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Bill Of Indictment Procedure

Volume 12: debated on Monday 9 November 1981

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asked the Attorney-General if he will review the use by the Director of Public Prosecutions of the Bill of Indictment procedure.

I am satisfied with the Director's use of the present procedure and do not intend to review it.

Before I call the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) to ask a supplementary question, I ask him to do his utmost to avoid referring to the two cases that are sub judice.

I hope, Mr. Speaker, that I can abide by your ruling. Does the Attorney-General accept that, while it was right to use the Bill of Indictment procedure in one case where it appears the magistrate got the law wrong, it is quite another matter to use it—

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to a well-known case, where people's rights and liberties are still at stake. It is a long-established custom in this place that we never seek to influence the courts when people's reputations and names are at stake.

I am in no way seeking to interfere in that way, Mr. Speaker. I am merely asking about the use of particular procedures by the Director of Public Prosecutions that have caused public concern. I believe that it is right that this issue should be raised in this place—

Order. Let me make it quite clear. The hon. Gentleman must not refer to any case that is currently before the courts, as that would be highly irresponsible.

Will the Attorney-General say whether he thinks it right for the Bill of Indictment procedure to be used in a way that steps in before the due process of law has been completed and prevents the defendant from testing the prosecution's argument that there is a prima facie case against him? Is that not unjust?

I shall, Mr. Speaker, be careful in my answer. The use of a voluntary Bill in circumstances in which the court is satisfied that the defendants are deliberately delaying the committal proceedings has operated on a number of occasions over the last few years.