HC Deb 25 April 1991 vol 189 cc1200-1
11. Mr. Lawrence

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is Her Majesty's Government's policy in respect of the retention of the mandatory life sentence for murder.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

The arguments for maintaining the mandatory life sentence for murder still seem to us to he very strong. Other matters were raised in the debates in the House of Lords and we will, of course, consider them.

Mr. Lawrence

Is not this a matter of maintaining public confidence in the criminal justice system? Surely the public are more confident in a system that uses a unique sentence to mark out the most heinous of all crimes—the deliberate taking of the life of another individual. The public are overwhelmingly in favour of capital punishment. They were given assurances, when capital punishment was abolished, that it would be replaced by a life sentence marking out the uniqueness of the crime. If that were taken away now, public confidence would be substantially undermined and the public would feel betrayed.

Mr. Baker

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the issues raised in the capital punishment debates before Christmas. Many hon. Members clearly expressed the view that if there were to be no capital sentence, society should show its utter condemnation of the appalling and dreadful crime of murder by a mandatory life sentence.

Mr. Bernie Grant

I refer the Home Secretary to the case of the Tottenham Three—three young men currently serving a life sentence for the murder of P.C. Keith Blakelock. Could I ask the Home Secretary about the case of Mark Braithwaite, which went before the European Court last week and in which the British Government successfully argued that he had not exhausted the internal machinery of appeals? If that is the case, will the Home Secretary now give us an undertaking that he will refer to the Court of Appeal the cases of Mark Braithwaite and Winston Silcott so that they can go through the internal appeals mechanism?

Mr. Baker

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a great personal interest in this case and I believe that he is coming to see me quite soon about it. He will know that I referred one of the sentences, that of Mr. Raghip, for consideration by the Court of Appeal when I received further evidence. If I receive fresh evidence in relation to the other two who have been convicted, I will, of course, consider whether their cases should be so referred.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Mr. Silcott has been found guilty not of one murder but of two murders and was indeed tried for a third murder?

Mr. Baker

I believe that was so, but that is not strictly relevant in relation to the Broadwater Farm case. If evidence is brought before me as Home Secretary in relation to this particular case, I will look at it.