HC Deb 23 January 1958 vol 580 cc1256-8
Mr. D. Howell

(by Private Notice) asked the Attorney-General whether he will reconsider his decision not to grant his fiat to J. S. Spriggs to appeal to the House of Lords against his conviction of capital murder.

The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)

No, Sir. The period allowed by Statute for making an application has expired and the application made during that time has been disposed of. In those circumstances I have, as I have said before, in my opinion no power to reconsider my decision.

Mr. Howell

Does not the Attorney-General regard that statement as very alarming, in view of the nature of this case, which is a precedent? It is the first time that an appeal on the ground of diminished responsibility has been entered under the new Homicide Act. In view of the comments of the Lord Chief Justice during the appeal, in respect of the extreme difficulties of juries in assessing the point in this case—the difference between emotional instability and mental instability—and the fact that the trial judge himself did not attempt to direct the jury at all on the difficulties of this matter but contented himself with circulating to them a copy of the relevant portion of the Act and leaving it to them to decide whether it was a case of capital murder or of manslaughter, is it not very regrettable indeed that the special circumstances of this precedent should not have been allowed to go to the House of Lords? Will the Attorney-General please, even at this late stage, reconsider his decision, which is alarming to many members of the legal profession and certainly seems to lay members without legal knowledge highly regrettable?

The Attorney-General

I have told the hon. Member that in my view I have no power to reconsider my decision. This case did not involve a point of law of exceptional public importance and I cannot accept the hon. Member's observations on what the trial judge did or on what was said by the Court of Criminal Appeal as accurate or representing the position.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Would the Attorney-General not agree that when very new and difficult ideas and concepts are introduced into our law, like that of diminished responsibility, which the Lord Chief Justice himself described as a novelty in our English law, the opportunity should be taken to have a final and definitive decision on these matters? Is not that really in the public interest?

The Attorney-General

I can only give my fiat when a case raises a point of law of exceptional public importance. [HON. MEMBERS: "This does."] A case does not raise a point of law of exceptional public importance because it happens to be the first case under a particular provision of an Act.

Mr. Hale

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that the trial judge said that he had the greatest difficulty in understanding the Section and that substantially he read the Section to the jury and said, "You must make up your minds as to what it means."? In view of the fact that this is a very substantial alteration of our procedure and one which was welcomed on both sides of the House [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—well it was carried by the House and there is a great deal of Scottish authority on it—and on which it is vital that there should be for the use of Her Majesty's judges and for juries some authoritative decision, is it not a matter upon which it is extremely important that the earliest determination should be made? Would the Attorney-General bear in mind that there was a good deal of evidence of insanity in this man's family which really ought to have been considered?

The Attorney-General

I have read the evidence that was given and the summing-up of the learned judge and the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeal and I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's summary of what occurred as an accurate summary. As to whether or not there was evidence of insanity, that was a matter which was considered by the jury and a defence of insanity was rejected. As far as the other matters are concerned, the Court of Criminal Appeal has held that there was no misdirection, and I can see no ground—and I have considered it very carefully—for saying that there was in this case any point of law of exceptional public importance.