§ 11.48 a.m.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
I wish to raise the case of two young Lanarkshire men, John Currie and Peter Connor, who are, at present, in prison. John Currie is serving a sentence of 10 years and Peter Connor a sentence of seven years. The particular action of which they were accused and sentenced happened a long time ago, on the night of 9th—10th September, 1962.
These two men were tried on the 14th December at Glasgow before Lord Walker and a jury. They were tried on a number of charges, the most serious of which was attempted murder. The charge was that having stolen a motor car from East Kilbride in Lanarkshire, in the pursuit that followed, when they were caught up with by three constables of the Lanarkshire police force, John Currie and Peter Connor and a third man, Joseph Higgins, who was not tried on this occasion, but tried subsequently, on two occasions drove the stolen car that they were driving in front of the police car while both cars were travelling at speeds of 90 to 100 miles per hour, and that they threw various articles, metal objects and the back seat of the stolen car, at the pursuing police car to avoid apprehension and in a manner that showed a complete disregard for the lives of the policemen.
Because of this, they were charged with attempted murder and were found guilty on a majority verdict. I emphasise that only a majority of the jury agreed that they were guilty. As I have said, John Currie was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment and Peter Connor to seven years.
It is a long time since that happened and it might seem strange that I am raising the matter on the last day of this Parliament. The noble Lady the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland knows, however, that both I and my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), who is also here this morning, have both been concerned about this case for a long time. We first raised it in January, 1963.
While I have every respect for the noble Lady, I am more than disappointed 1957 —I am annoyed—that it is the noble Lady who has come today to reply to this case and not her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The noble Lady—I say this with great respect to her—has had nothing to do with the case. She does not have the power to do what we are asking the Secretary of State to do.
The very fact that the noble Lady has been asked to come here rather than her right hon. Friend confirms me in the feeling which I have had all along when I have heard from her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—and I have heard more than once—that he had given the case the most careful consideration but was not prepared to do what we were asking him to do. This is indicative of what seems to me to be an attitude which did not show that very great care was given to the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North and myself.
We raised the matter in January, 1963, and were told by the Secretary of State for Scotland that he had given very careful consideration to the case and saw no reason to intervene. We continued to raise the matter. I was given a copy of the direction to the jury by the presiding judge at the initial trial and a copy of the opinion expressed by the noble Lord who heard the appeal on 17th January, 1963. Both I and my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North have studied those documents. After studying them, I told the Secretary of State that it was not possible to argue that one had carefully considered the case if one had no more than those documents upon which to consider it. It seemed that up to that time the Secretary of State for Scotland had no more than those documents.
I directed to the Secretary of State the point that before I could form any reasonable opinion on the matter—because, as the noble Lady knows, there is quite a bit of feeling in Lanarkshire that these men were wrongly accused of attempted murder—I would certainly have to be able to read the verbatim account of the trial. I will say for the Secretary of State that eventually, probably at great inconvenience and trouble, he enabled me to obtain for perusal a copy of the verbatim report of the trial.
1958 I went over it very carefully, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North.
We submitted to the Secretary of State for Scotland a fairly lengthy document based upon our study of the verbatim account of the trial. We alleged, in effect, that the three principal witnesses, the Lanarkshire police constables, had collectively prepared the evidence which they had given at the trial and that they had acted in collusion. We put an abundance of points which we had taken from the evidence at the trial supporting our argument of collusion. We made the point that some of the evidence was so fantastic that it was unbelievable.
On those two points, I asked the Secretary of State to use the powers which he possesses under Section 16 of the Criminal Appeal (Scotland) Act, 1926 which gives him virtually unlimited powers if he is satisfied that a matter requires to be looked at again. Whether or not there is an appeal, the Secretary of State has power to refer all or any part of the matter back to the court for its opinion or for retrial. We appealed to the Secretary of State to use those powers. We saw the Secretary of State and spent a lot of time with him discussing the case, but he refused to do as we asked.
