Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 3rd March 2008.

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Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Attorney General), Home Affairs 3:45 pm, 3rd March 2008

I am most grateful for the support that my amendments have received from around the House, and especially for the most powerful support of the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, who, as he told us, introduced the scheme in the first place.

It is quite wrong to equate this type of compensation with compensation for criminal injuries. When a person is a victim of crime, they are surrounded by agencies to assist them. It could be the police; it could be social workers. A person who has suffered in some way will be told about the scheme and what to do. When someone broke into an outhouse at my home and stole some tools belonging to builders who were working at my home, I was offered counselling. I do not think that I particularly needed counselling at that time, but I am trying to make the point that a victim of crime is surrounded by agencies of the state who will tell them how to gain compensation. That is not the case for a person whose life has been crushed by a miscarriage of justice of this sort.

The only reason put forward by the Government for putting a time limit on the making of applications was that the documents might be lost. As noble Lords, especially the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, have pointed out, that is ridiculous. The Court of Appeal will have all its documents for all time. Its judgment will be there for all time. There can be no question of the reasons for the decision of the court being lost, and it is not really for the independent assessor to go behind the judgment of the Court of Appeal and the documents brought before it to say, "It did not take into account this document, which was discovered many years ago". The Court of Appeal decision is final. That gives rise to the right to claim compensation, so I completely reject the suggestion that you can justify a time limit because documents will be lost, as I reject the suggestion that two years should be a limit because that is the limit for criminal injuries compensation.

The second amendment deals with the fact that the limit of £500,000 is being introduced because that is the limit for criminal injuries. I was once a member of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, and when the tariff scheme was introduced in 1992 along with the move from the ordinary position that pertained up to that time—there was to be no limit, and criminal injuries compensation was to be equated with civil damages, although it was not this Government who did it—I resigned because it seemed to be grossly unfair to the victims of crime. However, we are talking not about victims of crime but about victims of agencies of the state. Whether something has gone wrong in the investigation process—the police have beaten a statement out of someone—or whether a witness called by the prosecution has lied, it is still agencies of the state that have caused things to go wrong. I gave your Lordships an example of the forensic scientist from the Midlands who caused such havoc in the 1970s and 1980s.

I am most grateful to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for her very helpful suggestion that "exceptional" should at the very least be removed from the following new subsection (2A). However, that does not go far enough. I see no reason why the state should impose artificial limits on its own liabilities. It is the victims who have suffered the most who will be the losers as a result; and it is not the people who have suffered a little, but those who have received the greatest blow to their self-esteem, to their health, to their future and their career who will suffer if you put in limitations of the sort that the Government propose at this time.

With the benefit of the support that your Lordships have given me from all around the Committee, I shall return to this on Report. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.