Amendment 292E

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (10th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 10:45 pm on 22 November 2021.

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Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords) 10:45, 22 November 2021

My Lords, what a moving and powerful debate we have had this evening. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and her noble friend will have been moved by it as well. The real challenge that has been presented to the Minister and the Government is how to capture what has been said in this Chamber tonight in relation to the practice that takes place in very difficult and challenging circumstances.

I am not going to rush this, and I am pleased that noble Lords have not rushed this either, as this is too important a debate to be rushed. In speaking to their amendment, the noble Baronesses, Lady Stowell and Lady Masham, spoke in such a way that gave respect to the awfulness of what happened with David Amess. I pay tribute to the noble Baronesses. Out of the horror of that situation, they are trying to make something positive happen in future. We have all been moved by that. The challenge for the Government is how to do something about it.

I say gently to the Minister that the system will respond in a bureaucratic, almost insensitive way, by saying, “It’s really difficult, Minister. It’s very tough to do something about this.” This is one of those situations that requires the system to respond. Human needs to speak to system and make it work, and that is not easy—it really is not.

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, brought her perspective from Northern Ireland. She did incredible work there in trying to ensure that, among the terrorist atrocities, somehow or other there was comfort for the dying and bereaved, as well as the pursuit of justice. That was a beacon in that situation, and they made it happen there. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, talked about the situation in his own family. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, made a very moving, personal statement about the horror of what happened to her and the tension between trying to comfort the dying while ensuring that the police were allowed to do their work.

The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, made a brilliant speech. I am not a lawyer so, when I spoke just now, I spoke as a politician who demands that the system works. There are brilliant lawyers on both sides of this Chamber who can dissect the law; that is not me. I say to those with legal expertise, like the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, that I may not have that legal expertise, but I know what the public would expect the system and the law to do. I know how they would expect the legal system, the courts and the police to respond, and how they would expect the system to work.

The phrase that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, used was, “Who owns the death?” Who owns it? I will talk about myself because that is easier to do. Maybe I have got this wrong, but my sense is that, if I were attacked in the street and stabbed—God forbid that this happens to any of us, but if it happened to me and I was dying—I would not want a police officer ensuring that the crime scene was not compromised. If my wife, or my children, or my grandparents were nearby, that is who I would want to come. I would not care if the crime scene was compromised; I would not.

I know that that is difficult for the police because the police will want—as, of course, in generality, we would all want—the perpetrator to be caught, put before the courts and dealt with. I am just saying what Vernon Coaker, a human being, would want: I would want my family or my friend, if they were nearby, to be allowed to come and see me and talk to me, in the way that no doubt the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds has had to do on many occasions. I would want them to give me comfort, and to give me a sense that I could say goodbye properly to my loved ones.

I do not know what that means for the law, to be honest, or what it means for the guidance, but I do not believe that it is impossible to learn, as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, laid out, from other countries or jurisdictions, or from what is done elsewhere, to find a means of balancing those two priorities in a more sensitive way than perhaps we see at the moment. That is all that this Chamber is asking for—and that is what the Minister needs to demand from the system. The system will say, “It’s tough, it’s difficult. We need to do that, but we have also got to preserve the crime scene.” The Chamber is saying, “Yes, preserve the crime scene; yes, let’s catch the perpetrators, but not at the expense of everything else.” Let it not be at the expense of human beings knowing what is best for themselves—of individuals at the point of death being able to choose who they want to see.

I suggest that the majority of us would want our family with us, even if it meant some compromise to the crime scene. That is what I think and what I believe this Chamber is saying and demanding. The debate has been incredibly moving; people have laid out their souls. They have done it with a sense of purpose, to say to the law and the system: it needs to change; this cannot happen again. If this had happened to somebody else, I believe, as somebody else said, that David Amess would be saying the same as the rest of us. Maybe that is a fitting tribute to him as well.