My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours for securing this debate. Its timing is to be regretted, as it has not allowed as many noble Lords to participate as would have liked to.
I do not intend to talk about the individual cases of Lord Janner, Sir Edward Heath or even Bishop Bell, but that is not to minimise the strength of feeling that we have heard this afternoon or the impact that they have had on all those touched by them. As we have heard today, there are very strong views on the subject, particularly among those close to people against whom allegations of a sexual nature have been made, especially where those people are deceased and unable to defend themselves. The same difficulty applies to those who might be mentally incapable of defending themselves in a court of law.
The Minister will be delighted to hear me mention pre-charge anonymity. Her research on the subject will now bear fruit. Noble Lords will know that I have an outstanding—by which I refer to the fact that it has not yet received a Second Reading, rather than the calibre of the legislation—Private Member’s Bill on the subject of pre-charge anonymity. It was drafted by the Member of Parliament for Broxtowe, Anna Soubry, but I had more luck in the ballot than she did in the other place. The Bill is intended to prevent the media reporting the identity of someone accused of but not charged with a criminal offence.
In the course of preparing for the debate, I have worked closely with the widow of Lord Brittan, Cliff Richard and Paul Gambaccini on the issue, although Diana Brittan’s case is perhaps the most relevant to the concerns expressed in your Lordships’ House in recent years. I mention my involvement in those matters by way of declaring an interest in the issue. I have seen close up the devastating impact on those wrongly accused and their families. I therefore want to concentrate on this most difficult area of allegations made against those unable to defend themselves or incapable of doing so.
Some speeches in your Lordships’ House have a profound impact and remain in one’s memory because they are made by someone with an outstanding reputation and unparalleled experience. Such a speech was made on
Beginning at col. 1684, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, addressed how to deal with allegations made against those who have died, some of them many years ago. She suggested that a distinction should be made between the management of allegations against a living person and those against one who is deceased. She went on to say, as other noble Lords have said this afternoon, that there is a firm commitment in English criminal law to the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty in a criminal court. Of course someone such as Jimmy Savile, in whose case the weight of evidence was overwhelming, was never brought before a court, cannot be brought before a court, and is therefore technically not guilty according to the law. The noble and learned Baroness went on to refer to a judgment appealed to the House of Lords from the Court of Appeal, quoting the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nicholls, who said:
“The more improbable the event, the stronger must be the evidence that it did occur before, on the balance of probability, its occurrence will be established”.
The important lesson of Savile, however, is that an event should not necessarily be judged improbable because of the public reputation of the individual. I emphasise that I am not referring to anything that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said today about Greville Janner, the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Wirral and Lord Lexden, about Edward Heath, or the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about Bishop George Bell.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, believed that in general, with a few people, or particularly with only one person, making the allegation, however convincing, the authority or organisation dealing with the allegation has a duty to recognise that it may well be able to get the story only from one side. She suggested that a policy or formula was needed to make it clear that it should listen to and recognise the seriousness of the allegations, and give appropriate support to the person making them, but should generally—perhaps always—resist the temptation to say that the account is convincing and to be believed.
I strongly agree with the noble and learned Baroness. The investigating authority, whether an independent inquiry or the police, should always listen to and recognise the seriousness of the allegations and give appropriate support to the person making them. They should be treated as if the allegations are true and they have suffered in the way they describe, but in cases where there are only a few complainants, or only one, and the investigating authority can hear only from one side, even on the balance of probabilities the investigating authority should resist going as far as implying that the accused is guilty. As the noble and learned Baroness went on to say, that is not to say that this did not mean that, on the balance of probabilities, the survivor should not be compensated on the basis of the civil burden of proof, rather than the criminal burden of proof that someone is guilty, which, as we all know, is beyond reasonable doubt. I emphasise that I am talking about cases where only one side can be heard.
Survivors of child sexual exploitation need to be heard. The “truth project” element of the independent inquiry is an important part of it. Hearing their accounts is a powerful way of driving the cultural changes we need: how they were not listened to, how their allegations were dismissed out of hand, and how, in many cases, they turned out to be true. The inquiry should hear also, and is committed to hearing, from those falsely accused of child sexual exploitation and about the impact that it had on them.
The research project, which researches records and news reports, is also an important part of the inquiry. At the same time, as my own party has found, going back 65 years to a time when evidence was not collated as it should be today—when notes were made on pieces of paper, kept in different parts of an organisation and not properly archived—may say more about how badly organisations dealt with such issues then, rather than unearthing the truth about what happened. As a party, we are providing every assistance we can to the inquiry.
The public hearings project, where witnesses can be compelled to give evidence and are cross-examined, should be focused on institutional failings and how to ensure that these do not happen in the future, although individual cases will have to be examined to identify what those failings have been. This is a very difficult area—for survivors, for those accused, and for the institutions and authorities charged with establishing the truth. I believe that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is acutely aware of these difficulties, but those involved would do well to listen to the words of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.