HC Deb 16 February 1961 vol 634 cc1746-7
26. Dr. D. Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will institute an inquiry into the accusatorial system of justice in relation to its working in recent criminal trials for capital offences.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I am not satisfied that there is need for an inquiry of this kind.

Dr. Johnson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us in considering capital punishment are less concerned with the nature of the penalty, when this is clearly merited, than with the possibility that there might be errors in the course of justice? Will he look at our judicial procedures in the light not only of the Evans case but the further case particulars of which I sent to him, which has enjoyed certain publicity which I am reluctant to renew? Can he assure us on that point, because many people will be much clearer in their minds if he can do so?

Mr. Butler

My hon. Friend's Question covers the whole range of the system of British justice which, instead of following the foreign model of some countries of having an inquisitorial system, is based on the system to which my hon. Friend has referred. As at present advised, I do not think that I should have an inquiry into it.

Mr. Grimond

Is this the sort of matter which might be referred to one of the committees which sit from time to time in his Department to consider this kind of thing, since there is considerable public anxiety—I share the feeling of the hon. Member who raised the question—about certain events in recent times?

Mr. Butler

I do not think there is a committee sitting at present to which it could be referred, but I will, of course, look into what the hon. Member says.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Is the Home Secretary satisfied that our system provides adequate assurances that evidence collected by the police which might be of use to the defence but which is of no use to the prosecution is made available to the defence? This is a subject about which there is growing disquiet.

Mr. Butler

There is a Question by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) later on the Order Paper which will give me occasion to deal with this matter, which is a particular aspect of the subject. I did notice that my hon. Friend was really questioning, quite legitimately, but questioning none the less, the whole system of British justice.

Mr. Fletcher

Does not the Home Secretary recognise that there is much concern not only in legal circles but among the public generally about the frequent disregard of the Judges' Rules? While this is a serious matter in all criminal cases, is it not particularly serious in capital cases?

Mr. Butler

Yes, but the hon. Member has a Question down about the Judges' Rules, which is really a rather separate matter from this, and I will, of course, answer that when we reach it.