HL Deb 16 November 1972 vol 336 cc816-21

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether there is any means whereby the sentence of Miss Paddon to 21 months' imprisonment can be reviewed.


Yes, my Lords, it is open to Miss Paddon to apply to the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, within 28 days of the decision of the court of trial, for leave to appeal against both conviction and sentence.


My Lords, I want to thank the Minister for that rather satisfactory reply. Is the Minister aware that not a single Member of this House would condone the crime of baby snatching? Nevertheless, a number of us believe that circumstances alter cases, and there were peculiar circumstances in this case. The two women were friends, and the child was only taken to its destination. I want to ask two further supplementary questions: first, if this young woman was deemed to be physically and mentally unfit to have charge of her own child, is she not, on the same score, unfit to suffer imprisonment for a period of 21 months? Secondly, the sentence was described in all the papers as both savage and inhuman. I hold no brief for the judge, but was this fair to the judge? Under the Criminal Justice Act 1961 the judge—


My Lords, I am quite certain that the question which the noble Lord is about to put is a perfectly legitimate one, but I think that he would be putting himself more within the normal rules of order of our House if he were to ask it straight away.


My Lords, to put it then in the form of a question, is the Minister aware that under the Criminal Justice Act 1961 the judge can sentence a person if she is under 21 years of age either to no more than six months or no less than 21 months? Now that is a silly law, and I want to ask the Minister whether he will do all in his power to get it amended as soon as possible and so avoid putting judges in this invidious situation


My Lords, I think it is a fundamental position, certainly when a sentence is still capable of being appealed upon to a higher court, that the Home Office and members of the Government should refrain from comment upon the action of the judge on the material which he had before him. As the noble Lord will know, that material is very substantial in a case like this, and we should, in general, leave the matter to be dealt with by the properly constituted appeal court, if there is an appeal and the appeal is still within time. I think I may be forgiven by the House if I do not comment upon the first part of what the noble Lord says to-day.

On the question of Section 3 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961, the House may recall that this was a fruitful subject of debate during the passage of the Criminal Justice Act which we were dealing with in the summer. The noble Lord is not entirely right in what he said; in fact, the sentence must be no less than six months and no more than 18 months in prison, but there is still the alternative of borstal, which is something he did not mention. As I explained at the time of our discussions on the Criminal Justice Bill, this is one of the matters in front of the Advisory Committee on the Penal System, which is going to report pretty soon on the whole range of matters dealing with young offenders. As I explained at the time, to pick this matter out at this juncture would I think be foolish, because we are having a proper review of it. The time to deal with it is when we have all the information and the advice before us.


My Lords, may I ask whether it is open to the Official Solicitor to assist Miss Paddon?


My Lords, the powers of the Official Solicitor never cease to amaze me, but I do not think that Miss Paddon needs the Official Solicitor at this stage because she has her own.


My Lords, is it not a fact that before this young woman removed her friend's baby for a quarter of an hour she had been undergoing a course of psychiatric treatment? Is it the norm in our courts of law, when it has been proved that the person before the court is probably of abnormal mind, that he or she should be sentenced to 21 months' imprisonment?


My Lords, I think the noble Baroness will appreciate that there is no rule in sentencing. The penalties laid down by Parliament are almost always as a maximum. The probation reports, the social inquiry reports and the other reports that are before the court are to enable the court to deal with the individual upon the merits of the offence, upon the background, upon his character, upon his previous convictions and upon all other relevant information. As I have said, I think I should be absolved at this stage, when we still have some weeks—I think a fortnight—to go before the time for appeal has elapsed, from commenting upon the decision that was made by Mr. Justice Boreham at Chelmsford Crown Court.


My Lords, arising out of this case may I ask the Minister whether it is true that when a child is given to foster parents the mother is not allowed to see it, as in this case? The fact is that this mother was not allowed to see her child for 18 months. It was essential for her mental recovery that she should.


My Lords, I think that that really is another question. It may or may not have been one of the matters that was in the reports before the learned judge who dealt with this case. The noble Baroness shakes her head. Whether or not it was, I stand by the opinion that it is for the Court of Appeal to consider all these matters if an appeal goes before it.


My Lords, while agreeing with the noble Viscount that this would be a matter for the Court of Appeal, may I ask whether the noble Viscount can tell us that he has satisfied himself that this unfortunate woman is being properly advised legally with a view to making an appeal?


My Lords, yes, most certainly I have. If there is one thing I have taken trouble to see about lately it is that the advice that is available to prisoners in Holloway, where she is in fact at the moment, is sufficient to cover all questions of bail and any other matter that might be relevant to somebody in this position. I am sure in this particular case that she is being properly advised, that she has seen her solicitor, and that the matter is very much under consideration. It is nothing to do with me, of course, what the advice may be.


My Lords, I am grateful and I fully appreciate the noble Viscount's position. But if this unfortunate young woman is receiving advice and may, for reasons connected with her psychological state, be unwilling to take it, would it then be possible to take further action along the lines suggested by my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner with regard to the Official Solicitor? As the noble Viscount will know, there have been famous cases in which, for one reason or another, people have refused to appeal.


My Lords, the conviction was on October 30, the sentence was on October 31. There are twenty-eight days respectively from each date during which she can appeal. I do not want in any way to suggest that interference should take place. I take note of what the noble Lord has suggested and the noble and learned Lord has said. If it should be thought fit, this point would be further considered. If the occasion arises, I will certainly remember what they have said.


My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that his final answer about having looked into the affairs of this unfortunate young woman justifies our belief in his kindness and human understanding of the problems that he has to deal with? But may I ask him, if he considers it relevant, whether when investigations have been made into the law will be look into the problem of appeal—and I will use the ugly word—by the "under-privileged"? Is he aware that they are sometimes struck with terror? I know of two cases where people are absolutely innocent and cannot possibly make an appeal. Can we get some formula by means of which justice can be seen to be done in the courts of appeal? Can it be looked into, or am I entirely hopeless in asking for some reform?


My Lords, the noble Lord is not hopeless. He is very kind to me. But if somebody has been received into a prison, whether it is Holloway or another one, the first line of defence against injustice is the staff of that prison. They have to be properly equipped with the information they need on technicalities. This is what I was talking about the other day when I was referring to cards in cells, and the material that is before them. Above all, the staff have to be trained in their understanding. They have to be trained to be able to pick up the sort of case that needs help. If the noble Lord went to some of these prisons and talked to the staff, I think he would be convinced that we have a fairly solid bulwark against injustice in the people who operate there.


My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that it might satisfy many Members of your Lordships' House, if not all Members of your Lordships' House, if he could give an assurance that while this young woman is in prison she is receiving the medical consideration that her condition merits?


Yes, my Lords. Again, this is where I have an advantage. I know the medical staff at Holloway, and having talked to them I have enormous faith in them. They are very skilled. They have a great diversity and range of experience and diagnostic and treatment powers. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, can be assured that this young woman, like the others in our care, is being properly looked after and that we have the facilities to deal with any of her problems.