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Prisoners (Remission Criteria)

Volume 959: debated on Monday 4 December 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) if he will indicate the criteria used in deciding to remit the rest of a prisoner's sentence, and also the criteria employed in referring a case back to the Court of Appeal: and if he will make a statement;(2) if, in the light of the McMahon case, he will make a statement concerning the criteria that he uses when deciding to refer a case to the Court of Appeal under section 17(1)(

b) rather than under section 17(1)( a) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968.

Remission of a prisoner's sentence may be justified by a wide variety of circumstances. Where the point at issue is doubt about the rightness of a convention it is highly desirable, as a matter of principle, that this should be resolved by the courts. The normal criteria for referring a case to the Court of Appeal under section 17(1)(a) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968, under which the whole of the case is referred and then treated for all purposes as an appeal, were stated by my predecessor in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) on 8th April 1976. They are whether there is some new consideration of substance which has not previously been considered by a court; whether it raises such doubt about the rightness of a conviction or sentence that the Court of Appeal might find grounds for varying the decisions previously reached; and whether it could properly be considered by the court. If the new material cannot properly be considered by the court, but nevertheless raises substantial doubt as to the rightness of the conviction, the Home Secretary considers recommending the remission of the remainder of the sentence.When the most recent new evidence in Mr. McMahon's case was brought to my attention I decided that a reference to the Court of Appeal under section 17(1) (

b) of the Act was the appropriate course of action because the Court had already considered the whole of Mr. McMahon's case on three occasions—once on original appeal and twice by reference under section 17(1)( a). The point on which I requested the court's opinion was whether, if the new evidence were tendered in the course of an appeal arising from a reference under section 17(1)( a), the court would regard itself as required to receive it by virtue of section 23(2) of the Act. The court's opinion was that the new evidence was not likely to be credible and would not afford any ground for allowing the appeal.