HL Deb 10 December 2003 vol 655 cc748-50

2.53 p.m.

Lord Renton

asked Her Majesty's Government: Given that much of the legislation dealing with criminal justice has recently been amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2003, whether they will take steps as soon as possible to consolidate that Act and those statutes which were subject to amendment.

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith)

My Lords, the Criminal Justice Act received Royal Assent less than three weeks ago. It is too early to say what consolidations might eventually be undertaken as a result of the Act's passage. However, the Government are committed to modernising and consolidating the criminal law with the eventual production of a criminal code in four parts as proposed by Sir Robin Auld. We are currently considering how best that work should be taken forward and will be looking at the Criminal Justice Act 2003 in that context.

Lord Renton

My Lords, while thanking the noble and learned Lord for that helpful reply, may I just point out that the recent Criminal Justice Act is about 450 pages long and that it makes many amendments to 24 previous statutes dealing with criminal law and justice and a few amendments relating to may other statutes? Quite frankly, if there is no consolidation, we shall have a chronic situation in dealing with this matter.

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, consolidation is not always a straightforward task. In fact, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 itself contains an element of consolidation; for example, the sentencing provisions in Part 12 include a degree of re-enactment of previous provisions. However, to produce a full consolidation would place an intensive demand on the time of parliamentary counsel, require resources from departmental lawyers and require that we find a legislative vehicle. So while I understand what motivates the noble Lord in his Question, I hope that what I said before about the programme of codification which we have in mind will meet the objectives about which he is concerned.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord accept that there are many other fields of statute law in which consolidation is highly desirable; for example, in the law of leaseholds? Why is it that we have had so few consolidation Acts in recent Sessions, and does the noble and learned Lord agree that consolidation is essential if the tracing of legislation is to be made reasonably simple?

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, I entirely agree that consolidation is desirable. However, as I just said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, it is not a straightforward task. It can place intensive demands on the time of parliamentary counsel and the Law Commission, and it would be necessary to use departmental lawyers and administrators. It would also be necessary to find a vehicle for it. However, I understand the noble Lord's underlying point.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, does not the handling in this House of Clauses 41 and 42 of the Criminal Justice Act, which went far beyond acceptable convention, show that some Members of this House pay lip service to the primacy of the House of Commons? Should not the handling of Clause 42 in particular, on the question of serious fraud cases, become a cause ceélèebre in so far as it is damaging the relationship between the two Houses?

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, I do not want to comment on the views of individual Members of this House, but I agree with my noble friend's underlying point about the constitutional importance of the primacy of the other place. As for Clause 42, which relates to serious fraud, as the Minister responsible for the Serious Fraud Office, I have real concerns about where we have ended up and about the undesirability—and this goes back way before this particular Act, to the Roskill report, many years ago— of expecting juries to sit 10 or 11 months or even longer listening to complicated matters and reaching a decision on them. I am very worried that we produce a two-tier system of justice—one for the white-collar criminal and one for the blue-collar criminal—by doing it that way.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

My Lords, using perhaps the Terrorism Act 2000 as a good example, does the noble and learned Lord accept that there has been extensive and repeated amendment of even very recent legislation? As a staging post towards codification of the criminal law, would the Government consider establishing a free website library so that police officers and others can see an up-to-date version at any given time of all important criminal justice legislation?

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, when there is new legislation, a great deal of information is provided to those who have to operate with it. The Home Office issues circulars and guidance to the police. The courts, lawyers and other practitioners receive information from the Department for Constitutional Affairs. There are also websites; I am told that the Criminal Justice Act, for example, is explained on a website. As for the noble Lord's particular point on the Terrorism Act, I shall certainly ask for that to be considered.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, is not my noble friend Lord Renton right to have brought the House's attention to the fact that it is important to have consolidation of statute so that there is information which is clear to all about what the law actually means? While welcoming the very constructive answer of the noble and learned Lord, may I invite him to go further? As a first stage towards this review, on each and every occasion that a Bill is presented to this House, could we not have a Keeling schedule so that all matters may be properly debated and the public may see those matters?

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, as the noble Baroness will recall, during passage of the Bill—certainly during passage of the part for which I was responsible—I made available to noble Lords taking part in the debate not quite a Keeling schedule, which would appear in the Act, but a print of what the statute would look like if the amendments were made.

However, I remind the House that in order to pass the legislation necessary for the protection of the people, we have to focus and concentrate on getting that legislation right. Resource allocations are between getting the legislation right, responding to the concerns of the public and producing something in a consolidated form that is available to lawyers and others to see how the Act looks.