HC Deb 27 February 1984 vol 55 cc14-5
38. Mr. Dubs

asked the Attorney-General what futher representations he has received regarding the use of supergrasses in Northern Ireland.

The Attorney-General

I have received a number of representations on the question of these so-called supergrass trials, some of them approving the use of such evidence and some disapproving it: some of these representations were disinterested and well informed, and some of them less so.

Mr. Dubs

Does the Attorney-General accept that there is increasing worry about the use of uncorroborated evidence by informers in Northern Ireland? Will he think again about the practice in Northern Ireland? Would it not be more sensible, so that justice is seen to be working effectively and impartially, to use the same system in Northern Ireland as is used in the rest of the United Kingdom?

The Attorney-General

The same system is used across the United Kingdom. The use of informers is not limited to Northern Ireland. I invite the hon. Gentleman to re-read my detailed written answer given on 24 October 1983.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that the law relating to the evidence of informers is exactly the same in Northern Ireland as in England and Wales?

The Attorney-General

That is so. It is exactly the same.

Mr. Stanbrook

Is there any rule against the use of uncorroborated evidence by so-called supergrasses in Great Britain or in Northern Ireland?

The Attorney-General

No. Any claim that I have given any direction to the Director of Public Prosecutions that that evidence is not to be used is false.

Mr. Flannery

Does the Attorney-General agree with me that the use of supergrasses is a violation of natural and legal justice and that, in general, they are perjured murderers who are selling their hitherto comrades, some of us suspect, for money? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that, in the long run, this bringing into disrepute of British justice is bound to have a bad effect and ultimately to intensify the rate of killing?

The Attorney-General

I could not disagree more with practically everything said by the hon. Gentleman. The only point I shall take up is the use of perjured evidence. Usually, the evidence which the supergrass admits is not perjured. On practically every occasion he is convicting himself, and this is dealt with by the court. He is then called as a witness against those whom he has known.

Mr. Alex Carlile

When does the Attorney-General expect to receive Sir George Baker's report into the operation of judicial procedures in Northern Ireland? Is it expected that there will be speedy Government action on the report's recommendations?

The Attorney-General

I believe that the report will be available in some form shortly.

Mr. John Morris

Although the law on informers is the same in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the United Kingdom, is not the real difficulty the fact that in one part of the United Kingdom informers are used coupled with Diplock courts and, unhappily, there is no opportunity for a jury to be in any position to evaluate the evidence? Does not the worry arise, in part at least, from that process? Is there not also a danger that a witness might improve his evidence and add to the number against whom he is giving evidence in the hope of obtaining even greater favours?

The Attorney-General

I would take more seriously the risk that judges were not applying the proper direction to themselves, so that there was a danger of convicting without collaboration, if the judgments given during the past few years did not clearly show the opposite. Recently, in a remarkable case, the Chief Justice, in a long judgment, acquitted a number of those accused on the evidence of a supergrass. It is clear to me, and to all who take a genuinely close interest, that the judges are taking superlative care in considering the evidence of uncorroborated supergrasses.