On the occasion of our first appeal, he refused to exercise his powers on the ground that what we had submitted in our document about collusion and the fantastic nature of some of the evidence was all contained within the verbatim account of the trial and that we had produced no new evidence. Everything which we had said had already been said and, therefore, as there was no new evidence, the Secretary of State was not prepared to exercise his powers. I agree that there was a certain amount of reason in that view, but it is important to remember that the Secretary of State turned down our appeal on the ground that everything that we said had been extracted from the verbatim account of the trial. We were inventing nothing. We were studying the case, perhaps, more carefully than a jury could have done and, having done so, we were presenting the evidence from a later standpoint. We also have been told on more than one occasion that the case had already 1959 been subject to appeal and that the appeal had been rejected.
It is important to bear in mind the grounds on which the appeal was decided. For greater accuracy, I will quote those grounds. There were two specific points on which the case was appealed. This was on 17th December, 1963, and I quote from the expressed opinion of Lord Patrick. This opinion was subsequently endorsed by his two colleagues Lords Mackintosh and Strachan.
Lord Patrick said:The first point which is taken in this appeal is that the judge in his charge, when he directed the jury that it was open to them to return a verdict of simple assault if that which had been done was a mere careless or negligent act, and that it was open to them to return a verdict of attempt to murder if they held that these things which had been done were deliberate acts, should have directed the jury that there was a middle course open to them, namely, that they might find the accused guilty only of an aggravated assault, such as assault with intent to cause severe injury. The judge did not do so. He told the jury that the two courses were open to them either of finding guilt of simple assault or of finding guilt of attempt to murder. Now, when one looks at that which was alleged to have happened in this case and that which the jury must have held proved to have happened, I cannot see that any other verdict was open to the jury in this particular case than that of attempt to murder.That was the first point, that there had been, in fact, a middle course, and Lord Patrick, supported by his noble friends, accepted the argument that there had been a middle course and upheld the presiding judge, Lord Walker, in what he had put to the jury.
The second point on which appeal was made was:His charge"—that is, the judge's charge—was also challenged as being defective on the matter of concert. The situation was that Connor, the driver, was said to have made the two attempts to drive the police car off the road, and that Currie, who was in the back seat of the car, was said to have thrown some heavy articles out of it at the police car. Accordingly, the two could not be convicted of all that was done unless the jury found concert proved. I confess that, having read the judge's charge, in which he treated the matter of concert on two occasions, I have found a completely adequate charge on the law of concert, and in this respect also I am of opinion that no justifiable criticism can be 1960 made of the judge's charge. I therefore move your Lordships that the applications for leave to appeal be refused.So the second point was the concept of concert. I hope that I can say without presumption that for my part, having myself read the presiding judge's direction to the jury, I feel he made the point of concert adequately here and I would certainly have no complaint to make in that connection.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North and I continued to feel concern about this question over a long time. We have not lightly dealt with it; we have not felt that it was a matter of unimportance; but neither of us was satisfied, nor are we satisfied, that these two men were in fact properly charged, and that the charge could have been a charge of attempted murder, and on this we continued our efforts to do something on their behalf. We visited them in prison. I myself have been twice to prison to see these two men, and I have talked with them at considerable length to hear their side of the case.
It was in December last year that we got what seemed to be virtually the final notice from the Secretary of State. He refused any appeal we might make to use his powers, and it was then that we returned to the presiding judge's charge to the jury for closer study. It is now on the basis of the judge's charge to the jury that I raise this matter this morning, and what I am putting to the noble Lady, and what I put to her right hon. Friend, is on the basis of there being major omissions in the case for the defence that was presented by the presiding judge to the jury, major omissions which were unwittingly made, but which, nevertheless, having been made, might have had a powerful influence on the jury in favour of the case for the prosecution and against the case for the defence. It is on those grounds that we are making this appeal this morning.
I want to be careful in what I say, and I propose to stick very closely to what I have written here, because I appreciate that this is a delicate matter. In his description to the jury on the law of murder and attempted murder, Lord Walker said:Murder itself is essentially a wilful act. A careless act which results in death can never 1961 be murder. It must be intentional, and the kind of intention which is involved in murder is this. Murder is a wilful act which is either (a) intended to kill, or (b) intended to injure recklessly and without limitation as to the amount of the injury so as to show complete recklessness as to the consequences to life.He went on:Of course, intention to kill is a very difficult thing to draw because you cannot know what is inside a man's mind, what he means. Therefore the law says that if the nature of the act is such as to show or infer the intention to injure recklessly so as to be regardless of the consequences to life that also is murder".
