To ask the Attorney-General when he last discussed the Maguire case with the Director of Public Prosecutions.
I discussed the Maguire case with the Director of Public Prosecutions last week when he advised me of the views that he had formed about the safety of the convictions.
Does the Attorney-General agree that the Maguire case is but one of a number of cases concerning the Irish issue where the British legal system has proved less than adequate?
It would be very unwise of me, having, with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary invited Sir John May to conduct this inquiry, to make any comments now upon the matters which may form the subject of this report.On the current trend of running down the English legal system, and the judges in particular, let me say that our legal system is rightly admired. When the judges are heavily and personally criticised and undermined it does great harm to our liberties and the freedom in which we live. The hon. Gentleman has not done that today, but his hon. Friends—unfortunately there is no shortage of them —who have spoken are inclined to undermine the reputation of the judges in a way that I consider to be completely unfounded and damaging. I dare say that my remarks are slightly out of order, Mr. Speaker, but I wanted to get it off my chest.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that it is a tribute to the British system that occasionally we can admit that mistakes were made? We look forward to a similar confession from the Republic in respect of another Maguire case.
I shall pass on the latter part of the question.In this country, we have a procedure through which the Home Secretary may refer a case to the Court of Appeal if he believes that there are grounds for thinking that the conviction is unsafe or unsatisfactory. The Court of Appeal will then examine the matter as though it were a fresh appeal. That seems to me to be an extremely wise and sensible procedure bearing in mind the fact that all institutions are mortal and occasionally fallible. In his statement through counsel a few days ago, the Director of Public Prosecutions said that if the Home Secretary thought it right to refer the Maguire case to the Court of Appeal, the Director would not consider it right to seek to uphold the safety of the conviction, the ground that he expressed through counsel on Thursday.
Are not there two lessons to be learnt from the recent cases? First, when the police or prosecution, in their enthusiasm to obtain a conviction, depart from the usual good practice, convictions that might otherwise have stood on appeal—I am not referring to a specific case—may be upset as being unsafe or unsatisfactory. Secondly —although I am not casting aspersions on the judges—no matter how good the adversarial system may be for trials, in recent difficult cases it has been found wanting in regard to appeals. Will the Law Officers' Department give evidence to the May inquiry about a different way to examine these matters, as recommended by some of my hon. Friends and by the Select Committee on Home Affairs?
I should be quite wrong to comment on anything that may form the subject of Sir John May's inquiry. I certainly shall not take up the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman in the first part of his question; all those matters are for Sir John May. As to the merits and demerits of the adversarial system, it falls within Sir John May's remit. If he seeks evidence on it, my Department and others will be happy to provide it.