HL Deb 21 May 2002 vol 635 cc639-41

2.56 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have made to the Indian authorities about the alleged miscarriage of justice in the case of Ian Stillman.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the British Government have made repeated representations to the Indian authorities on behalf of Ian Stillman. Our objectives have been to ensure proper conditions for him and a transparent and expeditious judicial process. The judicial process concluded on 6th May this year. We have noted the allegation of a miscarriage of justice and await permission from Mr Stillman and his family to refer the case to a lawyer on our pro bono panel to obtain legal advice on this.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, does my noble friend recall that Ian Stillman is an Englishman, who was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in India because cannabis was found in a taxi in which he was travelling with other people. Ian Stillman is profoundly deaf and relies upon sign language, yet at his trial he was denied an interpreter, which meant that he could not follow the proceedings. That means that he did not have a fair trial. As my noble friend knows, the organisation Fair Trials Abroad has said that this is the worst miscarriage of justice that it has ever seen. I ask my noble friend whether it is possible for the Government to institute vigorous, urgent and determined action at the highest level, not only in regard to his conditions in gaol, but also on his conviction.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am aware of the facts of the case and that Ian Stillman is profoundly deaf. I am also aware of the comments made by Fair Trials Abroad. We have been active in Mr Stillman's case, not only with respect to his welfare, but also, on a number of occasions, in raising this case with the Indian authorities. We have reached the point where the judicial process has come to an end and we are waiting to hear from Mr Stillman's family what next steps they intend to take. On that basis we shall determine the next steps that the Government take. We have to understand what Ian Stillman and his family intend to do next.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, is Mr Stillman's family being given any advice by the Government?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, Mr Stillman's family is being given advice by the Government about his welfare. The legal aspects of his case are being handled by Mr Stillman's legal representatives. We have offered the use of a lawyer from our pro bono legal panel.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, I speak as a trustee of Fair Trials Abroad. Does the Minister recognise that this state of affairs does not apply to Mr Stillman alone? In many countries around the world people suffering from deafness, or other disabilities that interfere with their ability to understand what is taking place in a trial, do not receive proper assistance. Will the Government take all steps open to them to ensure that proper practices are observed in foreign trials?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, with respect to Mr Stillman's disability, I am aware that disparaging remarks were made about that at the recent trial. I have asked our High Commissioner in Delhi to take up the matter with the Indian authorities. Of course we shall look at other ways in which we can bring this to the attention of authorities in other countries of the world where this practice is ongoing.

We have explained our policy on pardons and clemency pleas to Mr Stillman's family. We consider supporting pleas on a case-by-case basis as a last resort. That is why we await a decision from his family as to the steps they would wish to take next.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I am sorry to come hack again, but can my noble friend respond to my points about top-level representation by the Government and making application not only on his prison conditions but on his conviction?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, as I hope I have explained, we support pleas for clemency and on pardons on a case-by-case basis if there is prima facie evidence of a miscarriage of justice. We also support pleas on health grounds if a prisoner is chronically ill or where continued incarceration would endanger or reduce life expectancy. But in order to do that we need a decision from the family and from the individual.

With respect to top-level representation, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has discussed our concerns with the Indian authorities. Of course we shall continue to think about the most appropriate level at which representations should be made once the next steps have been decided.