HL Deb 19 January 2004 vol 657 cc38-9WS
The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith)

Today's judgment in the Court of Appeal in the appeal against conviction of Angela Cannings has serious and far-reaching implications. The judgment has demonstrated that, in relation to unexplained infant deaths, where the outcome of the trial depends exclusively, or almost exclusively, on a serious disagreement between distinguished and reputable experts, it will often be unsafe to proceed. I share the unease expressed by the Court of Appeal in relation to such convictions.

Following similar reported comments of concern by the Court of Appeal at the conclusion of the hearing of this tragic case in December, I asked for all cases potentially involving sudden infant death syndrome to be identified as quickly as practicable. To date, some 258 convictions over the past 10 years have been identified involving the murder, manslaughter or infanticide of an infant aged under two years by its parent. These cases will be considered further as a matter of urgency to establish whether they bear the hallmarks of a conviction which the Court of Appeal judgment today has indicated may be unsafe. I expect this process to be completed swiftly over the coming weeks. I propose that in all cases which appear to meet the criteria laid down by the Court of Appeal the convicted person will be informed of these developments as soon as possible. The possibility then will be for the case to be referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) or for the convicted person, with legal advice, to consider an appeal out of time to the Court of Appeal. The CCRC has the power under the Criminal Appeals Act 1995 to consider whether the convictions should be referred to the Court of Appeal.

I am particularly concerned about cases where the defendant has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment which is still being served. We have so far identified 54 such cases which may involve sudden infant death syndrome. These will be accorded the highest priority.

I have already spoken to the chairman of the CCRC and will be meeting him in the coming week to discuss how the review of these cases can be expedited.

I have also asked the Crown Prosecution Service to conduct a review of the 15 ongoing cases involving an unexplained infant death of the sort described in today's judgment.