§ Mr. Speaker
Would the hon. Member be good enough to assist me? I understand that he is reading a direction which has been given. I am sure he will bear in mind before he comments on it that he could not criticise that save on a substantive Motion.
§ Mr. Lawson
You put me in difficulty, Mr. Speaker. I am appealing here to the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, unfortunately, is not in his place, to use his powers under the Criminal Appeal (Scotland) Act, 1926, and so that I may persuade him that he use those powers I am trying to argue that the presiding judge, in his directions to the jury, omitted major points in the case for the defence. I am not criticising the judge—
§ Mr. Speaker
I understand what the hon. Member is doing and how he is trying to steer a very difficult course along a knife-edge, but I am involved in the rules of the House, and a Member cannot, save on a substantive Motion, criticise what a judge has done, acting as such, and criticism—the hon. Member will forgive me if I do not use the right Scots word—criticism of the direction, even if used for that purpose for which the hon. Member is now using it, would require a substantive Motion.
§ Mr. Lawson
In which case Mr. Speaker, I shall be driven to abandon what I had very carefully prepared with the intention of being as fair as I possibly could, and will describe in my own words what happened without giving quotations, and what seemed to me to be those major omissions. I take it that I may, without quoting the judge, describe certain of the features of evidence which were presented at the trial, those parts of the evidence which 1962 I have studied in the verbatim account. I can enumerate, I take it, Mr. Speaker, major omissions, but without, in this case, criticising the judge's words, or giving any particular quotation from the judge.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is very difficult for the hon. Member and for me. What involves difficulty for him is stating alleged omissions from the learned judge's direction. If the hon. Member can manage to refer to the omissions without relating them to what would appear to be an allegation of error in the direction, then he will be all right.
§ Mr. Lawson
I will do what I can, Sir.
The case hinged around the chase of three men. This afternoon, I am concerned only with two. They had stolen a car on the night from 9th to 10th September, 1962. They were caught up with by three constables from the Lanarkshire police near Abington, on the A.74, which, as you may know, Mr. Speaker, is the principal route from Glasgow south to Carlisle. The police who chased the three men were in a Jaguar, and the men were in a Vauxhall.
During the trial the police witnesses alleged that when they were overtaking a stolen Vauxhall car their vehicle was travelling at a speed of 100 miles an hour. I wish to emphasise that point. Each of the policemen, under oath, insisted upon the accuracy of the speed at which they were travelling. Each was presented by the prosecution as an expert in judging speed, and as officers equipped with a car in which they travelled regularly and capable of measuring speed. Each of those policemen in their sworn evidence stated that they were overtaking the stolen Vauxhall when travelling at a speed of 100 miles an hour. The Vauxhall was travelling at about 95 miles an hour. It was in the middle of the night, when a high wind was blowing and heavy rain falling.
The police witnesses alleged that when the bonnet of their Jaguar car had reached halfway along the body of the fleeing Vauxhall car the driver of the Vauxhall glanced round, saw that the police were overtaking him and suddenly swerved his car in front of the police car. Only by a miracle—according top 1963 each of the policemen—and because of the wonderful brakes with which the police car was equipped, was it possible for the driver of the police car to stop the vehicle so that they could save themselves. On the second occasion, only a short distance further down the road, when the cars were travelling at 90 miles an hour the same thing happened, but on this ocassion the police were watching for it and were not in the same danger.
The cars turned from the main road into a little side road called Greenhill-stairs Road. The police allege that while they were travelling along this road a variety of articles were thrown from the Vauxhall car at the police car. They included a hammer, a boring bit, a tyre lever, spanners and the back seat of the Vauxhall car. I ask the House to consider that point. The car was travelling at 80 miles an hour on a little twisty road. The men in the fleeing car were said to have opened the door of their vehicle, while travelling at 80 miles an hour, and thrown the back seat of their vehicle at the police car. They did not just topple the back seat out while the vehicle was doing 20 miles an hour as the men subsequently said that they did. They were said to have thrown out the back seat of their car, while travelling at 80 miles an hour, and endangered the lives of the police and attempted to wreck their car; and so, in this sense they were accused of attempted murder. The men subsequently escaped. They turned their car into a field, smashed through a gate and got on to the hills. They escaped from the three police constables although, as the noble Lady will know, there were many other events that night and, finally, one of the men was picked up.
