HL Deb 22 April 1996 vol 571 cc891-3

Lord Ackner asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the reasons for the Home Secretary's continuing delay in publishing the report of the review of the law of murder, announced on 24th January 1995, and his conclusions thereon.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, this was always a sensitive and complex issue. However, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced the Government's conclusions on the review of the law of murder on 19th April when a copy of the report was placed in the Library. The Government are not persuaded that an adequate case has been made to change the law.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her Answer and also for her courtesy in sending me a copy of the report last Friday. It was the third time of asking and it demonstrated the validity of the proposition that perseverance doth keep honour bright.

I have two questions of the Minister, the first of which she will probably agree with but the second probably not. The first question is: does she agree that the essential question for the interdepartmental steering group was a short one; namely, where the accused overreacted and used excessive force to defend himself or prevent crime, but believed that such force was necessary and reasonable, he should be guilty of manslaughter and not murder, as recommended by the Criminal Law Revision Committee, the Law Commission and your Lordships' Select Committee and as supported by the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland and your Lordships' Appellate Committee in the Clegg case?

The second question is: does the Minister agree that the Home Secretary rejected those recommendations for a wholly fallacious reason; namely, and I quote from the report, because the defendant could only", and I emphasise the word "only", be convicted of manslaughter", thereby missing the entire point that in manslaughter the judge has the fullest discretion to sentence from life imprisonment down to conditional discharge?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, as regards the second question, I certainly do not agree that my right honourable friend has been fallacious at all. As regards the first question, there were four specific questions before the review. The first was whether a person who used excessive force resulting in death in self-defence or the maintenance of law and order should be liable to a charge of murder, manslaughter or some other charge. All previous reports were taken into account in coming to a view about that. The second was whether any specific, complete or partial defences should be provided. The third was whether a new defence or offence should apply only to soldiers and police officers or more generally. The fourth was whether official guidance to soldiers and police officers on the use of firearms should have any status in law. My right honourable friend commissioned that review. The review body has reported and its considerations are before your Lordships.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, may I ask a short and simple question? As this is a matter of considerable urgency and great importance, when may we expect a Bill?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it is a matter of some importance but not of great urgency because the recommendation is that there should be no change.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Minister will accept that this is not and should not be a party political issue. Perhaps I may concentrate on one of the issues with which the review was concerned, which is the question of whether there should be a separate law for the Armed Forces and the police? Will the Minister take it that we on these Benches strongly support the view that terrorism should be countered within the existing criminal law and that it would be wrong to have a separate law for the Armed Services and the police? Will she confirm that the Armed Forces and the police representatives would oppose such a change, as stated in the review?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am happy to put on record that the noble Lord has been entirely consistent over this matter. There has been a considerable body of evidence to support the conclusion that there should be no distinction between uniformed personnel and ordinary civilians.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us believe that the Government are extremely sensible not to become entangled in further amendments to the law on this somewhat controversial issue and believe that they are wise to leave things as they are?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's comments. It is worth noting that the conclusion, albeit that it discussed a third option, was anything but unequivocal on the point. It said that it gave rise to considerable debate.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that many of us on these Benches have views exactly the opposite to those of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, we live in a democracy and everybody has a right to a view. Having read the report, I believe that it is painstaking in its consideration of these matters and that, on balance, the conclusion that it is not an easy subject, but rather a difficult and delicate one, is correct.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the decision in the report strengthens even further the case for the abolition of the statutory mandatory life sentence?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it depends how one reads the conclusions. The report says that it is difficult to make changes in that particular aspect of the law without regarding more fundamental issues. However, the report does not conclude that we should necessarily resort to a fundamental review.

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