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Director Of Public Prosecutions

Volume 983: debated on Monday 28 April 1980

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asked the Attorney-General when he expects next to meet the Director of Public Prosecutions.

When he returns from the Commonwealth Law Ministers' conference in Barbados.

Will the Solicitor-General inquire of the DPP why it was that crucial evidence in the Lindo case was not made available to the defence until six months after the police and the Director of Appeals knew about it, and four months after the DPP himself was told? As in this case an innocent man stayed in gaol for a year, does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there must be a review whereby cases of that kind go immediately to the DPP, and whereby the defence is given all possible access to relevant facts?

My right hon. and learned Friend shares the sentiments underlying that question just as much as I do. It is a firm and honoured principle in the practice of the law that if information comes to hand that is of use to the defence, it should be made available to it. However, there are two parts to the question. One is the system to ensure that it happens, and the other is the question of precisely how much information should be given. The circumstances of the Lindo case disclosed a need for new rules. The Registrar of the Court of Criminal Appeal has instituted new procedures in his own court. Details of those were given in an answer to the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) on 23 April.

When the Attorney-General meets the DPP, will he inquire how the DPP is getting on with deciding whether to prefer new charges in the Confait case? The hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that three of my constituents were convicted of that murder in 1972 and were acquitted in 1975 by the appeal court after a reference. If the DPP decides not to prefer any charges, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman refer any information that he has to Sir Henry Fisher, who made prejudicial comments about them, so that, if he wishes, he can revise his findings and at the end of the day at least provide some equity in terms of compensation, which has hitherto been denied to my constituents?

Order. We are still only on the second question to the Attorney-General, and we shall not get much further at this rate.

As to an inquiry, I think that I should confine my answer to the first part of that question. Certainly the Attorney-General and I are very interested in the outcome of the inquiry and we shall keep fully up to date with it.

In view of the uncertainty prevailing in the courts with regard to jury vetting, will the hon. and learned Gentleman give an instruction to the DPP that there should be no further cases of jury vetting before he makes a full statement to the House? In particular, will he set out the constitutional authority for jury vetting? Would it not be better to wipe the slate clean and rely on debarring from jury service only those whom Parliament, in the Juries Act, decreed should be debarred?

It would be inappropriate for me to try to answer those important questions in the brief time available. In addition, I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend, who has been dealing with these matters personally, would like to deal with them himself. I shall draw to his attention what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said.

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman make it clear to the DPP that when persons are being held in custody awaiting trial, documents held by the DPP, particularly those in relation to so-called confessions, should in all circumstances be made available to the defence lawyers and not held back in the way that they are being in certain cases in Wales at the present time?

The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that there is a variety of different situations in which this question might arise. One is on appeal, in which the DPP would not necessarily have any information upon which to act. A second relates to cases with which he is directly concerned, in which case he must, of course, act quickly. The other relates to cases which in the first instance are under the control of other authorities. Here again, all that the DPP can do is to give guidance to them and do his best to see that it is carried out.