I wish to make the point about the speeds. Speed in this case is all important. The danger to the constables hinges on the speed at which the cars are alleged to have been travelling. For the defence it was argued that the police had greatly exaggerated the speed at which they were travelling and in so doing had greatly exaggerated the danger in which they were placed. In fact, it was a case of blowing up the evidence about speed in order to substantiate a charge of attempted murder. One of the men had a bad character and it is widely said that it was an effort to get rid of him, the man Currie. The second man, 1964 Connor, had no previous convictions against him at all.
I put it that one cannot judge this case subsequently—one can read no documents about it—unless one takes the matter of speed fully into account and considers whether these speeds were possible. The action of the men was described as opening the door of their car and holding it open while travelling along in the middle of the night and throwing articles out of the car—not out of the car windows, but out of the car. One would have to consider whether it was possible to identify the articles as they came out; whether it was possible to identify in the glare of headlights a hammer and a boring bit in the moment when those articles came out, as the police in their evidence said that they did. The case for the defence was that this kind of thing was virtually unbelievable. I say, therefore, that the question of speed is all important when judging the accuracy of the charge brought against the men.
There is also the question of the state of the roads over which the chase took place. It is a remarkable fact that in connection with a charge of this seriousness—I think that it reflects very much on court practice—neither the defence nor the prosecution took the trouble to ascertain the width of the roads or what road works were in progress. I have travelled over a substantial part of the route over which the chase took place and I have checked for myself, although the prosecution did not do so. I do not blame the defence counsel, because he took up his duties only an hour before the trial started and had not much opportunity to ascertain all these facts.
According to information from the proper authorities the first part of the road where the chase really began is a dual carriageway for six miles. This dual carriageway had been opened only recently at the time of the chase, it was opened early in 1962. I have ascertained that the carriageway is 24 ft. wide. In their evidence the police witnesses insisted that the carriageway was 30 ft. wide. After the six miles of dual carriageway there was four-and-three-quarter miles of road which was under repair or reconstruction. Then came two miles of road down to the Dumfries-Lanark border which was clear. I am informed that here the width of 1965 the road is 20 ft. to 24 ft. From the Dumfries border to the Greenhillstairs Road the road surface was clear, about 24 ft. wide and in decent repair.
The Greenhillstairs Road where it is said that various things were thrown cut of the Vauxhall car including the back seat, when the vehicle was travel-ling at 80 miles an hour, was said by the police to be 20 ft. wide. The defence said that it was 12 ft. wide. I have ascertained that it is 14 ft. wide and is a most tortuous and twisting road. It is unfenced and has a bad surface. It is on this road that these enormous speeds are said to have been attained and the door of the Vauxhall car to have been hauled open and objects thrown out.
Beyond the Greenhillstairs Road a substantial part of the road over which the chase occurred was also under repair and turned up, but I need not discuss that since most of the action which I am describing took place before the cars came to this part of the road. I put it to the noble Lady, as I should have put to her right hon. Friend had he been present, that the nature of the road surface was a vital matter to take into account in considering the question of the guilt or innocence of the men. No one could have defended or properly prosecuted in the case without knowing accurately what the roads were like. Yet they all guessed at it.
Similarly, with the point I have used about feasibility. If one is to consider a case of this sort one must consider whether the actions alleged were feasible—for example, to overtake a fleeing car at 100 m.p.h. on a road 24 ft. broad—one of the dual carriageways—to look round and, when the pursuing car was half way past the fleeing car, suddenly to swerve in front of the pursuing car. This was described as an attempt to kill or to injure recklessly without regard to consequences to life.
I would have submitted that this was equally an attempt to commit suicide if the action took place in this way. Up to that time these men had done only the crime of stealing a car. That is bad enough, but why should they want to commit suicide? It was just as much an attempt to commit suicide, but no one ever said this in the trial. No one described these difficult circumstances.
1966 I recognise, Mr. Speaker, that I am getting on to difficult ground and I come back to what I will take as a summary. The very kernel of what I wish to put to the House—and I am almost denied the possibility of doing it—is that the men were accused of attempted murder. The jury was asked to decide on the question of attempted murder. It was impressed on the jury that murder entailed deliberate action. Accidental or careless actions without thought could not be murder or attempted murder. Deliberateness was all-important.
