HC Deb 09 June 1976 vol 912 cc1431-2
33. Mr. Grimond

asked the Lord Advocate what steps are being taken to review the identification procedure in criminal cases.

The Lord Advocate

Along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland I am considering the recommendations of the Thomson Committee on Criminal Procedure in Scotland and those of the Devlin Committee for England and Wales in so far as they may be relevant for Scotland.

I am also considering those aspects of the Devlin Report which may have a bearing on the weight of identification evidence.

Mr. Grimond

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that answer. Is he aware that there is considerable anxiety in England and Scotland over identification in recent cases, including the Meehan case? When he says that he is considering the Devlin Report in so far as it is applicable to Scotland, can he explain in which ways it is not applicable to Scotland?

The Lord Advocate

Perhaps the most obvious distinction between England and Scotland in this respect is the Scottish insistence on corroboration. That is a vital safeguard. In England one can be put in gaol for a substantial period on the evidence of one eyewitness alone, but that situation cannot arise in Scotland. I am looking into these matters. It does not follow that because we have this great safeguard of corroboration we should be complacent. There are many other matters to be examined.

Mr. Fairbairn

I agree that we should not be complacent. However, will the Lord Advocate make it clear that the positions in Scotland and England are so different that the people of Scotland should not be panicked by recent visual identification cases in England which have nothing to do with a vocal identification case in Scotland?

The Lord Advocate

For the first time I am in unqualified agreement with the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Will the Lord Advocate refuse to be stampeded into taking measures that will not redound to the benefit of the people of Scotland? There have been a number of cases in Scotland and England in which the benefit of the doubt has been given, but that does not confer innocence. It merely means that the person is not guilty. Can the Lord Advocate ensure that eye witness identification will still play an important part in the proceedings?

The Lord Advocate

I agree with my hon. Friend's last point, but I think that he was treading on treacherous ground on the earlier part of his question. It is extremely difficult and dangerous to go into the merits of cases in which the Royal Prerogative has been exercised, and there are sound reasons for the practice not to do so.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Does the Lord Advocate agree that there is no machinery in Scotland for ordering a new trial if new evidence comes to light having a bearing on the innocence of a man who is in prison? When will the right hon. and learned Gentleman be making proposals based on the Thomson Report?

The Lord Advocate

The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on a weakness in the Scottish law. It is one of the matters that we are looking into.