§ 2.31 a.m.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
I believe that the question of possible changes in the system of criminal proceedings is important enough to raise in the House, even at this unlikely hour.
My proposals might well have some short-term adverse effect on expenditure from the Consolidated Fund, but they will reap a long-term benefit for the finances and morale of the nation.
I believe that there is more that can and must be done to reduce the appallingly high level of crime that our society endures at present. I do so with some diffidence because I am aware that the case that I am about to attempt to make, although it would enjoy the support of most people in the country, would not meet with the approval of some men of greater epexrience, knowledge and wisdom in the legal and police professions than I can claim. Nevertheless, I speak from the experience of 17 years of regular practice at the criminal Bar and of personal participation in some hundreds of jury trials. I also have had the considerable advantage of discussing these matters at length with my colleagues practising daily in the courts and with friends in the police force.
917 It is clear that the lawlessness that we now see is due to a breakdown in the fabric of respect for others, which was once a mark of the British way of life. It follows that what is necessary is a reversion to something like society's former attitude to the rule of law. That can be achieved only by education of our children and the example of our leaders, and that will be a long-term matter.
In the shorter term, crime must be checked by deterrents, by putting would-be offenders in fear of the consequences of being found out. Currently there is widespread agreement that deterrents will be improved by creating a larger and more effective police force. Upon that matter the Conservative Party has given a firm and very welcome financial and moral commitment. There is also a demand for sterner sentences, which is usually thought to mean longer sentences, and which, in the present state of hideous overcrowding of our prisons, is clearly impractical. It may well be that we shall have to build more prisons. It may be that the element of sternness would be most suitably achieved by shorter sentences at an earlier stage in the criminal's career. The House may also know my views about capital punishment and corporal punishment for juvenile offenders, but I do not wish to speak about such things now.
I want to argue the case tonight for a third form of deterrent—the certainty of conviction. It is commonly said that the best deterrent is the certainty of being caught. Yet if the criminal considers that he has a better-than-even chance of being set free if he is caught, that is not the best deterrent. A better deterrent is the certainty of being caught and convicted, and the best is surely the certainty of being caught, convicted and punished.
It is an astonishing fact in Britain today that about 50 per cent. of all those who plead"not guilty ", both before the higher courts with juries and the magistrates' courts, are acquitted. In jury trials the acquittals total about 9,000 a year. The magistrates' court figures are even higher. It is difficult to make precise international comparisons because criminal systems are so different, but our acquittal rate seems far higher than that of other countries.
918 In serious cases in the United States only one person in five is acquitted. In the Netherlands and Norway the figure is one in three. Our acquittal rate is also considerably higher than it was 10, and certainly 20, years ago. The British figures are not merely astonishing; they are alarming. They mean that either a large number of innocent people are being degraded and humiliated as they are dragged through the criminal process, at substantial public expense, or that a large number of guilty people are being set free to commit more crime. Either or both occurrences are shameful and should be unacceptable to a civilised nation.
These figures are inevitably the result of a number of causes—the failure to make adequate use of the section 2 committal procedure, whereby the evidence is sifted in the magistrates' court, perhaps being one recent cause of the high acquittal rate. However, I believe that the largest single cause of the inequity in our system which results in the charging of the innocent, or more probably the acquittal of the guilty, is our stubborn adherence to the thoroughly outdated concept of the right to silence—that is to say, the right that anyone has under our law, be he ever so guilty, to say nothing which might be taken to incriminate him.
It is not so much the pure concept itself that offends as the too frequent sheer impracticality of its operation. It operates harmfully for justice at several stages. The police must tell a suspect that he need not say anything at the very moment when he is most likely to confess his guilt or provide some evidence against himself. Without adding a confession to the evidence against himself, he enhances his chances of acquittal.
The police, all too often finding themselves unable to work in practice with such a ridiculous rule, do not administer the caution. They lie on oath that they did do so and are driven to invent admissions. Juries, seeing the lie, acquit because they feel that they cannot believe anything else the police officer says. Once again the guilty go free. Even if the policeman is utterly honest and administers the caution, and even if the accused admits his guilt, all too often juries find the charade so hard to believe that they acquit and the guilty, once more, go free.
919 At the trial, the right to silence means that the accused cannot be expected to give evidence, which means that if there is little or no other evidence of guilt the accused may be acquitted at the end of a submission to the judge, or on the verdict of the jury. Once again the guilty may go free.
