My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is proposed to review the established practices of the Criminal Compensation Board in regard to the making of awards while related criminal proceedings are pending.
My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said when this matter was debated in another place on 17th April, we intend to consider further the general issues involved; and there will be an opportunity for Parliament to address them when legislation is introduced to place the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme on a statutory footing.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful and encouraging reply. Is there not perhaps an underlying fallacy in the board's reasoning? Is there not some danger of confusion between two distinct matters: the identity of a perpetrator with the fact of an entitlement of compensation for injury? So far as concerns the question of possible prejudice to a defendant, cannot this confidently be left to the learned trial judge in his summing up or other directions to the jury without imposing further hardship on the injured by a yet more prolonged withholding of compensation?
My Lords, I do not think there is a fallacy, because in deciding whether an applicant is entitled to compensation the board has first to satisfy itself that the injury results from a criminal act. If it does so before a criminal court has considered the case the board will be anticipating the criminal court's decision on whether a criminal act took place. That might be prejudicial to the trial. That argument applies whether or not a particular person perpetrated the act.
My Lords, can the noble Lord the Minister indicate when this legislation is likely to come before Parliament?
My Lords, I cannot anticipate the Queen's Speech, but I hope the noble Lord will not have to wait too long.
My Lords, may I ask the Minister this question? When the chairman of the board was discussing this case on the radio he said that he could not be removed from office. As the scheme itself has no statutory backing and can be altered by the Home Secretary by a stroke of the pen, cannot the Home Secretary alter the membership just as he sees fit? I am not suggesting that the chairman should be removed from office, but quite a number of us would like to know what the powers of the Home Secretary are.
My Lords, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland have responsibility under the scheme for the appointment of members of the board. They can decline to renew an appointment or terminate a member's appointment on the grounds of incapacity or misbehaviour. If the chairman were at any time to fail to follow the terms of the scheme, the Home Secretary would have the option of removing him from office, but the matter we are discussing is not dealt with in the scheme.
My Lords, is it not the case that there are really no grounds for removing the present chairman, applying those tests?
My Lords, the chairman is doing the best he can in the circumstances which prevail at the moment. Of that I am quite sure.
My Lords, does my noble friend appreciate that I am not asking for the removal of the chairman but merely that he clear his mind on this matter? Does my noble friend appreciate that the answer he gave does not really resolve the question I put as to the confusion between the identification of a perpetarator and the general entitlement to compensation? If I may be forgiven for a very brief lapse into latinity, it is a question of ad rem and ad personam.
My Lords, I am not qualified to translate my noble friend's remark. The chairman of the board has been concerned in the case which I think is in my noble friend's mind to take no action that might conceivably prejudice the fair trial of the defendant in the criminal proceedings.