions and the Court of Appeal will require to be satisfied that there is compelling new evidence against a person. The Court of Appeal will have to consider a retrial to be in the interests of justice.

I say to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, because it appears on the face of the Bill in Clause 61(5), that a person can be subject to this procedure only once. There is no question of going back a second time. The matter goes further; we have also included provisions to prevent the kind of harassment referred to by one or two noble Lords. So, under Clause 69, police officers will not be able to arrest or question a person who has previously been acquitted, to search him, his premises or a vehicle owned by him or to take his fingerprints or a sample from him in connection with this offence without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.