But the evil to society caused by the operation of this rule goes much deeper. The more the guilty man sees the exasperated police officer ignoring or violating his rights, the more determined he becomes to avoid the consequences of being caught and convicted." It is a fair cop, guv"has long since joined the ranks of the music hall joke.
Since juries, especially in London, have become notoriously cynical about police verbals, and the more the criminals feel they have a chance of getting off, the more they plead not guilty. If they are convicted on false evidence, the greater the chip they have on their shoulders and the more hopeless they are as prisoners. The longer this rule remains in existence, the more young police officers will be attacked for alleged untruthfulness in the witness box and the more demoralised they will become. The more that detectives see that crime pays for the criminal, the more likely it is that some will say"Why should it not pay for me, too?"That is how corruption spreads. The more the public see or believe allegations against the police to be well founded, the more public confidence will be lost in our police force, which is still reputed to be the finest in the world.
Those are the serious and harmful effects of the right to silence in our modern society. It is salutary to recall, as we are reminded by Professor Granville Williams, what that great libertarian Jeremy Bentham had to say about this rule a century and a half ago. He called it one of the most pernicious and irrational notions that ever found its way into the human mind. He said:If all criminals of every class had assembled and framed a system after their own wishes, is not this rule the very first that they would have established for their security? Innocence never takes advantage of it; innocence claims the right of speaking, as guilt invokes the privilege of silence.In more recent years, the demands for the abolition of the right to silence have grown. The police have called repeatedly 920 for its removal, the judges have continuously passed unfriendly remarks upon it and the Criminal Law Revision Committee recommended its abolition in 1972. This House took note of that recommendation three days before the general election was called in February 1974, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers), then the Solicitor-General, said—little thinking, no doubt, that we would lose an imminent election—that it was not the end of the road. Unhappily, it was for a time—until we learn the views of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure which is now sitting.
What has been the difficulty? Why has nothing been done about a rule that is working so badly and is increasingly souring our proud system of justice? The answer, I think, is a mixture of muddled thinking and sheer romanticism. Old rules die hard and traditional rights are well nigh indestructible.
There is a misconception abroad that to abolish the right to silence is to abolish the presumption of innocence. They are, of course, not the same thing, nor does the abolition of one necessarily lead to the abolition of the other—nor, indeed, is the one nearly so important as the other in the protection of the freedom of the individual against the power of the State.
Six years later, fewer members of the Bar would be prepared to treat the right to silence as a sacred cow, as they once did back in 1973. Certainly, with all attempts to reduce crime seeming to fail and the criminal courts working ever more unsatisfactorily, many will be disposed at least to have another look at the matter. In truth, the main objections to interference with the right to silence did not then bear too close examination.
It was said that its abolition would destroy an important bastion of the liberty of the individual and would make the conviction of the innocent more likely. To begin with, the right to silence has long since lost any pretensions to being a bastion of anything. It may have been a bastion when it was conceived as a reaction to the iniquities of the Star Chamber or when, in the last century, the accused was not even allowed to give evidence on his own behalf, or when the death penalty was used for trivial offences. It may have been a bastion when the 921 police were less hard-pressed or when, as Lord Devlin has pointed out, there was little organised crime and people were fundamentally law-abiding.
Today, when protections have been established, such as the right to give evidence, with the abolition of torture, with more thorough and inquiring trials, and with more intelligent juries, the former bastion has become nothing but an archaism. It is but a ruin of its former self, for again the truth is that there is not much of the right left with which to protect the accused. What an accused says to witnesses other than police officers and similar officials is admissible in evidence against him without warning. What he says to the police before he is reminded of his right to silence is admissible in evidence against him.
On the authority of the case of Osborne v. Virtue in the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, in 1973, a police officeris not bound to caution until he has got some information which he can put before the court as the beginnings of a case ";in other words, until he has a prima facie case. There is strictly no need to caution a suspect right up to the time that he can be charged.
If the suspect is reminded of the caution and says anything at all, he can be attacked for not saying everything or something consistent with his defence. If his defence is an alibi, he must disclose it within seven days of the preliminary hearing in the magistrates' court, together with the names and addresses of his witnesses. If he gives no evidence at his trial, as is his right, the judge can, and frequently does, make such hostile comment as"There is one person here today who was there and could have told you what happened, and he has preferred to exercise his right to say nothing."
