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Privileges and Conduct - Motion to Agree

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 30th April 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Crossbench 4:45 pm, 30th April 2019

My Lords, at this late stage I shall be very brief—I confess of course that I am a lawyer—and say something about adversarial and inquisitorial, because there may be some misconceptions. I am delighted to hear that there will be a panel of investigators. I would expect most of them not to be lawyers, but to be able to do practical investigation. That seems to be entirely sensible. We need to differentiate between the different sorts of cases. There will be cases of harassment or bullying, which are nasty and will possibly require suspension from the House. There will occasionally be cases such as Lord Lester’s. It is in relation only to that type of case that something slightly different should take place. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said, it is not a good idea to have the person who is adjudicating also being the investigator. There are problems in that. I am not criticising the current commissioner; I just think that she could have done with some help.

I have a suggestion about the best thing in the very difficult case of a stark difference of evidence, where one has to resolve who is telling the truth; because only one person can be in such a—thankfully rare—case. In such a case the investigator should, in my view, be a lawyer. However, it is appropriate only in that rare case, where the reputation of the victim is important, but so is the reputation of the Peer, who is almost certainly going to be excluded from the House for ever and whose reputation will be completely destroyed. At that point, you do not want cross-examination as such, but you need a sensible, discreet member of the Bar who can ask appropriate questions, without being disagreeable about it, to try to ascertain the truth from the parties who are being asked these questions. I put it to the House that there are rare cases where the commissioner may need the help of a lawyer rather than the ordinary investigator we are talking about.