HL Deb 22 July 1988 vol 499 cc1617-9

132 Clause 85, page 61. line 33, leave out from beginning to 'or' in line 34.

133 Page 61, line 36, at end insert 'or convictions concerned'.

134 Page 61, line 39, at end insert 'if having regard to all the circumstances, it considers it appropriate to make such an order'.

135 Page 61, line 45, leave out from beginning to 'and' in line 46.

136 Page 62, line I, leave out 'substantial'.

137 Page 62, line 3, at end, insert—

'(2A) The court shall not order compensation to be paid in any case where it appears to the court that the proceedings would have been instituted or continued even if the serious default had not occurred.'.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 132 to 137 en bloc.I shall also speak to Amendments No. 419.

The purpose of these amendments is to lighten the burden on people who have good cause to apply for compensation in a case where their assets have been frozen or sold, but the prosecution was mistaken. As the Bill was, the application would have to show that his loss was "substantial"; but a loss, though small in itself, could nevertheless be severe on the applicant. Therefore we were persuaded that we should remove the condition that it be "substantial".

We also think that it may be too burdensome on the applicant to make him prove to the court that what went wrong with the prosecution was itself the cause of the proceedings being started or continued at the relevant time. Instead, we propose to replace this condition with a requirement that the court should refuse compensation if it considers that the default in the prosecution did not bear on the decision to carry on the proceedings.

These amendments are the result of views put forward by the Opposition in another place.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 132 to 137.—(Earl Ferrers.)

Lord Irvine of Lairg

My Lords, when your Lordships examined this Bill in Committee, we expressed the view that Clause 85 (or Clause 79 as it then was) was a very mean-minded clause. It seemed to us that a defendant who was acquitted in all ordinary cases ought to be compensated for the loss that he had suffered through the imposition of a restraint or charging order, and the Bill, as I think that the noble Earl has in effect acknowledged, at that stage fell short of that objective in several respects. These amendments certainly represent an improvement but it is a very limited one. Amendments Nos. 133, 134, 137 and 137 are only drafting amendments.

We acknowledge that Amendment No. 132 is useful in that it removes an unnecessary restriction on the court's jurisdiction to exercise its discretion. The best change comes with Amendment No. 136 in that it is no longer necessary for the applicant, as the noble Earl has pointed out, to show substantial loss. The meaning of the word "substantial" was doubtful in the context and was capable of creating an injustice However, the worst defect of this clause still remains; namely, the need to show that there was a serious default on the part of the investigating or prosecuting authority in deciding to initiate or continue proceedings. It would appear that in the Government's eyes a person still does not merit compensation merely because he has been proved innocent. It is only in the exceptional case where that person can show serious official default that he or she will be compensated.

We predict that as a result Clause 85 will be little used but that when it is used there will be a lengthy re-hashing of' the evidence relating to the alleged offence leading to a great waste of judicial time, a general unwillingness on the part of the courts to criticise those concerned with the investigation of crime, a continuing stigma attaching to those who have already been acquitted when their application for compensation fails, a consequent devaluation of the "not guilty" verdict and a loss of morale among the officers whom the former defendant will be forced to accuse of serious default. It is a depressing prospect and certainly we would welcome the noble Earl's comments on what we regard as valid criticisms.

Lord Renton

The noble Lord has not tabled any Motion relating to these amendments and therefore, as I understand it, there is nothing we can do but accept these Commons amendments. I should have thought from my rather quick attempt to assimilate them, that they were sound and in accordance with what we would have wished had we thought of them when the Bill was before us.

There happens to be a misprint in the Marshalled List in the last line of Amendment No. 137. The word "or' should read "or". No doubt that can be corrected in the ordinary way.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, when the correction to which my noble friend has drawn attention is made, perhaps the printer can look at the spelling of the word "proceedings" in the preceding line.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I had hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Irvine, would have been pleased with these amendments, and I am sorry to find that his welcome is only a cautious one. We do not accept that it is right to compensate where a person has been acquitted by the usual process of law. Where there has been serious default, that adds a quite different dimension.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

12.45 p.m.