HL Deb 15 January 1991 vol 524 cc1087-8

3 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will cause an official apology to be made wherever there has been a miscarriage of justice.

Lord Reay

My Lords, it is of course a matter of great regret whenever a miscarriage of justice occurs. However, we must be clear that questions of guilt or innocence are for the courts to decide, free from interference by Ministers. The courts are not subject to government control, and equally the Government are not responsible for their decisions.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his expression of regret in such cases. Will he agree that an apology by the state for a miscarriage of justice need not and should not imply any criticism of the Judiciary? Will the Government take a leaf out of the Standing Orders of this House? Standing Order No. 30, which dates from at least 1626, states that the party offended should be given: a fit reparation and a full satisfaction". That means a handsome apology. If that were to happen should we not feel much better for it?

Lord Reay

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, every miscarriage of justice is a matter of great regret. It would be wrong to take any action that might lead to the Government being seen to take responsibility for the decision of the courts. The Government do not interfere with the safety of convictions but leave that matter to the courts. Therefore, it would be wrong to hold the Government responsible for convictions.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, is there any reason why the Judiciary should not apologise occasionally?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I do not believe that that is a matter for the Government.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is considerable public disquiet about the way in which we investigate what appear to be miscarriages of justice and deal with them? Have there not been tragic examples of that during the past two years? Is the Minister prepared—either personally or through a colleague—to consult with the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in order to ascertain whether the present procedure in the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, is satisfactory or whether another tribunal should be set up in order to deal with complaints of miscarriages of justice, many of which are most serious?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I acknowledge that certain cases have given rise to considerable concern. However, those cases relate to convictions which were secured during the 1970s and since then major reforms have been made. It is expected that the report by Sir John May will be published towards the end of the year. We hope that it will cover many such matters; and the Government will pay close attention to it.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the expression "free pardon" given under the Royal Prerogative is not a happy expression? It is not a pardon at all; it is a total exoneration.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the expression "free pardon" is used in order to distinguish it from a conditional pardon. That pardon with conditions was used in the Middle Ages, the period from which both terms originate.

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