HL Deb 19 May 1988 vol 497 cc574-5WA
Viscount Colville of Culross

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will give details of the further work they propose on the consequences when an accused person produces at his trial a line of defence which he has not previously mentioned to the police.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has started a discussion, which began with a lecture to the Police Foundation in July 1987 on a recommendation made by the Criminal Law Revision Committee in 1972. This was that the court should be able to draw whatever inferences appeared proper from the accused's failure, when interviewed by the police, to mention facts later relied on in his defence, and such failure should also be able to corroborate other evidence against him.

There has been a lively debate, and we have listened carefully to the arguments for and against change. We are not convinced that the protection can be justified. The case for change is strong. But we are persuaded by some of the comments which have been made that more careful work needs to be done before we can bring forward with confidence a specific proposal for legislation. We do not see the Criminal Justice Bill, which is already long and detailed, as the right vehicle for such a proposal.

The work which needs to be done covers such matters as the precise form of the change in the law which would best achieve our purposes given the significant changes in police and criminal procedure in England and Wales in recent years, and of any warning given by the police to suspects before commencing interviews; the practical implications, both for police interviews and in court; and the relevance of other measures to encourage early disclosure of the defence case. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will be asking a small working group under the chairmanship of a senior Home Office official to carry this work forward, and advise us by early next year, with a view to legislation in due course. The group will include a senior police officer, experienced members of both branches of the legal profession and a senior member of the Crown Prosecution Service. Since there will be implications for law and practice in Northern Ireland, we are, with the agreement of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, also arranging for an official from his office to serve on the Group.

The members of the working group will be:

Mr. W. J. Bohan, Head of the Criminal Policy Department, Home Office (chairman).

Mr. K. R. Ashken, Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr. Colin Bailey, Assistant Chief Constable (Crime), West Yorkshire Police.

Mr. B. A. Blackwell, Northern Ireland Office.

Mr. Michael Kalisher QC, Barrister and a Recorder of the Crown Court.

Mr. P. M. Raphael, Solicitor.