In the way in which the case was presented to the jury, the facts upon which the jury was to form an opinion as to whether the actions had taken place or not, there were a variety of actions or a variety of allegations of actions which had to be decided before the jury could decide whether or not the case had been conducted as described. The jury had to take into account the nature of the roads, the question of speed, the feasibility and possibility of holding open the door of a fleeing car and throwing the back seat out while going at 80 m.p.h. on a tortuous road 14 ft. broad.
The jury had to think of the possibility of identifying these articles as they came flying through the air at 80 m.p.h. They had to think of the possibility of each policeman identifying in the same words and the same order and picking on the same articles. They had to weigh in their minds the fact that no one identified these articles as his own. They were not identified by the owner of the stolen Vauxhall. He had never seen them before. He identified some papers that had been on the back seat and the back seat was identified, but the tyre lever, the boring bit, the hammer and one or two other articles which the police said had been picked up subsequently, were never identified by the owner of the car. No one probed the question of where they came from.
If one were to judge whether or not this case had been as described by the prosecution, these matters would be vital. The first question which surely the jury should have decided for itself was whether those actions had taken place sufficiently as described, although not necessarily exactly as described. If they decided that the actions had taken place and accepted all the feasibility of 1967 these things and said, "We consider the accused guilty of those actions," the subsequent question would be, had these actions taken place deliberately, bearing in mind that to find them guilty of attempted murder, the question of deliberateness was all-important? The jury was never asked to decide on these prior questions.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The road is getting very narrow at this point because the invitation to them to decide could, I think, only mean one coming from the Bench in the circumstances. I think that the hon. Member will have to be very cautious now.
§ Mr. Lawson
I have said nearly as much as I want to say about this case. I will give my reasons for raising it this afternoon. My hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) and I raised the question with, among others, the Lord Advocate as well as the Secretary of State for Scotland. We went to see the Lord Advocate and discussed it with him at great length. He undertook to inquire into it. He did so and assured us that he was perfectly satisfied that everything had been conducted as it had to be conducted. He said in a letter to us that we should bear in mind that in those matters it was not merely a question of the jury acting on their own and having to be convinced; there was also the question of the judge. Having before him the judge's directions to the jury, he said that these directions had been detailed and eminently fair.
I think that I have said enough to show that in my study, without implying wilfulness on anyone's part, one could not judge this case fairly and reasonably merely on the basis of the directions that were given. I therefore ask that the Secretary of State should use the power he undoubtedly has. This power is given to the Secretary of State precisely because of this possible danger. He, having the facts or arguments advanced, should study these things. We do not want to be fobbed off with a statement that he has given careful consideration to something and then to come to the conclusion that he has not even read what has been submitted.
One of these men is not an innocent person. I do not claim that, but it seems 1968 that on this count he has been sent to prison for 10 years on a charge of attempted murder which should have been a charge of stealing a car, perhaps stealing a second or third car. I am not satisfied from all my studies of this matter that these men were rightly charged and convicted of attempted murder. They were sent to prison for 10 years and one of them with no previous convictions, who presumably, was suffering because of the company he kept, was sent to prison for seven years.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member cannot criticise the sentence of the court in this matter. He must withdraw the implied criticism.
§ Mr. Lawson
It is a pity that we set an organisation on a pinnacle and that that organisation is allowed to criticise all sorts of people. However, I will withdraw my remarks.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member must not say that. It is only that the occasion he chooses is not appropriate to criticise. He can criticise on an appropriate Motion, but not on the Motion, "That this House do now adjourn".
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
I do not intend to take much time, but my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) and I have been pursuing this case for a very long time. Peter Connor is a constituent of mine. He is a young man who has never been in any trouble before, as far as I understand. He is now serving a sentence of seven years. He has a fine young wife and a child at home waiting for him. With Currie, he was accused of attempted murder.
I want right at the beginning to say how much sympathy I have with the difficulties of the police in such cases. Neither my hon. Friend nor I make any suggestion that either Currie or Connor was innocent of any crime on that evening. There is no doubt that they stole this car. There is no doubt that my constituent, Peter Connor, was driving this car. My hon. Friend has given many details, and had he not run into difficulties of what one can deal with in the House, he would have been able to give further details. I am in full agreement with all that he said, and there is only 1969 one point which I wish to stress before the nobly Lady replies.
