Amendment 119A

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (4th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 7 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice) 9:00, 7 February 2024

My Lords, I support Amendments 119A to 119C in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wills.

I suggest that the usual basis for avoiding retrospective legislation does not apply in this case. Generally speaking, we take the view that it is wrong for new legislation to have retrospective effect. That is because, if an individual behaves in accordance with the law as it is at a given time, it is regarded as wrong for the law subsequently to be changed—I believe this is a correct analysis—in such a way as to change the legal framework in which that person legitimately operated at the time when they acted as they did. However, that principle cannot be relevant in the treatment of victims of major incidents and the provision of advocacy services to such victims. It is not as if there is anything in the Bill that could affect the behaviour of victims or indeed the behaviour of others in respect of major incidents, regardless of whether or not those others may have been culpable in some way for the occurrence of the incident.

There is a safeguard in the Bill against stale incidents becoming the subject of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Wills, simply because they are past and could be a long way past, but the meaning of a “major incident” includes the definition in Clause 28(2)(c), which says that a

“‘major incident’ means an incident that … is declared in writing by the Secretary of State to be a major incident for the purposes of this Part”.

For that reason, the Secretary of State could take the view that, if an incident were so stale that it ought not to be the subject of a major incident determination, he or she simply would not make one.

The other point I wish to make is that the noble Lord’s Amendment 119C shows the importance of the possibility of making the legislation retrospective. It talks about a single event or a series of linked events over time. In the case of a series of linked events, it may be the last event that gives rise to the need to call it a major incident but all previous events need to be taken into account as well. Therefore, the amendment shows how important the Wills amendments could be—if I can put it in that way.

I will speak briefly to Amendment 120 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, which he has not addressed because no doubt he is going to wind up. I will not be winding up on behalf of these Benches as a result. His amendment concerns the possibility of declaring a major incident when only a small number of individuals are killed, injured or suffer major harm. To us, it is important that that amendment is permitted.

I take as an example—it is one that I simply thought of—the terrorist attack on Fishmongers’ Hall by Usman Khan in November 2019, when two people were killed and three more injured. In the words of the BBC a little while later, that incident

“touched the lives of so many”.

One knows that the incident must have touched the lives in a very serious way of those who intervened, those who witnessed the offences on London Bridge, and those who attended the Fishmongers’ Hall rehabilitation conference which led to such disastrous consequences. All were, in a sense, victims of the attack. All may have suffered, if not serious harm, at least some psychological harm. All may have needed some support. That need could be helped by the provision of advocacy services, advice or representation of some sort. The amendments in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Wills and Lord Ponsonby, taken together, would secure that that would be possible, even in the case of past events.