§ Mr.John Patten
[holding answer 15 February 1991]: No. It is a principle of our system of justice that the accused is innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The high standard of proof is a necessary safeguard against wrongful conviction. Murder is the gravest of offences and it is right that the prosecution should be required to prove that the accused committed it.
My right hon. Friend's responsibilities are to examine the law to ensure that the courts are not denied the opportunity to consider evidence and have appropriate sentencing powers. In the Criminal Justice Act 1988 we increased the maximum penalty for child cruelty from two to 10 years. The changes in our Criminal Justice Bill to the law about evidence and procedure in child abuse cases should help convict those guilty of these appalling crimes. But no such changes can avail where the difficulty is absence of evidence that a particular person committed the offence.