How much is left to defend of this once great bastion? The ravages of time have worn it away but I suppjose there will still be some quixotic characters defending it long after it has disappeared altogether, for the myth will remain. If there is little or nothing left, you may ask, Mr. Deputy Speaker, where is its harm? Its harm comes largely from the fact that people believe that it has substance. An example is the ridiculous assertion by, of all people, some of my colleagues in the 922 Criminal Bar Association that the right to silence is:the individual's…only safeguard against oppression or malpractice by the police.What guarantee is there, as things are, that a malpractising police officer has, in fact, warned a suspect of his right to say nothing? Why, none at all. What guarantee is there, as things are, that a malpractising police officer, infuriated with the silence of a suspect, will not invent an oral confession of guilt? Why, none at all. Have we not had a stern reminder since 1973 of the hollowness of the right to silence when Sir Robert Mark had to get rid of 400 London policemen, all operating notwithstanding the right of silence?
I must confess to having some difficulty in understanding why a system that encourages and harbours any propensity in a police officer to verbal or falsify the evidence against a suspect, who may be an innocent person, is not considered a greater threat to individual liberty than not having such a system. It is nothing but a screen behind which great mischief may be, and often is, done unseen. Take away the screen and all will be open to the light of day and a lot more wholesome.
But there are yet other dangers for the innocent in this archaism. I wonder how many suspects have been stopped from explaining their innocence at the earliest possible moment by being warned that it was better to say nothing. How many might have avoided a charge, a trial or even a conviction if they had told the police where they were, what they were doing and who they were with? How many innocent people might there be who were wrongly believed by the jury to have delayed their explanation in order to invent an excuse or an alibi? How many policemen might have been stopped from giving false and incriminating evidence if the suspect had given them an early verifiable explanation? Is is realistic to assume that the modern, better-educated juryman will be impressed by the spectacle of a man with much to answer for seeking refuge in his technical rights when common sense dictates that an innocent man of the meanest intelligence would have denied his guilt and given some explanation?
I do not think overmuch of the arguments of those who seek to defend the 923 right to silence. Some might have been influenced by the extremism of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. It went too far the other way in proposing that silence should be corroborative of other evidence of guilt and in suggesting that silence should be prima facie evidence of guilt before a magistrate considering whether to commit a case to trial. It is one thing to say that a presumption of innocence should not automatically follow from silence but quite another to say that there should be circumstances in which silence involves a presumption of guilt. Sometimes when we go too far we tend to damage our case and to put people off. I shall certainly try to avoid that trap.
The first stage of the creation of a criminal process more suitable for the 1980s may therefore involve little more than the passing of a law stating that henceforth no presumption of innocence shall necessarily follow from the silence of a suspect or accused person and the devising of a new form of words to inform the suspect of the position.
Although such a law would remove much of the frustration and many of the unsatisfactory features of the present system, with its right to silence, it would be futile to pretend that it would not still be necessary to have a more reliable account of the interrogation of a suspect at a police station than a police officer's notebook. Although it is open to police officers to take signed written statements from the accused, it is surprising how frequently a confessing criminal refuses to put his confession into writing and how seldom the accused is invited to sign the police officer's contemporaneous note.
What is clearly needed is a record of the interview that is not open to serious challenge or dispute. In this technological age the obvious candidate for that service is the tape recorder, and that is a matter with particular implications for expenditure out of the Consolidated Fund.
It is not surprising that some, though by no means all, police officers should be hesitant about requiring all interviews with a suspect at a police station which may be adduced in evidence at a trial to be tape recorded. Such police officers probably feel threatened in the same way as lorry drivers do at having the 924 tachograph in their cab. Yet while comfort and freedom from perpetual vigilance might be a justifiable argument for a lorry driver, it can scarcely be a justifiable argument for a police officer who, if acting rightly, would have nothing to fear from occasional electronic supervision.
We need from the Government a determined effort to persuade the police that it is to the advantage not only of society but of the police themselves that they should be rid of the constant and, unhappily, widespread stigma attached to them through the verbals. Alas, there has not been much sign of Government enthusiasm for the task.
The Criminal Law Revision Committee, way back in June 1972, recommended by a majority that an experiment be conducted into the feasibility of tape recorded interviews. A minority of three of the 13 recommended that there should be statutory provision for the compulsory use of tape recorders at police stations in larger centres of population. But it was not until February 1975 that a committee was set up to consider the feasibility of an experiment in tape-recorded interrogations. It took 18 months for that to produce the inevitable conclusion that an experiment would be feasible, although there would be many difficulties.
