HL Deb 27 January 2005 vol 668 cc1391-2


Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the provisions of Part 10 ("Retrial for Serious Offences") of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 will be brought into effect.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal (The Minister of State, Home Office)

My Lords, the provisions relating to retrials for serious offences in England and Wales will be announced as soon as possible.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that helpful reply. This Question is absolutely coincidental to the previous Question, which also dealt with delay. I should declare an interest: as long ago as 1997, as president of the Police Superintendents' Association, I campaigned for a change in the law on double jeopardy. More recently, I accompanied Mrs Anne Ming, the mother of a murder victim in Teesside, who was supportive of a change in the law to make it retrospective. Does the Minister agree that in cases of murder, where there has been a perverse acquittal and subsequently there is found to be new and compelling evidence, it is important that the retrial takes place speedily, not least for the closure that is required by the victim's relatives but also because it would put right a substantial miscarriage of justice?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend on the importance of retrials for serious offences in appropriate cases. For that reason, we introduced the provisions of Part 10 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. I absolutely agree with my noble friend that these issues should be undertaken as speedily as is reasonably practicable.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, are there any cases where there is an application to be made with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions for an acquittal to be reviewed by the Court of Appeal? How many are there and what is the need for these provisions?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I do not have those precise figures, but the noble Lord will remember that when we debated these issues extensively during the passage of the Criminal Justice Act, the need for such provisions was clearly laid out and the House, in its wisdom, together with the other place, decided that the provisions were merited. Nothing has changed since that time.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

My Lords, what was the cause of the delay in implementing them?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, there has been a great deal of work in preparation, both in relation to the guidance and to the rules. I would very much have liked to come to your Lordships' House today with a precise date. Indeed, my brief says three things: "as soon as possible", "on 23 March" and "on 4 April". I am not able to pick which and, therefore, I say to your Lordships, "as soon as possible".

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, can the Minister indicate the number of serious cases that are being re-examined by the police and does the Stephen Lawrence case form part of those investigations?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am unable to give the noble Lord the answer he seeks, but these provisions have been long awaited by a number of families, not least those cases where the defendant has been acquitted and subsequent DNA material and other fairly convincing material indicates that the acquittal may not have been sound. For those families, I cannot over-emphasise how much they have longed for these provisions. So, perhaps I may assure the House that we very much understand why we need to inject a degree of urgency and that I have strained every muscle to be able to come to your Lordships' House today to announce a date. It is a matter of great frustration to me that I am not able to say the date which I would most like to pick. But I assure your Lordships that I shall continue in my endeavours.

Lord Richard

My Lords, my noble friend will know that "as soon as possible" is capable of having a multitude of meanings. It could mean a distant or a near prospect. Do I understand from the comments of my noble friend today that "as soon as possible" means "spring"?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, your Lordships can be absolutely sure that it will be spring.