HL Deb 27 October 1993 vol 549 cc846-7

2.59 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the total cost to public funds of the attempted prosecution of three police officers in connection with their alleged involvement in the prosecution of the Birmingham Six.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, the relevant costs will be those incurred by the police, Crown Prosecution Service, court and legal aid fund since the quashing of the convictions of the Birmingham Six on 27th March 1991. It is not yet possible to provide any reliable costings.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that not very conclusive Answer. Was it not obvious from the beginning that these three officers could not possibly have a fair trial, as was ultimately decided, and would it not have been much more sensible not to have incurred public expenditure in mounting it?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the task of the prosecuting authorities is to consider the evidence and to take a decision in the light of that evidence as to whether a case can be mounted. They did so and the judge decided that the prosecution should be stayed. I believe that it is for the court to decide such a matter and that it is not, generally speaking, a matter on which the prosecution could take a final decision.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor agree, bearing in mind what was disclosed when the Birmingham Six defendants were acquitted in the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, and the fact that undoubtedly there was a prima facie case against the defendants, that it was the Director of Public Prosecution's duty to launch the prosecutions and that she properly fulfilled that duty?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I answer on behalf of the prosecuting authorities. From their point of the view the answer to the question put by the noble Lord must be yes, certainly.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I support what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. Is my noble friend aware that the judge's decision to stop the trial in view of the publicity, because a fair trial could not be had on the charges as laid in the indictment, is a most welcome feature of our system of justice and one which may well apply if indictments are laid under the War Crimes Act? Does he agree that that involves no criticism of the media, the judiciary or indeed the due administration of justice?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I have already stated the position of the prosecuting authorities in relation to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. It would not be appropriate for me to express a view on the judicial decision, which was adverse to the submission of the prosecuting authorities. It is clear that the judge intended no criticism of the media in his judgment. It is true that the power that the judge exercised would be available to the court to prevent any possible miscarriage of justice on that ground in the event of prosecutions under the War Crimes Act.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, in view of the remarks of the trial judge in the case and the Court of Appeal in the case of the Taylor sisters earlier in the year as well as the recent and continuing publicity in a number of rape cases, some of which continued while the publicity went on, will Her Majesty's Government consider whether a review of the extent to which criminal prosecutions may be subject to press coverage before conviction is necessary?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the Government took the initiative after the decision of the Court of Human Rights to promote the Contempt of Court Bill which became an Act after one significant amendment made by this House. The position appears to me to be satisfactorily regulated by that Act. It is for consideration in individual cases whether or not the criteria set out in that Act have been breached. So far as concerns particular types of cases—a type, I believe, included in the noble Baroness's question—there is a point about publicity and particularly publicity in regard to identification of the parties, which is subject to review at the present moment.