HC Deb 26 April 1995 vol 258 cc835-6
1. Mr. Mullin

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the arrangements for dealing with alleged miscarriages of justice in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. [19569]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang)

Alleged miscarriages of justice in Scotland may be reviewed by the High Court of Justiciary either on appeal or when a case is referred by me under section 263(1) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975. Any convicted person may petition me seeking review of his or her case and I may refer a case to the High Court with or without a petition. It is also open to me in exceptional circumstances to make a recommendation to Her Majesty concerning the royal prerogative of mercy.

Mr. Mullin

Is it not extraordinary that the Scottish legal establishment should seek to exempt itself from the provisions of the Criminal Appeal Bill, which will apply to every other part of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland? Unless I am mistaken, there is a certain complacency about the Scottish legal system's approach to alleged miscarriages of justice. From the many letters that I receive from prisoners in Scottish gaols alleging that they are innocent, I know that there is no cause for such complacency. Should not something similar to the review tribunal proposed in the Criminal Appeal Bill be set up shortly for Scotland?

Mr. Lang

I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no complacency. Although circumstances in Scotland differ from those south of the border, we have set up a distinguished independent committee under Professor Sir Stuart Sutherland to review the complex issues of handling alleged miscarriages of justice. The committee is expected to report next year and we shall take action on its findings.

I should also point out that the Labour party consultation document, "Protection and Justice", agreed that the procedures for handling alleged miscarriages of justice should not be changed until the effect of possible changes to the criteria applied by the Appeal Court had been considered.

Mr. Hood

Is the Minister aware that there is great concern within the legal profession in Scotland about the disparity between what happens in English courts and in Scottish courts? I remind the Secretary of State that if George Beattie's appeal had been heard in an English court it would have been upheld and he would have been given the justice that he deserves. The Scottish legal system failed George Beattie as it has failed many Scottish people in similar situations over the years. It is time that it was changed and I hope that the Secretary of State will have the courage to come to the Dispatch Box and make that change.

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman makes some rather contentious remarks. The Scottish system suits Scottish circumstances. If we tried to emulate the English system and remodel our arrangements on that, I suspect that there would be a great deal of opposition from both sides of the House. On George Beattie's case, the hon. Gentleman has already said that a further petition on his behalf is to be submitted. I am ready to consider any such petition when it arrives.

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