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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 11th March 2014.

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Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 5:45 pm, 11th March 2014

My Lords, this has been an excellent debate once more, in which the House has shown its considerable knowledge, learning and experience of the issues raised by this amendment. Let me start by saying that there is general agreement on one thing: the Government were right to seek to enshrine in legislation the appropriate test for eligibility for compensation following a miscarriage of justice. The common law was undoubtedly in a state of confusion, notwithstanding the distinction of the judges engaged in the exercise of trying to provide a workable test. The decision in the Adams case, a resounding 5:4 victory, was described in a way that I could not possibly presume to describe it by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, as an unprincipled fudge. It was, of course, a culmination of effort—an absolutely high-quality effort—to try to arrive at a workable definition. However, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, says that the Government’s test will lead to disaster—to acrimonious litigation and uncertainty.

I have respectfully to disagree, because the Adams judgment has resulted in some 16 judicial review cases in the three years since the judgment. During the period from 2008 to 2011, when the case law laid down by the courts required, consistent with the Government’s position, that the applicant was clearly innocent, only two judicial reviews resulted from applications from those convicted in England and Wales. Therefore, there is likely to be acrimonious litigation. I am somewhat reluctant to be drawn on what the result would be in any particular cases, whether it is the Sally Clark case or other cases. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, was, I think, referring to compensation under the ex gratia scheme, which was abolished by the Home Secretary in 2006. Here we are considering revisions of Section 133, which requires that the applicant has a conviction—whichever definition is adopted—and this will continue to be a requirement.

The difference of opinion on definition is simply what a claimant has to establish. It is said that the Court of Appeal Criminal Division is not primarily concerned in these cases with proving innocence—quite so. It may well decide that a conviction is unsafe, but in doing so, the Court of Appeal will, and does, provide cogent and comprehensive reasons for that decision. It does not simply declare it. That provides the basis on which the Secretary of State or those working under his direction will be able to make an assessment entirely in accordance with the very straight- forward and clear test that we suggest is appropriate.

The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said that our law does not ask someone to prove their innocence. I agree entirely. Nor does this provision. It does not require an applicant to prove their innocence; it simply requires them to prove eligibility for compensation—money—when they are clearly innocent, to use the expression used in the common law or, as we describe it in statutory language, proof that they have not done it.

We ask the House to bear in mind that we have a position of uncertainty and litigation, which requires clarification by Parliament, as is agreed. Parliament has provided as clear a definition as can reasonably be arrived at, and one which we say is consistent with justice, does not offend the presumption of innocence and resolves the difficulties that judges have had in arriving at a workable conclusion.

The presumption of innocence is not in any way offended by the clause. I suggest to the House that it should agree that the House of Commons has considered carefully the high quality of the debate and the division of opinion among noble and learned Lords, and should respect and confirm the House of Commons decision.