HC Deb 26 November 2002 vol 395 cc153-4
35. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

What the Lord Chancellor's policy is on the personal immunity of the Sovereign in relation to actions in court. [81465]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Ms Rosie Winterton)

The policy that the sovereign has personal immunity in relation to actions in court remains unchanged.

Dr. Cable

Does the Minister agree that the recent application of that principle of immunity has caused considerable embarrassment to the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts and, not least, the monarchy? Will she therefore contemplate reviewing those arrangements, particularly bearing in mind the comment made yesterday by David Pannick QC that one person's liberty as a defendant should not take second place to someone else's status?

Ms Winterton

The hon. Gentleman clearly has strong views about the matter. However, on 4 November, at one of his regular press conferences, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in relation to the Paul Burrell case that he did not believe that the constitutional position should change.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley)

Does not this case have wider implications for immunity in general terms and, in particular, for Crown immunity? Does my hon. Friend have a view on the implications for Crown immunity, and how can Members of the House have a say in what happens about that?

Ms Winterton

Consideration has been given to the quite different issue of the state's immunity in legal proceedings. For example, a recent consultation paper, "Revitalising Health and Safety", contains proposals for removing or modifying that immunity. In the light of the responses to that document, an interdepartmental working group is considering the implications, and advice will be given to Ministers about Crown immunity.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

Has the Lord Chancellor formally inquired as to what law, procedure or judicial rule led the judge in the case of R v. Burrell to convene prosecuting counsel in private and exclude defence counsel, which is usually done only when a public interest immunity certificate is applied for? If not, why not, and will he do so?

Will the Minister confirm to the House that what the Attorney-General wrote to me on 6 November is the case, namely: No minister was asked to give a PII certificate or sign one, nor was a draft certificate ever prepared, or any consideration given by anyone to preparing such a certificate to place before the judge"?

Ms Winterton

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that he addressed those issues to the Attorney-General, who has replied to him. The Lord Chancellor played no part whatsoever in the Paul Burrell trial.

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