Amendments made: No. 34, in page 15, line 19, leave out from 'may' to end of line 21 and insert
'take any steps which they consider appropriate for supervising the undertaking of inquiries by an investigating officer.'.
No. 35, in page 15, line 21, at end insert—
'(4A) The Commission may at any time direct that a person appointed as the investigating officer in relation to a case shall cease to act as such; but the making of such a direction shall not prevent the Commission from imposing a requirement under section 18 to appoint another investigating officer in relation to the case.'.
No. 36, in page 15, line 27, at end add—
'(6) When a person appointed as the investigating officer in relation to a case submits to the Commission a report of his findings he shall also submit to them any statements and opinions obtained, and any reports commissioned, in connection with the inquiries which he was directed to undertake in relation to the case.'.—[Mr. Maclean.]
§ Mr. Michael
I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 20, line 10, after 'appoint', insert 'subject to subsection 1A'.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this, it will be convenient to discuss also the following amendments: No. 6, in page 20, line 11, at end add—
'(1A) The powers of the Commission in sections 9 to 13 of this Act to investigate any sentence given by a Court shall not come into force until a draft regulation setting out a timetable for their implementation has been approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament; and no such draft regulation shall be laid before either House of Parliament until at least twelve months after the Commission has been established.'.
No. 40, in page 20, line 11, at end add—
'(1B) Any power in this section of this Act to make regulations or orders shall be exercisable by statutory instrument.'.
No. 39, in page 20, line 11, at end add—
'(1C) Until such time as the powers of the Commission referred to in subsection (1A) above have come into force, transitional arrangements shall operate as laid out in subsection (1D) below.'.
No. 41, in page 20, line 11, at end add—
'(1D) In section 11 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 (supplementary provisions as to appeals against sentence) after subsection (1A) there shall be inserted the following subsection—
(1AA) The Court of Appeal may, if they think it necessary or expedient in the interests of justice, grant leave to appeal against sentence notwithstanding that a previous application to appeal has been determined (either by refusal of leave or after a substantive hearing) in respect of the same sentence.".'.
§ Mr. Michael
The clauses with which we are dealing give the commission powers to investigate sentences. Everybody who has been involved with the campaigns to establish a body to deal with miscarriages of justice is 942 puzzled and bemused by the Government's decision to give such powers to the commission, and subsequently to the courts—but especially to the commission.
In Committee, we received no satisfactory answer as to why the power had been given. When we asked whether such a power would not clog up the whole system, there was no answer to that, either. Anyone who has dealt with any seriousness with the prison system, and has experience of talking to prisoners, knows that there is much resentment among prisoners about sentences, and a great wish to have them changed. Sentences are one of the issues that cause the greatest amount of debate and discussion.
The amendments would provide a cushion, or safety valve, because they would allow the Government to keep in the Bill a provision that we believe is unnecessary and possibly ill advised, but they would also provide for a delay in the implementation of the provision for reconsidering sentences.
During the interim period, it will be possible to see what sort of burden of work is being put on to the commission, and whether it has the capacity to deal with the additional burdens imposed by a provision that was not sought or recommended by the royal commission and has not been mentioned in the general debate on the type of body that should be established to investigate miscarriages of justice.
The idea seems to have arisen from a desire to deal with the interests of the Home Office, rather than to fulfil the prime responsibility under the Bill, which is to establish a proper mechanism for dealing with allegations that miscarriages of justice have taken place.
Amendment No. 6 says that the powers that the Government seek, which we suggested in Committee should not be among the provisions of the Bill, should not come into force until draft regulations setting out a timetable for implementation have been approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament, and that no such draft regulations should be laid by either House until at least 12 months after the commission has been established.
The point is that, during that 12 months, the commission can become established. It will be for Ministers to assess the work load. If we are wrong and the commission is not overloaded, Ministers will surely go ahead at that stage. If we have been right, Ministers will be able to control the situation. Either way, Ministers would lose nothing by accepting our amendments, and would gain a great deal in terms of flexibility and the capacity to avoid dangers that may arise.
Amendments Nos. 39 and 41 establish transitional powers, and respond to points made by Ministers during the debate in Committee. They suggested that, if there was a delay in the provision of these powers or if they were not provided at all, there would be an anomaly. So the transitional arrangements which are effectively contained in amendment No. 41 will allow the Court of Appeal, if the court thinks it necessary or expedient in the interests of justice, to grant leave to appeal against sentence, notwithstanding that a previous application to appeal has been determined. So it allows for that arrangement to take place.
943 In Committee, we had a comparatively short debate, in which the Minister was not able to set out good reasons for including sentence within the burdens to be placed on the new commission. It is surely a matter of common knowledge that the royal commission concentrated on miscarriages of justice, and that that led the royal commission to recommend the establishment of the body that we are creating in the Bill.
In his response to the Committee debate, the Minister said:I acknowledge that the royal commission did not recommend that the commission should refer sentences to the courts—in fact, it did not mention the matter."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 30 March 1995; c.109.]It did not mention the matter, because it was not a matter of general concern, contention or belief on the part of those who had taken an extended interest in the whole matter.
