My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
As the House will be aware, Her Majesty graciously accepted my recommendation that Michael Shields should be granted a free pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. He was released from custody on 9 September. I have placed in the Library the statement I made to the press on that day.
In July 2005 Mr Shields was convicted in Bulgaria of the attempted murder of a Bulgarian national called Martin Georgiev. Mr Georgiev suffered a brutal and unprovoked attack in the Bulgarian resort of Varna where violence flared in the early hours of 30 May 2005. Mr Shields was sentenced to 15 years, reduced to 10 on appeal. In 2006 he was returned to England to complete his sentence here. He applied for a free pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. However, it had been the long-standing practice, on an equally long-standing legal interpretation of the 1983 Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, that the “receiving state” had to respect the decision of the sentencing state, so I did not initially entertain the application.
This approach was challenged in a judicial review and on 17 December last year the Administrative Court declared that I should consider the application and said, “the grant of a free pardon would appear to require a conclusion that, taking the Bulgarian courts’ judgment for what it is and without calling in question its correctness on the material which those courts considered, fresh evidence which the Bulgarian court did not consider, taken with the material which they did consider and their judgment upon it, justifies a conclusion that Michael Shields is morally and technically innocent”.
I accepted the judgment of the court and sought straight away to ensure from Mr Shields’ legal team that I had available all the evidence in this case. I appointed senior counsel to assist me and, with the agreement of the Chief Constable, Merseyside Police conducted further inquiries on my behalf.
On 2 July after the most careful consideration of the evidence I made a provisional decision to refuse Michael Shields’ application for a free pardon. I did so because I was not satisfied that Mr Shields passed the test of “moral and technical innocence” that the administrative court expected me to apply.
I made clear at the time that I would consider any further representations before I made a final decision. I also offered Mr Shields’ parents the opportunity of a meeting so they could make representations to me in person.
Written representations I received over the course of the summer did not persuade me that my provisional decision of 2 July had been wrong. However, on 28 August I had a meeting with Mr Shields’ parents. The meeting was also attended by their daughter, by Louise Ellman MP and by Councillor Joe Anderson of Liverpool City Council.
At that meeting I was presented with significant new information which had not been presented to me before. Following further inquiries after the meeting I determined the new information to be both truthful and credible. Once again Merseyside police assisted me. The new evidence profoundly changed my consideration of this matter and showed other, existing, evidence in a new light. What had not previously appeared credible now appeared to be so.
Taking all the evidence together I concluded that Michael Shields was in fact telling the truth when he said he was innocent of the attempted murder of Martin Georgiev. The test of moral and technical innocence had therefore been met so Mr Shields was granted the free pardon he sought and released from custody.
One issue that has emerged from this case is the appropriateness or otherwise of the Justice Secretary exercising a power that involves him in making findings of fact in cases where miscarriage of justice is alleged in cases from abroad. I am clear that it is not a suitable function for the Executive. Indeed, any role for a Secretary of State in referring alleged miscarriages of justice occurring within the jurisdiction to the appeal courts was removed by the 1995 Criminal Appeal Act, which established the Criminal Cases Review Commission. I intend looking at options, though I have yet to form any view as to how future such applications should be handled. I shall, of course, consult and in doing so I will want to hear the views of the Criminal Cases Review Commission and others with an interest.