Skip to main content

Stephen Ward

Volume 751: debated on Thursday 16 January 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will release the full transcript of the Stephen Ward trial.

My Lords, the Government cannot identify a full transcript of the Stephen Ward trial within their records. Full transcripts are not automatically created unless ordered by the judge or requested by the parties involved in the trial. The National Archives and the Crown Prosecution Service hold partial records of witness evidence given in the trial but a full transcript of proceedings may never have been created. The partial records contain sensitive information about people who are still alive. Disclosing such records would invite renewed and potentially unfair speculation about their activities. Accordingly, these records will not be released at this time.

My Lords, that is a very disappointing Answer and seems to me part of the cover up that has gone on since 1964. Does the Minister agree that the conviction of Stephen Ward is probably one of the most significant miscarriages of justice in modern British history and, while the establishment got its scalp, justice was not done? Can we at least have released the papers that are available because it is very likely that they would exonerate Stephen Ward and put right this enormous miscarriage of justice.

My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, on 2 December 2013 the human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC submitted a review of this case to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which is, of course, an independent public body set up in March 1997 by the Criminal Appeal Act. Its purpose is to review wrongful convictions. It is currently reviewing the case and it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.

My Lords, the trial was fully reported in lascivious detail by the Times at the time in July and August 1963 with full-page and verbatim accounts of the cross-examination and the summing up. Accordingly, I see no reason why such papers as relate to the trial should not be released. Geoffrey Robertson said that Lord Parker, the then Lord Chief Justice—not the trial judge—had suppressed a transcript of the trial. Is that right? If so, under what power did he do so?

My Lords, I was not around in 1964 to read the Times but I shall certainly look it up in the archives. Turning to the specific question, the issue remains that full transcripts are not automatically created and certainly, as I said in my earlier Answer, that is the case here. Six files are held by the National Archives relating to the Stephen Ward trial; five of these are open to the public, so there is partial availability. One file is closed. The closed file does not contain a full transcript of the hearing. However, it contains partial records of some elements of the hearing, including evidence given by individuals from the box. These records contain sensitive information about living individuals and also unsubstantiated allegations and it would be inappropriate to release those records at this time.

Unfortunately, I cannot. As I said, it is not available publicly. People may speculate but I think that I have been clear.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we have original copies of the Times here, going back to the 18th century? I looked them up for the founding of Sydney University, and they are all available. Perhaps the Minister can suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, looks at those copies of the Times to which my noble friend has just referred?

I am sure that the noble Lord has heard that advice. I am also advised that my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber has a musical, as noble Lords will know, which has also been recommended as being well worth going to see.

My Lords, is not the real problem in this case the policy of concealment that is repeatedly conducted by successive British Governments and key civil servants? Is not an American sociologist right in saying that the reason for this country being so badly governed is the curse of secrecy?

My Lords, the Americans are our friends and we listen attentively to their advice. However, I believe that we make the best decisions here in the light of our own justice system. As I have already said, the information which is being withheld is being so withheld to protect those who are still living. It is entirely appropriate that we protect their sensitivities.

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that sensitive files kept by the National Archives are not destroyed without Parliament being informed and having a full discussion about whether it is relevant to do so?

My noble friend of course speaks with great expertise as a former Minister responsible for this area. He is absolutely correct in what he has just said.

My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord is saying about files in the public archives, but for the life of me I do not understand why, if evidence was given at the trial, that evidence should not be made public. It was made public in the sense that, at one stage, it was given in public and people could hear it in public. What on earth is the justification now for not producing it?

While the noble Lord makes the point that this evidence has been heard in an open court, it does not necessarily follow that all relevant transcripts are released. As I have already indicated, and will now repeat, there are certain sensitivities around what was revealed. Indeed, as the noble Lord will know, many people who gave witness testaments at the following Denning inquiry did so on the assurance that their records would be protected.

My Lords, could special arrangements be made for our colleague the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, to have special access to the one file which remains closed?

I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy. If certain records are held for another 100 years or so, may God grant him a long life.

I do not think that the Minister has really answered my noble friend Lord Richard’s question. We are talking about evidence that was given in public, and the Government—the archives—now hold material relating to that, possibly transcripts of it. For some reason, a decision has been taken that, because of sensitivity, these cannot now be rereleased to the public. What are the criteria for deciding why something which is already in the public domain should be suppressed in the future?

My Lords, the Government have considered the published guidance. Indeed, the Information Commissioner’s Office has also given guidance that the disclosure of any personal data still will breach the data protection principles, even after that has been disclosed in an open court. Having considered this guidance and the relevant information, the Government have decided—I have made that quite clear—not to release the partial records of witness evidence at this time.