HC Deb 08 March 1990 vol 168 cc816-7W
Mr. John L. Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans the Government have for responding to the war crimes inquiry.

Mr. Waddington

The Government have now had the opportunity to consider the implications of the parliamentary debates held last December, and have concluded that legislation should be introduced to enable war crimes trials to be held in this country. I am introducing the Bill today. It gives effect to the principal recommendation of the war crimes inquiry that British courts should be given jurisdiction over offences of murder, culpable homicide and manslaughter committed as war crimes in Germany or German-occupied territory during the period of the Second World War, by persons who are now British citizens or resident in the United Kingdom. The Bill also provides, as the inquiry recommended in paragraph 9.43, for the use in war crimes trials of the procedure for transfer to the Crown Court without committal proceedings, which is already available in respect of serious fraud cases; the Bill mirrors the provisions for fraud trials by providing for the Crown Court to dismiss a charge prior to trial, where it appears to the judge that there would be insufficient evidence to convict. Finally, the Bill provides authority for central government to meet the costs of war crimes investigations in England and Wales.

The War Crimes Bill contains no other provisions. In respect of the other procedural recommendations in the war crimes report, the Government have reached the following conclusions:

  1. (i) Live Television Evidence (paragraph 9.34). Section 32 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 already provides for the admissibility of live television evidence from abroad in proceedings in England and Wales. The Government intend to bring the provision into effect in the first instance in respect of homicide trials and trials of serious and complex fraud with further areas becoming covered as resources allow. No provision for live television evidence from abroad yet exists in Scottish law: appropriate amendments are to be tabled in the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill.
  2. (ii) Powers to request evidence to be taken on commission abroad and the admissibility of video recordings of evidence taken abroad by letters of request (paragraphs 9.37 and 9.38). Clause 3 of the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill, now before Parliament, provides for the issuing of letters of request seeking the taking of evidence abroad. This will include a facility by which evidence can be taken on commission. The admissibility of documentary evidence, subject to appropriate safeguards as to the circumstances in which the evidence was taken and the fairness of its use in trials, was provided for in England and Wales by Part II of, and Schedule 2 to, the Criminal Justice Act 1988. This would mean, for example, that video recordings of evidence taken as a result of a letter of request could be introduced where it would be safe to do so. The position in Scottish law concerning the admissibility of documentary evidence is to be clarified by amendments to the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill.
  3. (iii) Admissibility of evidence from persons now dead (paragraph 9.41). The Government believe that the courts can admit such evidence (where it is safe to do so) and that no change in the law is required in this respect.
  4. (iv) Authentication of archives without oral testimony (paragraph 9.42). The Government have decided that no change to the law should be made to accommodate this proposal.