Third Reading

Part of Coroners and Justice Bill – in the House of Lords at 1:30 pm on 5th November 2009.

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Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Shadow Minister, Justice 1:30 pm, 5th November 2009

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, made clear, the House debated this matter a week ago and came to a firm conclusion. For that reason, Part 7 will remain in the Bill, but the Government are making their attempt to tighten it up a little, as is the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill.

I look forward to hearing from the Government on their Amendments 20 to 22, which are about the restriction to indictable offences only. We do not disagree with the Government's attempt to tighten this up. However, we do not think that it will make much difference. Far more important was the Government's statement last week that they would restrict these matters to offences,

"at the most grave end of the spectrum".

Those words were quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. Merely leaving out "indictable offence" and inserting,

"offence which, if committed by an adult, is triable only on indictment", does not add much to the words,

"most grave end of the spectrum".—[Hansard, 29/10/09; col. 1296.]

We are happy that other safeguards will limit the use of this provision; for example, the fact that one needs the permission of the Attorney-General. We trust that the Government will not use powers of this sort frivolously.

In light of those safeguards, I will comment briefly on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lester. He suggests a restriction to "heinous" offences. There is some confusion in the House about the pronunciation of the word. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, pointed out that he could not find it in his legal works, but found it in the Oxford English Dictionary. Perhaps if we could decide how to pronounce it, we would have made a step in the right direction. I note the noble Lord's point that not all indictable offences are heinous. However, I imagine that the Minister will say that the Attorney-General will make the call in due course.

We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for pointing out that the word has been defined by the Supreme Court of India, and in the United States. I was grateful for the note that he sent me on the matter. Again, I do not think that it would add much in the light of other government assurances that were given last week. I am not unsympathetic to what the noble Lord is doing, but I am not sure that we would support him if he pressed the matter to a Division, because I do not think that his amendment adds much. We will listen very carefully to what the Government say, but we dealt with this matter last week.