Living in Lanarkshire, as I do, I know the nature of this road. I know the dual carriageway and, particularly, I know this side road along which the car travelled. It seems to me that one of the important matters which should have been thoroughly investigated during the trial was the nature of the road over which the two cars were being driven, because it is impossible for me to believe that any car of any kind, even driven by people who wanted to avoid being arrested by the police, could possibly on that night and on that narrow winding road have travelled at a speed of 80 m.p.h. That is part of the case to which I take the greatest objection—the fact that it was not considered worth while that these roads should be thoroughly examined in the light of the evidence which was given in order to ensure what were the possibilities that these speeds could have been reached and even if those speeds could have been reached—and I do not think that they could—what were the possibilities of these men taking the actions which it is said they took in throwing these things out of the car. It is almost on that one point alone that I am asking the noble Lady to ask the Secretary of State to use the powers which he definitely has under the Criminal Appeal (Scotland) Act.
I am concerned about this on behalf of all the police in Lanarkshire and in the rest of Scotland. I am concerned that this power should be used by the Secretary of State not only because of my constituent, Peter Connor, but also because of the good name of the police force in Scotland. There is a very strong feeling in Lanarkshire that an injustice has been done to Connor and Currie. If the Secretary of State would use his power under the Act he would settle that matter one way or another.
I have always thought that in this fair democratic country of ours, justice was not only done but every attempt was made by the powers-that-be so that justice could be clearly seen to be done. Because of all the feeling about this case, which has been so excellently described by my hon. Friend, there is a very strong feeling that justice was not done in it. It is for that reason, for my constituent, and also for the good name of the police in Lanarkshire and the rest of Scotland 1970 that I ask the noble Lady to urge the Secretary of State to use the definite powers which he possesses.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lady Tweedsmuir)
I admire the diligence with which the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) and the hon. Lady for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) have pursued this case for over 18 months. In particular, I assure the hon. Member for Motherwell that the care with which he and his hon. Friends have studied all the circumstances of the case have been matched by the equal care shown, certainly by the Lord Advocate and also by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. A great deal of consideration has been given to the matter.
I am sorry that the hon. Member feels disappointed that I am at the Box this morning, but I assure him that I have had the advantage of reading all the memoranda and documents on this matter, including the information on appeal, the judge's charge to the jury, relevant parts of the transcript of evidence and the memoranda and letter from the hon. Member. I have consulted the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General for Scotland about this matter, and I think that I am aware of the points with which the hon. Member is concerned.
Before I reply to his speech it is my duty to remind the House of the constitutional position of the Secretary of State for Scotland in regard to persons who have been duly convicted and sentenced by a court of law. My right hon. Friend's primary responsibility is to ensure that the sentence of the court is carried out, but he has two powers which enable him to alter or to bring under review the orders of the court. The first of these is the Royal Prerogative of mercy, under which he may recommend to Her Majesty that a free pardon may be granted or a sentence remitted in whole or in part. The second of these is Section 16 of the Criminal Appeal (Scotland) Act, 1922, to which both hon. Members have referred. This enables him to refer a whole case or a point about a case to the Court of Criminal Appeal for determination.
The point which I must make is that those powers are exceptional 1971 powers. They are exceptions to the normal rule that the orders of the court are to be carried out, and the powers may be exercised only if there are clear and substantial grounds for doing so. The Secretary of State is not a reviewing body over the decisions of the courts. It is not his function to re-try cases and it is not his function to act as if he were an appellate court of law.
The hon. Member referred to the fact that there is nothing in Section 16 of the Criminal Appeal (Scotland) Act which limits the type of circumstance in which the Secretary of State can refer a case to the Court of Criminal Appeal. This is so. But the position must be considered against the general background which I have put before the House. Normally, the decision of a court, subject to appeal to a higher court of law, is final. The late Lord Thomson, when he was Lord Advocate, advised that the procedure was intended to meet very special circumstances and was not to be lightly invoked. Neither my right hon. Friend nor the present Lord Advocate have any doubts but that this advice is correct.