The committee considered that it was not its task to form a collective view about the desirability of conducting an experiment, still less the desirability of a general system of tape recording police interrogations. The Home Secretary told the House that he wanted to consult widely and invite comment. In July 1977 he told us that tape recording fell within the ambit of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure. He has, I believe, indicated that he would appreciate an early decision in this matter. That would be most welcome, but the sooner a start can be made on the pilot scheme, the sooner will the unnecessary fears be shown to be of little substance, and the sooner will justice benefit. Will the Minister give an undertaking to begin tape recording immediately the Royal Commission reports, if it recommends that?
The virtues of tape recording are obvious and substantial, while the arguments against it have so far been thoroughly unconvincing. It is said that 925 tape recorders might stop the suspect from talking and admitting his guilt. But does not the caution already tend to do that? Is not that argument a tacit admission that cautions are not at present usually administered? Is not that precisely one of the evils that we are trying to avoid?
It is said that a suspect could make an untrue allegation of bribery or assault to spoil his confession. Of course he could. But he would hardly be likely to be making a reliable admission of guilt at the same time. That situation exists at present, so it would not be creating a problem where none now exists.
Further, there is a considerable risk facing any suspect making such an allegation. If the jury did not believe the allegation of bribery or brutality, it would be the end of the accused's credibility, and that message would not take long to get round the criminal fraternity.
It is said that tapes can be tampered with, and so they can. But so sophisticated is the technology today, even two years after the feasibility report, that I am assured that there is little risk of successful tampering if, as was recommended, the tapes were made in triplicate and the defence, prosecution and court were each handed a copy. Any atempt at tampering would be likely to be completely counter-productive.
The simple answer to tampering and false allegations would be to videotape-record interviews. The feasibility committee brushed that to one side as being too costly, and I therefore ask the Minister whether the Government have any up-to-date estimate of the likely cost of videotaping. Cases at the Old Bailey can cost around £1,000 a day, and it therefore seems somewhat unrealistic to cavil at capital and running costs which for ordinary tape recording could cost £30,000 for 5,000 persons making statements, and for videotape recording could cost, I suspect, little more than £150,000.
The advantage of tape recording interviews, even of the non-pictorial kind, have been recognised by the former judge Sir Henry Fisher in his report on the Confait inquiry in December 1977. He hoped then that an experiment would be carried out. The former head of the regional crime squad, Leonard"Nipper"Read, 926 said on BBC television last Sunday that he thought there should be videotape recording.
It is difficult to see the case for a combined abolition of the right of silence and tape recorded interviews as other than overwhelming. To begin with, we may already have a generation of adults who are so much at home with their own tape recorders and see them being used to such an extent in television films in police interrogations that they might begin to wonder what is up if police officers refuse to tape record interviews.
With the tape recorder there would be less opportunity for the police falsely to allege a confession. There would be less opportunity for an accused person falsely to allege police dishonesty. Because police officers would be less often challenged as liars and less often thought to be dishonest, their standing in the community would rise. Their morale would be higher and it would be easier to recruit the best people to the police service. Fewer police officers would be tempted to become dishonest and eventually corrupt, and even fewer would bring dishonour upon their calling.
If the circumstances surrounding the making of a statement were less open to criticism, more who were guilty would feel obliged to plead guilty. Cases would be shorter to try. Trials would come on sooner after arrest. The memory of witnesses would have less time to fade. Their evidence would become more reliable, and fewer acquittals would result from that reason alone.
In short, crime would become easier to fight because the conviction of the guilty would become more certain, and there would be a strong deterrent to crime. The money that the country would save from a more efficient legal system would repay handsomely any increase of expenditure from the Consolidated Fund. The reduction of crime which would inevitably result would reflect handsomely upon the fortunes of any Government with the courage, determination and vigour to initiate these two necessary reforms. The present Government are unlikely to survive the Royal Commission's report. My hope is that the next Conservative Government will have that courage, as I know that they will have both determination and vigour.
§ 2.57 a.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)
I agree with a lot of what has been said by the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) but not with his peroration. If the hon. Member is so convinced that the Government will not survive the Royal Commission's report, I wonder why he has spent a lot of time in the middle of the night trying to persuade them to implement what he thinks will be the decisions of the Royal Commission.
