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Life Imprisonment: Tariff Disclosure

Volume 548: debated on Tuesday 20 July 1993

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3.7 p.m.

Whether, in the light of the judgment of the House on 24th June in the case of Regina v. Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Doody, they will disclose the tariff of all prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment.

My Lords, my right honourable friend will be consulting the Lord Chief Justice on how to give effect to those parts of the judgment which are binding on my right honourable friend. He will make an announcement in due course.

My Lords, I express a very limited measure of satisfaction at that somewhat evasive answer. Perhaps I may point out—

My Lords, the court's judgment has committed the Government to disclosing the tariff to all life prisoners. Is the noble Earl aware of that fact, or is it one of those questions which somehow has got lost in the wash?

My Lords, I would have been enormously unprepared for the Question had I not been aware of that fact. The noble Earl stated that he found my answer of limited satisfaction and evasive. It was not supposed to be evasive. Of course my right honourable friend is aware of what the courts have said. But how to put that into practice needs consultation with the Lord Chief Justice, because it is necessary to get right the system by which one puts into effect the bindings of the court.

My Lords, no one denies the necessity for the Home Secretary to consult with the Lord Chief Justice. However, does the Minister not agree that the administrative procedures for disclosing tariffs to those under sentence of life imprisonment could be set into effect straight away? Does he also agree that implementation of a decision following consultation could take place more quickly if those factors were put in place at once?

My Lords, before my right honourable friend makes those alterations, it is quite appropriate for him to consult the Lord Chief Justice, whose responsibility it is to administer the courts. My right honourable friend has every intention of carrying out the obligations put upon him, but it is right that he should do so in a way which is acceptable to the courts.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that disclosure of the tariff is one of the recommendations of your Lordships' Select Committee on Murder and Life Imprisonment and that the progress which my noble friend has now suggested is to take place on consultation with the Lord Chief Justice is indeed welcome?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving at least one bit of support to the Government. We are doing what we are supposed to do, and I am glad that it has the approval of my noble friend.

My Lords, being mildly surprised at the uncharacteristically sharp words which the noble Earl has just directed at his noble friend, perhaps I may ask him on the general issue which is raised in the Question whether he will tell us what "in due course" may mean. Is there to be a statement before the end of the present parliamentary Session or is there not? Is he aware—I am sure that he is—that the Home Secretary lost this case before your Lordships' Appeal Committee and obviously a number of people are anxious to find out the timescale envisaged by the Home Secretary?

My Lords, your Lordships frequently ask for an explanation of the words "in due course". I am unable to give a precise explanation which will satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. He will realise that when people are consulted it is necessary to go through the proper motions before being in a position to make a statement. If it happens that a statement can be made before the Recess, I am sure that it will be. If it cannot, it will be made later.

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that this matter could be disposed of in five minutes? Is he further aware that those whose tariffs are 20 years or less are already being told their tariffs, but that there are about 120 whose tariffs are more than 20 years who for some reason unknown have not so far been given their tariffs? Does the noble Earl agree that they should be given them immediately? Because the tariffs are known, it would not take more than five minutes to tell them what they are.

My Lords, the noble Earl must have greater experience of the methods of the courts than I have if he thinks that anything which the courts do can be done within five minutes.

My Lords, I assure the noble Earl that it is our intention to resolve this problem. I can reassure him that we intend to do that in consultation with the Lord Chief Justice in order to make certain that the mechanism works correctly. There is nothing untoward about that.