HC Deb 20 December 1954 vol 535 cc236-9W
Sir L. Plummer

114. 115 and 116. asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) why he refused to see a deputation of hon. Members who were concerned about the prerogative of mercy;

(2) if he will publish all the medical evidence which he considered when deciding not to advise a reprieve for Mrs. Christofi;

(3) whether he will publish the advice given to him by the trial judge in the case of Mrs. Christofi.

118. Mr. K. Robinson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why he declined to hear representations from a group of hon. Members before Mrs. Styllou Pantopiou Christofi was executed.

119 and 120. Mr. S. Silverman

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) for what reasons he decided not to advise Her Majesty the Queen to exercise Her royal prerogative of mercy in the case of Mrs. Styllou Pantopiou Christofi;

(2) what opportunities Dr. T. Christie, Principal Medical Officer at Holloway Prison, had of forming an opinion as to the mental condition of Mrs. Christofi; what opinion he, in fact, formed; and in what circumstances other medical evidence was sought, obtained, or provided.

Major Lloyd-George

Parliament has on many occasions recognised the undesirability of pressing the Home Secretary to disclose the reasons why he did or did not tender advice to the Crown with regard to the exercise of the Prerogative of Mercy in a capital case. So far as concerns the particular case of Mrs. Christofi, the principal medical officer at Holloway prison stated in a report dated 5th October, 1954, that after observation of the prisoner since 30th July, 1954, he had formed the conclusion that she was insane, but was medically fit to plead and to stand trial. A copy of that report was furnished to the defence.

At the trial, which began on 25th October, the defence did not raise the issue of insanity. After the dismissal of the prisoner's appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal, it fell to me to consider the case. If it appears to the Home Secretary in the case of a prisoner under sentence of death that there is reason to believe the prisoner to be insane, he must under the terms of Section 2 (4) of the Criminal Lunatics Act,1884, appoint two or more legally qualified medical practitioners to examine the prisoner and to inquire as to his insanity.

In view of the terms of Dr. Christie's report, I appointed three distinguished and experienced doctors to conduct an inquiry in accordance with this statutory provision. The three doctors reported to me that the prisoner was not in their view insane; and they added that in their view she did not suffer from any minor mental abnormality which would justify them in making any recommendation on medical grounds relevant to the question of a reprieve. When I had received this report it was then necessary for me to consider, in the light of all the available information, whether there were any grounds to justify my recommending any interference with the due process of law; and, after very full consideration, I regretfully came to the conclusion that there were no sufficient grounds for such a course.

It would be contrary to long-established practice, and, as I think, open to considerable objection, to disclose any advice tendered to the Home Secretary in a case of this kind by the trial Judge, or to disclose the terms of the medical report submitted by the statutory inquiry, and I am not prepared to make these documents available. When I was considering this case, I agreed, as an exceptional step, to see the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney North (Mr. Weitzman) who had acted as counsel for the defence at the trial. As regards, the request made to me to receive a deputation of other hon. Members, I am sure that, while it is of course open to Members of Parliament to submit representations to the Secretary of State, the House will agree that a Home Secretary should not be expected to receive oral representations, even from hon. Members, and to discuss the case with them, when he is engaged in the discharge of this onerous and anxious duty.

117. Mr. K. Robinson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what results were obtained from electro-encephalograph examination of Mrs. Styllou Pantopiou Christofi while she was in custody.

Major Lloyd-George

There was no such examination in this case as the prisoner would not agree to the examination being made.

121. Mr. S. Silverman

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why he did not refer to the Court of Criminal Appeal, under Section 19 of the Criminal Appeal Act, the question whether Mrs. Christofi was insane within the meaning of the criminal law at the time she committed the offence of which she was convicted, seeing that there was substantial evidence to establish such a defence, and that neither a jury nor the Court of Criminal Appeal had considered or determined that question.

Major Lloyd-George

In section 2 (4) of the Criminal Lunatics Act, 1884, Parliament made provision for the course to be followed by the Home Secretary when he had reason for believing that a prisoner lying under sentence of death might be insane. In the case of Mrs. Christofi, I followed the course provided for in that subsection and appointed three medical practitioners to examine the prisoner and inquire as to her insanity. In view of this statutory provision, it would have been quite inappropriate to have referred the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal under Section 19 of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1907; and I am reinforced in this view by the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice that if the case had been so referred there was nothing that the Court of Criminal Appeal could have done.

122. Mr. Parkin

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will give instructions that when a person in custody awaiting trial for murder has refused to allow evidence of insanity to be produced at the trial, this fact shall be brought to the notice of those bringing religious ministrations to the prisoner, so that the theological implications of such a refusal shall be fully understood.

Major Lloyd-George

There would be no point in my issuing such instructions, since the authorities have no means of knowing whether an accused person had declined to allow a certain defence to be put at his trial.

123. Mr. Parkin

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what religious advice from an authority of the Greek Orthodox Church was made available to Mrs. Christon while in custody awaiting trial.

Major Lloyd-George

Mrs. Ghristofi was visited assiduously by a priest of the Orthodox Greek Church throughout her time in prison, but I do not know what religious advice was given to her; nor would it be proper for me to ask.