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Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill — Commons Amendment

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 11th March 2014.

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Photo of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct 5:15 pm, 11th March 2014

My Lords, I supported the Government on the clause at Second Reading and again in Committee and on Report. At the risk of wearying your Lordships and displeasing, yet again, those who procured the original amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, I support the Government again on their proposed amendment and I resist that of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.

For my part, I, too, accept that this reformulation is in substance no different from its predecessor. Because it avoids the explicit language of guilt or innocence, it may be regarded in some form as better able to resist what at one stage was suggested to be its vulnerability to challenge under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

I do not propose to repeat all the arguments that I canvassed in support of the Government’s approach at the earlier stages. I now make just three basic points. First, there is all the difference in the world between, on the one hand, a person’s right to be acquitted and thereafter presumed innocent whenever there is any lingering doubt as to his guilt and, on the other hand, the right to monetary compensation for his incarceration pending that eventual acquittal. On Report, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, reminded us all, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, reminds us again, that it is better that 10—the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, says 99—guilty men go free than that one innocent man be convicted. Of course, that is so and it is integral to our criminal justice system, but it by no means follows that it is better that 10, let alone 99, guilty men get financial compensation rather than that one innocent man goes uncompensated. That illustrates the total distinction between the presumption of innocence and the right to go free if there is any doubt at all about the safety of one’s conviction and, on the other hand, the right to monetary compensation for the period of incarceration until that innocence can be established.

Secondly, the present formulation put forward again by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is, as has been explained, essentially that of the majority in the Supreme Court in Adams—a majority of five votes to four. The then Lord Chief Justice, my noble and learned friend Lord Judge, who, alas, cannot be here today, and I were in that minority of four. The majority preferred it to the test of the minority that the claimant should have to establish his innocence. In truth the majority’s formulation is a fudge—indeed, an unprincipled fudge. None of the parties in the case argued in support of it—not even leading counsel who appeared as interveners for Justice. They were all arguing for compensation to be paid to all those whose appeal eventually succeeds.

Now no one pursues that absolutist view. Of course, under this fudge, compensation would still be required to be paid even to those who, albeit entitled to succeed on their appeals, can nevertheless be seen clearly to have committed the offence.

I have given various examples of this at earlier stages. Today I shall give just one. Let us suppose that a defendant confesses his guilt and in his confession discloses facts that only the perpetrator of the crime to which he is confessing could have knowledge. Later, however, on a late appeal, he is able to establish that that confession was induced by, for example, a promise that if only he would confess his guilt he would get bail. Once that is established the confession has to be set aside as one induced by guilt, even though it is self-evidently correct as a confession. He is entitled to succeed on his appeal but is he really to be regarded as entitled to compensation, which could run to hundreds of thousands of pounds? I would suggest not.

My third and final point is on certainty. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, has made this point. I should have said earlier that, alas, I missed the first few minutes of his speech as it never occurred to me, in common with one or two others, that this point would be reached at the stage that it was. I apologise for that but I think I heard everything that he said that needed to be heard by somebody supporting this case. The proposed formulation is very far from easy to apply. Perhaps a good illustration of that is the tragic case of Sally Clark—a case about which the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, spoke more than once at earlier stages of the Bill. It is a case which raises considerable and understandable emotions. On my reading of that case—I believe this to be correct—the Court of Appeal never went further than to say that on the fresh evidence that had come to light a jury might well not have convicted her. It was not said, in the words of the proposed amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that the fresh evidence showed—let alone showed “conclusively”—that the evidence against her at trial had been so undermined that no conviction could possibly have been based on it. Maybe, in the light of all the material, the jury would have convicted; maybe it would not.

If it is said that I am wrong in my understanding of that case, it just goes to show that the proposed formulation will lead, not to the desired clarity and certainty in the law, but to further protracted litigation on this issue. As the Minister said, based on the Court of Appeal judgment, it is perfectly simple for him to form a view —yes or no—on whether, in the light of all the material, this defendant was indeed innocent of the charge and therefore whether or not it was a clear miscarriage of justice in that sense. The elected Chamber rejected this House’s amendment first time round and I respectfully suggest that we should not challenge it again.