However, the hon. Member has raised some important and controversial matters. As he recognises, they are central to the issues referred to the Royal Commission on criminal procedure. I understand that the Royal Commission has received a large number of pieces of evidence, and no doubt it will take due note of what the hon. Member has said this evening. Because these matters are within the subject matter of the Royal Commission, my remarks tonight are speculative rather than definitive, and if they bear in places a close relation to the published Home Office evidence to the Royal Commission I hope the hon. Member will understand why. This is not because we regard what is in the Home Office evidence as in any way the last word on the subject. It is simply that our evidence reflects our thoughts on these matters at this stage.
The term"right of silence"is used to describe a situation at two different points in the criminal process. It is a kind of shorthand phrase. The individual's right of silence is irremovable, in the sense that no one can be compelled to speak against his will, either when being questioned by the police or when being prosecuted in court. When we speak of modifying or removing the right of silence, we mean changing the rules regarding the inferences that can be drawn, when a person is prosecuted, in the one case about his failure to mention facts when being questioned by the police, and in the other regarding his failure to enter the witness box or to answer questions.
There are two types of silence. The first is during the investigation of the offence. The Criminal Law Revision Committee proposed that adverse inference might be drawn in court from the 928 failure of the defendant, when being questioned by the police, to mention any fact upon which he subsequently relies in his defence. In this connection the committee also considered the use of tape recorders in criminal investigation and, as the hon. Gentleman recognised, a majority recommended that there should be experiments in their use.
Secondly, as regards silence at the trial stage, the committee recommended that it should be permissible for the court or jury to draw such inferences as are appropriate from the failure of the defendant to enter the witness box or to answer particular questions. The common thought behind these suggestions is that the silence of the suspect can be a protection to the guilty but rarely to the innocent.
The proposal directed at the right of silence in the police station has proved particularly controversial. It is therefore important to spell out what any limitation of the present right would and would not achieve. In the first place, there is no way in which a suspect can be compelled to answer questions at the police station, even if he chooses not to do so. Secondly, if he remains silent and there is no relevant and admissible evidence, he cannot be put on trial. In other words, whatever inferences the police may draw about a suspect's probable guilt from his silence, they cannot ask a court to draw such inferences unless a prima facie case is established by other means. If a case reaches court, abolition of the right of silence at the police station would mean that the prosecution would be able to make what some would consider fair comment about the late production of a version of events designed to support a claim of innocence. Equally, abolition ought in strict logic to do no harm to the innocent person who should, in principle and within the limitations of memory, be willing to tell the truth to the police from the outset.
Those opposed to the Criminal Law Revision Committee's proposals have argued that they would penalise not only the guilty person who deliberately wished to conceal information from the police but those who, through ignorance or innocence, omitted to mention a relevant fact which subsequently proved necessary for their defence. This might come about for perfectly respectable reasons; for 929 example, where an innocent suspect wishes to avoid implicating another in an embarrassing situation or where he is unaware of the precise details of the offence under investigation and is therefore not in a position to judge what facts are relevant and what are not.
Some opponents of the committee's proposals have argued that a change which might have this effect is basically unfair and that it would change the whole balance of criminal justice by subverting the principle that a person is presumed innocent until proved guilty. Others have suggested that wider comment by the judge on a defendant's failure to mention a relevant fact to the police should be permissible, but only if such a change were accompanied by a scheme for supervising or monitoring questioning at police stations. The latter approach is in line with the minority of the Criminal Law Revision Committee who recommended that the committee's proposal as to the right of silence should not be implemented until a system of tape recording had been introduced. These issues are canvassed in the Home Office evidence to the Royal Commission without any clear conclusion being relevant.
Turning now to the right of silence at the defendant's trial, the present law is that, under the Criminal Evidence Act 1898, an accused person cannot be compelled to give evidence in his own defence and his failure to testify may not be the subject of comment by the prosecution. It is not altogether clear how far the judge, as distinct from the prosecution, can properly go in commenting on the failure of the accused to give evidence, and in particular how far he can go in telling the jury what account it may take of his failure to do so. But it does appear to be the case that the judge's comments must not suggest that failure to give evidence is enough to lead to an inference of guilt. The Criminal Law Revision Committee expressed the opinion that this position was too favourable to the defence and considered that, once a prima facie case had been made against the accused, it should be regarded as incumbent on him to give evidence in all ordinary cases if he wanted to avoid adverse inferences being drawn from his silence.
