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Prisoners Maintaining Innocence

Volume 505: debated on Tuesday 9 February 2010

The information requested is not collected. A person who believes that they have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice can appeal against their conviction. If the appeal is unsuccessful, the Criminal Cases Review Commission can be asked to review the case. The commission has the power to refer a conviction to the Court of Appeal.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Does she think there would be any merit in the Government undertaking a study of miscarriages of justice, and of the correlation between unevidenced assertions and compensation in miscarriage of justice cases?

There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the number of wrongful convictions is rising. The Court of Appeal quashes about 200 convictions each year, and I see no reason at all to make any change to the current arrangements.

One group of people who often have difficulty expressing and establishing their innocence are those on the autistic spectrum. In the state of Maryland in the United States, this is being tackled by the Maryland curriculum, which trains court officers and police officers to recognise autistic behaviour. Would my hon. Friend be prepared to review the Maryland curriculum to see whether there would be any merit in introducing such a scheme in the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend has given the House some interesting information, and I would be more than happy to ask officials to look into it in more detail. He might also be aware of the Bradley report, in which my noble Friend Lord Bradley identifies the difficulties experienced by people with mental health and other learning difficulties. The report examines how the criminal justice system should approach these issues and suggests alternative ways of dealing with them, where possible.

I am disappointed, although not surprised, that the Minister responded to the original question by saying that the Government do not collect this information at all. About a year ago, they said it would serve no useful purpose to collect it. Does she not recognise that there is a useful purpose? When prisoners maintain their innocence, it can often lead to their being held in prison for longer, perhaps because they are held not to have completed various courses. Do the Government not see that there would be a purpose in making a study of cases such as those?

When someone is convicted, it is only right that the system accepts that the court’s decision is right and, if they are sent to prison, the prison system should accept the decision on that basis. The person has an opportunity to appeal, and if the appeal is unsuccessful, they also have an opportunity to refer the case to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that people who maintain their innocence might not get parole or be considered appropriately. It would not be lawful for the Parole Board to exclude someone from an opportunity for parole simply because they maintained their innocence. There are some courses that it would be inappropriate for such people to attend, such as sex offending treatment, simply because if they could not admit their offence, it would be difficult to discuss with them how they were going to progress from it.