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Summary Convictions (Appeals)

Volume 940: debated on Wednesday 30 November 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will introduce legislation to reform the stated case procedure for appeals from summary convictions to allow findings of fact to be reviewed by the Appeal Court.

Summary appeals procedure is among the matters considered by the Thomson Committee on Criminal Procedure in Scotland. The Committee's third report, on criminal appeals, is likely to be published next month and we shall carry out appropriate consultations before reaching decisions on the recommendations.

Does the Minister accept that both the case of a former Solicitor-General for Scotland and the case of the police officer raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) highlight the absurd restrictions on the opportunity for individuals convicted under summary procedure to appeal against the facts found against them in the original court? Does he accept that Scotland is the only part of the United Kingdom where an individual does not have the right to have the facts found against him in the first hearing reviewed by an appeal court? It will not do if there are only lengthy consultations after the Thomson Committee has recommended. This matter requires urgent action by the Government.

It always amazes me that lawyers see the weaknesses in the law only after they become politicians. In case there should be any misunderstanding about the case of the former Solicitor-General for Scotland, may I say that it has been extensively examined and my right hon. Friend does not consider, and has never considered, that he has any grounds for recommending the exercise of the Royal Prerogative. The House would be well advised to await the publication of the Thomson Report.

Is my hon. Friend yet in a position to make any comment on the practice in Scotland of remission of fines, a practice which has received great Press publicity? If that is not possible, can my hon. Friend tell me the increase in the prison population?

This is a very important matter, which received extensive publicity in the newspapers over the weekend. The position must be explained. The legislation that empowers my right hon. Friend to carry out the remission of fines was introduced by the Conservative Government in 1963. It is not true that the powers have been abused. In 1969, 90 per cent. of those who left borstal with fines outstanding had those fines remitted, whereas in 1971, under the Conservative Administration, that figure had increased to 93 per cent. Therefore, it is a distortion of the facts to have them presented as they were over the weekend.

When considering summary appeals, will the Minister appreciate that under the Summary Jurisdiction Act there is already provision for the investigation of facts by the courts? Will he consider a simple adaptation or strengthening of that system, which perhaps could be included in the Criminal Law Bill that we are expecting?

I am interested in what the hon. and learned Gentleman says. I always listen with great interest to what he says on legal matters. I shall consider what he says. My advice to the House is to await publication of the report.