930 The Home Office's published evidence to the Royal Commission recognises that there is some force in this argument. The trial, unlike the police investigation, takes place after a prima facie case has been made out against the accused, before the eyes of the jury and the general public, and subject to the vigilance of appellate tribunals. Unlike the suspect at the police station, who may be tempted to remain silent in the belief that the police know less than the whole truth and that by speaking he may only incriminate himself further, the accused in court is aware of the full extent of the prosecution case against him. If it were to become the position that the court or the jury could draw such inferences as seem reasonable from the accused's silence at that stage, it would not of course in any way reduce the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
Clearly, the issues raised by the question of modifying the right of silence have wide-ranging implications affecting the balance which needs to be drawn between the interest of society in ensuring that offenders are brought to justice and the rights and liberties of the individual. For this reason, the question is clearly central to the terms of reference of the Royal Commission. Much of the evidence submitted to the Commission, including that of the Home Office, has commented on the proposals of the CLRC. It is for the Royal Commission to consider the evidence submitted to it and to attach to it such weight as it judges appropriate. Meanwhile, until we have received the Commission's report, it would be premature for the Government to consider putting forward any specific proposals for change. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's question was hypothetical about what the Government would do if the Commission reported in a certain way. We must wait for its report and see what it says first.
The hon. Member argued in favour of linking the right of silence at the police station to the introduction of tape recording. This is one possible variant of the CLRC proposals. There are others. One is that the withdrawal of the right of silence should be linked to the presence of a solicitor during questioning by the police. These and other possibilities are mentioned in the Home Office evidence to the Royal Commission.
931 The tape recording of police interrogations is frequently proposed as a means of resolving disputes about what takes place between a suspect and the police. The argument is that tape recording would give the court the best possible account of what happens during an interrogation; that it would enable disputes about what took place during an interview to be quickly resolved and thus reduce the time spent by courts in"trials within trials "; and that it would deter the use of any unfair questioning methods by the police.
The contrary argument is that tape recording might in effect give rise to more disputes about what the suspect said and might result in any evidence which had not been recorded being regarded as inferior. In addition, the introduction of a general system of recording would have substantial manpower and financial costs and would present problems in transcribing. While it does not follow that all recordings would have to be transcribed, it seems likely that any lawyer engaged in a criminal case about which there was dispute would consider it his duty to ask for a transcript. Whatever the other advantages, and while I should not wish to commit my right hon. Friend at this stage, it does seem to us that the problems associated with transcripts must almost certainly rule out the general introduction of tape recording of all questioning of all suspects.
That is one reason why the Home Office evidence to the Royal Commission tentatively suggests another approach. It might be possible to envisage an arrangement whereby the police would make a recording of any questioning at a police station and hand it over to the court. It would not be available to either side and would not be admissible as evidence in the normal way. But it would be available to the court and could be consulted by the judge, who could authorise its production.
Such an approach would involve a considerable innovation in the law of evidence. It would not end the problem of verbals, since there would always be a possibility that oral statements which, for perfectly valid reasons, had not been tape recorded would be brought before 932 the court. But we thought it at least worth floating this proposal in the Home Office evidence, and we should welcome further public discussion on it.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for putting forward a new proposal, so novel that I have never heard of it before. Will she explain what would be its value, if it was not evidence and if it was not available to either party in the proceedings, and if it did not do away with the principal problem in the whole proceedings—the verbal?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I agree that it has its limitations, in the same way as other proposals have their limitations, which I have outlined. This would certainly be available to the court, and it could be consulted by the judge.
The hon. Member implied that some of the difficulties to which I have drawn attention might have been resolved if we had gone ahead with an experiment at an earlier stage. I accept that it has taken a long time to make progress on this issue. But the report of the Home Office committee was very far from universally welcomed. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has reported to the House, we thought it desirable, before reaching any decision on an experiment, to seek the views of the Royal Commission. I understand that the Commission has now itself decided to undertake a study, that it is based on overseas experience in tape recording, and that work has begun on an operation study into the cost and organisational implications of tape recording. The Commission also hopes to be able to conduct a much more limited live experiment in tape recording.
The hon. Member has drawn attention to a number of important issues, including even videotape recording. I think that at present attention is concentrated on the tape recording experiment.
As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the many complexities of the subject cannot be dealt with fully in a debate such as this, but I hope he will accept that until we have seen the Commission's report it would be wrong for the Government to consider the introduction of specific changes in this controversial and important field.