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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 Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge 5:15 pm, 11th March 2014

My Lords, I had the advantage of listening to the whole of the Minister’s address with great care. I respectfully say that it was very well put across. However, I remain of the view, advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that the Commons amendment should not be accepted. I have spoken on this matter on a number of previous occasions, so I will make a few short points.

I agree entirely with the Minister that the issue before us is what is meant by the phrase “miscarriage of justice”. This still remains in Section 133 of the 1988 Act because in this Bill we are adding a new subsection to try to explain what the basic rule, set out in subsection (1), is all about. Therefore one has to consider how that works out in practice, given the nature of our criminal appeal process. In effect, it is an element of working out the court’s function in the appeal and the position the Secretary of State must take, given the material in the Court of Appeal’s judgment.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, has confirmed that the Court of Appeal does not have to ask itself whether the appellant was innocent: it has to consider whether the conviction was unsafe. No one is suggesting that that should be the test applied when working out whether there has been a miscarriage of justice. The problem with the test which the Minister is now suggesting and which is in the Commons amendment is that it is striving for something which is, in nearly every case, almost impossible to demonstrate. I prosecuted for four years in the course of my career at the Bar and secured a number of convictions. It frequently occurred to me that we—by which I mean the jury, the prosecutors and everyone else who was looking on—were not there. It is so difficult to work out what actually happened: one can only proceed on evidence. The Crown’s function is to demonstrate guilt as best it can on the evidence but it is extraordinarily difficult to work out whether somebody did not commit the crime and put it in a positive way in favour of the accused if you did not actually see what happened when the crime was committed. You have to rely on other people to demonstrate that fact. That is the basic problem with the test being suggested.

In my judgment in the case to which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, referred, I recorded that when Article 14 of the covenant, from which we take the phrase, was being discussed it was suggested that the test of innocence should be put in to elaborate what was meant by miscarriage of justice, but it was not put in to the final draft. The matter was considered then but it was taken out and we are left with a phrase which we now have to construe and apply.

Without going on any further, I suggest that a better way of approaching it would be to tie the phrase, as carefully as we can, into the way our criminal process works, in a world where there can rarely be absolute certainty. We cannot achieve mathematical certainty in our system of criminal justice: we are not expected to. Because of that, I suggest we take the practical approach embodied in the phrase proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I support his amendment.