I should like also to summarise briefly the main circumstances of this case. On 14th December, 1962, John Currie and Peter Connor appeared at the High Court in Glasgow for trial on a number of charges of theft and on a charge of attempted murder. It is only this latter charge which arose out of a police chase of a stolen car that concerns us today. In the case of both men, the jury, after hearing the evidence, speeches by the prosecution and the defence, and the judge's charge to them, returned a verdict of guilty by a majority. John Currie was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment and Peter Connor to seven years' imprisonment on the charge of attempted murder.
Both men appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeal against their conviction, on the grounds that the jury's verdict was in error and that the trial judge had misdirected, or failed to direct the jury properly, in certain respects. They also appealed against sentence. Their appeals were dismissed by the Court of Criminal Appeal on 17th January, 1963. I should add that both at their trial and for the purposes of 1972 their appeals Currie and Connor had legal assistance and were represented by Counsel.
Since that time the hon. Member for Motherwell and the hon. Lady have taken a close interest in this case. My right hon. Friend has received a number of representations. I had a list made of the number of representations and interviews which have taken place about this. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that none of his representations related in any way to new evidence or to new questions of fact with a bearing on the convictions in the case.
The hon. Gentleman particularly stressed the point that the convictions were not unanimous, but were by a majority. A conviction by a majority is none the less by Scots laws a conviction. The fact that it was not unanimous does not give the Secretary of State any right or duty to intervene which he would not have had in any other case.
In proposing that the case should be referred back to the Court of Criminal Appeal the hon. Member based his case on various passages in Lord Walker's charge to the jury and his criticisms of those passages. I do not intend to follow this in detail, not only because of the rules of the House on this matter, but also because it is not for the Secretary of State either to defend or criticise passages in a judge's summing-up. That is especially so when the charge has been already examined by the Court of Criminal Appeal. The Secretary of State can only consider whether the case discloses any special or exceptional circumstances which might justify his intervention.
However, if, for example, only two charges were actually considered in Lord Patrick's opinion, the fact remains that the transcript of the judge's charge to the jury was before the appeal court, and it is the duty of the appeal court, if it thinks that a particular point has not even been raised by counsel and that it is important that it should be raised, to consider the point fully.
The hon. Member for Motherwell and the hon. Lady referred to what they described as the difficulties of believing the evidence given by the three policemen in the following police car. The evidence which they gave, both about the throwing out of objects and about speeds, was 1973 open to cross-examination at the trial. I thought that a very vivid description of it all was given this morning by the hon. Gentleman. Cross-examination was, in fact, directed to that evidence. That evidence was fully canvassed in the speeches made to the jury. After considering that evidence and the doubts which were cast upon it by the defence, the jury reached a verdict that the accused were guilty of attempted murder.
To summarise the point, after a full trial and after hearing the evidence and the submissions by counsel for the prosecution and for the defence, the jury convicted Currie and Connor of attempted murder. Currie and Connor appealed against their conviction and were represented at the hearing of the appeal by counsel, to whom, as to the court, the transcript of the judge's charge was available. Their appeal was dismissed. Since that time, the hon. Member, like today, has tried to have the case reopened. But he and the hon. Lady have based their case on no factor which was not already available for consideration at the time of the trial or at the appeal. Therefore, there are no special or exceptional circumstances which would justify a reference to this court.
Since the 1926 Act came into being, there have, in fact, been only five cases on which this particular provision of Section 16 has been used. The first case was the famous one of Oscar Slater, which was a rather exceptional case because at the time of his conviction in 1909 there was no Court of Criminal Appeal. The grounds were a large number, including points of law and new evidence. There was a case in 1950 when the Court was asked to hear three new witnesses. There was a case in 1956 where, during a subsequent but unsuccessful prosecution for perjury of two police witnesses in the case, fresh evidence was given. In 1961 there was a point of law regarding execution of sentence. Again in 1961, the Court was asked to consider corroborative evidence which was not before it at the appeal.
The Secretary of State's functions in relation to cases in which there are suggestions of a miscarriage of justice are among the most anxious he has to exercise. He has considered this case most carefully and thoroughly together with 1974 the Lord Advocate. But, after taking the hon. Member's representations fully into account, he remains of the view that there are no grounds which would justify him in the exceptional step of referring the case back to the Court of Criminal Appeal