HC Deb 16 November 2000 vol 356 cc1066-7
28. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

What assessment he has made of the effect of the Human Rights Act 1998 on the conduct of prosecutions.[137163]

The Solicitor-General

The significance of the Human Rights Act on the work of the Crown Prosecution Service was recognised at an early stage and a high priority was given to ensure that the CPS was well prepared for the implementation of the Act.

In consultation with other prosecuting agencies and leading human rights experts outside the CPS, it developed a comprehensive training programme for prosecutors. That training programme and the continued guidance and advice that CPS staff receive has ensured that cases giving rise to human rights issues have been dealt with professionally and effectively. We had expected that human rights problems would be raised in ordinary cases and that they would be dealt with in the ordinary way. That has proved to be the case.

The Human Rights Act has meant that the courts are considering many new arguments. A number of cases raising human rights points are already going to the appeal courts.

Mr. Robathan

Is not the nub of the matter the fact that, due to the workings of the Human Rights Act 1998, some prosecutions are failing or are not being taken forward by the CPS, because evidence or the methods of gathering it are being ruled inadmissible? Is it not true that since the Government introduced the Act, guilty people will walk free because of its long-term and unforeseen consequences?

The Solicitor-General

That is certainly not the case. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Act provides specifically that legislation continues in force. Courts must apply the legislation. It is the case that several human rights points have been raised, as I pointed out in my original answer, but the CPS is prepared with particular lines to take when such cases are raised. Defenders will raise all sorts of arguments on behalf of their clients—we can expect that. Occasionally, courts at the lower level may favour those arguments, but we have already implemented a fast-track procedure whereby such cases can be taken quickly to appeal. I can give the House an assurance that criminals will not be walking free as a result of the Act.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

What lessons has the Solicitor-General learned about the effect of the Human Rights Act on section 2 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997, following last week's Court of Appeal decision in the case of the Crown against Offen?

The Solicitor-General

I am aware of the case; the judgment is being considered. That case simply involved an interpretation of "exceptional circumstances" in the Act. The Home Office is considering the implications of the Act, but the important point is that—as I said in my reply to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan)—he courts cannot disapply the Act; they must apply legislation. In some cases, of course, they can make declarations of incompatibility and in such cases we might decide, as a Parliament, that remedial action should be taken and that the legislation should be amended. However, the basic point remains that legislation cannot be disapplied; it must be applied by the courts.