Skip to main content

Immunity From Prosecution

Volume 12: debated on Monday 9 November 1981

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on the rules governing immunity from prosecution.


asked the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on the practice regarding immunity from prosecution.

Immunity from prosecution can only be granted by the Attorney-General or Director of Public Prosecutions because it is only with them that there lies the power to stop any prosecution. Each application made to either the Director of Public Prosecutions or myself is treated separately on its merits, and it is not possible to set out any comprehensive set of rules.The criteria which we apply include

  • (i) whether in the interests of justice it is of more value to have a suspected person as a witness for the Crown than as a possible defendant;
  • (ii) whether in the interests of public safety and security the obtaining of information about the extent and nature of criminal activities is of greater importance than the possible conviction of an individual;
  • (iii) whether it is very unlikely that any information could be obtained without an offer of immunity and whether it is also very unlikely that any prosecution could be launched against the person to whom the immunity is offered.
  • True immunities are uncommon because it is now the practice not to go further than an undertaking that any confession obtained as a result will not be used against the maker. If other evidence to justify his prosecution becomes available then proceedings may be brought.


    asked the Attorney-General whether he will take steps to ensure that he is informed whenever immunity from prosecution, or what is tantamount to such, is offered by prosecuting authorities to individuals in criminal matters.

    I assume that the right hon. and learned Member's question arises out of the fact that Mr. Long was led to believe that it was unlikely that he would be prosecuted and the right hon. and learned Member's concern that this should not have been allowed to happen as the question of prosecution had not been considered by the proper authorities. I am satisfied that the present procedures of the security service will prevent anything of the sort happening today.As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is informing the House in an answer this afternoon, a person suspected of an espionage offence will not be interviewed by the security service on the basis that he need not fear prosecution unless the case has first been referred to the Attorney-General and permission has been given for the interview to be conducted on that basis.