The power which the Home Secretary has at present to refer sentences to the Court of Appeal can be dealt with in a variety of ways. Those matters are already dealt with. I will not repeat the points that were made in Committee, but there are mechanisms for dealing with those matters. The Court of Appeal has powers. There is no reason to burden the commission, particularly in its early days, when it has a backlog of alleged miscarriages of justice to deal with, before it becomes established as a body with a more predictable work load.
I hope that the Minister will accept the amendments. They do not detract from or diminish the powers contained in the Bill. They provide a cushion, and ensure that those powers are not acted on precipitately or without evidence that the commission will be able to cope with the additional work load involved.
§ Mr. Maclean
During our debate in Committee, I set out in full the Government's reasons why we thought that the approach taken by the Opposition was misguided. There was a fundamental disagreement between us. The Opposition did not like the arguments that I advanced. I have no new arguments to advance tonight, because the ones that I gave in Committee were sensible and serious, and I will stick to them, but briefly.
The Government gave a good deal of thought to the future arrangements for dealing with wrongful sentences when drawing up their proposals for legislation in this area. One option that we considered was to provide extended rights of appeal to the courts, but we rejected this for several reasons.
First was the need to maintain some finality in criminal proceedings. If we were to provide extended rights of appeal on sentence of the sort that Opposition Members propose, the principle of finality established in the case of Pinfold would be breached, and the courts could well find themselves inundated with unmeritorious applications, with all the consequential delay and disruption which that would cause. Applicants would go on appealing ad nauseam to the courts. That cannot be right.
Secondly, it would be wrong, in our view, to provide extended rights of appeal on sentence while still requiring those alleging wrongful conviction to be referred to the new, more powerful commission before their cases could be reconsidered by the courts.
Thirdly, representations on sentence, as on wrongful conviction, often require some investigation. If the courts receive these applications, they will either require 944 time-consuming hearings, or the applications will be dismissed on paper, at the risk of important points being missed or discounted.
Last but not least, if we were to accede to what the Opposition propose, there would be further scope for confusion, as, in making representations, some applicants raise points on both their conviction and their sentence. The amendments would result in such cases being simultaneously pursued in the Court of Appeal and investigated by the commission.
Although I understand that the Opposition's desire in proposing the amendment is genuine, it is misguided. It ignores the fact that the commission will be an investigative body, resourced and empowered to investigate possible miscarriages of justice. The Government believe that they are the persons best placed to look into possible wrongful sentences and refer them if appropriate.
That is the most sensible and cost-effective solution to the problem of who should deal with these matters following the abolition of the Secretary of State's powers. It simply does not make sense to take away the vast bulk of cases that come before my right hon. and learned Friend on conviction, to set up a powerful new independent commission to deal with them, and then to say, "Never mind, the Secretary of State can be trusted to deal with the handful of cases left on sentencing, and we shall ignore the new commission." It must be sensible to let the commission deal with those cases.
I explained in Committee the size of the work load that we envisage. I have nothing more to add to that. We do not envisage a large work load for those sentence cases. The powers provided in the Bill should be available to the commission from the beginning of its operation, so that it can do the full range of its work as quickly and effectively as possible. I do not propose that the commission be delayed for 12 months before having those powers.
For those reasons—the same as I advanced more fully in Committee—I cannot support the amendments.
§ Mr. Michael
I am surprised by the Minister's response, because he has had time to reflect on the debate that we had in Committee.
One barrister has expressed the concern that the clause gives an applicant the unfettered right to apply to the commission for his sentence to be referred to the Court of Appeal. He said that applicants are not restricted to matters which were known to the sentencing judge, or arguably should have been known then, or to the need to have exhausted the normal routes of appeal to the Court of Appeal.
From his response, the Minister clearly does not understand the Pandora's box that he is opening in giving the body that has been established to deal with allegations of miscarriages of justice, the responsibility to deal with problems and complaints about the weight of sentence. There is no body of existing law to help the commission or the Court of Appeal to assess the reductions that might be appropriate in a variety of circumstances.
The Minister has not said whether it is intended that the commission can refer sentences on the grounds that they are manifestly excessive or would need reviewing in the light of changed circumstances since a sentence was passed, or only on the narrow grounds of wrong facts or misinterpretation of the law at the time of sentencing. If 945 it is the latter, would it not be better to signal that in the Bill, to avoid confusion and a rush of unmeritorious applications?
The Minister has not taken on board the points that were seriously made by a variety of hon. Members in Committee. It is clear from his response today that he has given the matter no fresh thought. This will be a matter of debate in another place. Yet again, the Government will be well advised to consider carefully the arguments which the Opposition advanced in Committee and to think again.
It would be a tragedy if the body established to rescue our criminal justice system from the problems that have arisen due to miscarriages of justice, which is being established to restore confidence in the criminal justice system and provide confidence that miscarriages of justice can and will be dealt with properly, were constrained and overwhelmed with a number of applications on sentence.
The Home Secretary's power to review and refer with regard to sentence has been a relatively little-known power. It will inevitably be used more by the commission than it has by the Home Secretary. I hope that I am wrong, and that the commission will not be burdened as a result of this element in the Bill, but I fear that the Minister is wrong, and that, by his failure even to allow the cushion and protection that we offer in the amendments, he will build up problems for the future.
§ Amendment negatived.