112A: Page 121, line 24, leave out “was innocent of” and insert “did not commit”
My Lords, the House will recall that Amendment 112 changed the definition of a miscarriage of justice for the purposes of paying compensation. At the heart of all our discussions lies the question: what is a miscarriage of justice? It is a strong term, which cries out for proper definition. There is general agreement, including from the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, that it is more than a simple acquittal. The fact that someone was tried and the evidence proved insufficient to convince a jury of their guilt does not mean that a miscarriage of justice took place. Nor do the Government believe that someone whose conviction was overturned because changes to the evidence against them, such as developments in expert knowledge, made that conviction unsafe has necessarily suffered a miscarriage of justice. Although following the quashing of a conviction someone will be presumed innocent, there may be a retrial on the basis of the remaining evidence, at which there is the potential for a new conviction. Justice cannot be said, in these cases, to have miscarried.
The Government firmly believe that a miscarriage of justice can be said to have occurred where someone who was innocent was convicted. The question therefore becomes: how do you know that happened? In our previous debates, some noble Lords have asked how applicants for compensation can be expected, sometimes years after their wrongful conviction, to prove their innocence. The answer is that they will not. In all cases, the Court of Appeal will have already considered a new fact—the new fact that led to the quashing of the conviction—and this new fact will exonerate those who are truly innocent. These are the people who have truly suffered a miscarriage of justice: people who were convicted because the fact which now exonerates them was unknown or unrecognised, be it the proof that they were somewhere else, the DNA that convicts a different perpetrator or the evidence that the offence simply did not take place. It is the nature of the new fact that demonstrates innocence, and the applicant for compensation does not need to provide any further evidence to prove themselves eligible for compensation within the statutory test.
The Government remain firmly of the view that the definition of a miscarriage of justice, which was inserted by Amendment 112 in your Lordships’ House, does not provide the necessary clarity. It is similar, although not identical, to the wording used by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, in the Supreme Court’s judgment in Adams and, as he said:
“This test will not guarantee that all those who are entitled to compensation are in fact innocent”.
We believe that the test should guarantee exactly that, because we believe that only those who are shown not to have committed the offence for which they were convicted have truly suffered a miscarriage of justice and deserve recognition and recompense for that. However, I am sure that none of your Lordships wants those who are in fact guilty to receive compensation.
The amendment adopted by your Lordships on Report would have required the new fact to show,
“conclusively that the evidence against the person at trial is so undermined that no conviction could possibly be based on it”.
Careful reading of this proposed definition makes it clear how difficult a burden this places on the Secretary of State. It would require him, when considering an application for compensation, to look not just at the new fact but at the whole of the evidence, and to decide whether there is any possibility that a conviction might result. The aim of the Supreme Court in the Adams judgment was both clarity and fairness but, with all due respect, I suggest that it did not in fact achieve either. Rather, it required an adjudication from the Secretary of State considerably more complex than that which we are now proposing.
During the debate that took place on the previous occasion when this matter was before your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, indicated that it was very unsatisfactory that the Secretary of State should be asked to pronounce on guilt or innocence. I am not sure that, on that occasion, I gave a sufficient response. Let me do so now.
The applicant will have to satisfy the Secretary of State that he is eligible for compensation within the meaning of the statutory test. If your Lordships accept the government amendment, the word “innocence” is removed altogether from his consideration of the application. Let me make it perfectly clear that the difference between what we now suggest should be part of the Bill and what was originally there is only a question of words. It would not result in a different determination in any one case. But words matter in this context because there is a deep, visceral unease about anything that may be said to run contrary to the presumption of innocence—hence the changing of the words.
However, the question—I revert to the Secretary of State’s function—is what he will use to decide whether an applicant is eligible. That is the question. The Court of Appeal will have provided a detailed judgment explaining why, so long after a conviction, a new fact has enabled it to conclude that the conviction should be quashed. In my experience of reading the decisions of the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, the basis on which a conviction is overturned is always made perfectly clear. The Secretary of State will simply look at that judgment and be able to decide, in accordance with a straightforward test that we are proposing by this amendment, whether an applicant is entitled to compensation. It is clear that the Court of Appeal will have set out in detail why it has come to that conclusion and whether it fits the clear definition that we suggest is appropriate.
The test proposed in your Lordships’ House on Report is also highly ambiguous. What one person believes is evidence sufficient possibly to bring about a conviction, another may argue could never have had such a result. The effect of this would undoubtedly lead applicants to contest decisions denying them compensation. Applicants denied compensation following the Adams judgment have, in some cases, spent years attempting unsuccessfully to get those decisions overturned by the courts. Indeed, as recently as 27 February, the Court of Appeal rejected three further cases, so the effect of the test is clear to this extent: it will inform more litigation. We do not believe this is fair, either on applicants or on the taxpayer, who often funds both sides in this fruitless litigation.
Our objections to Amendment 112 are firmly based on points of principle; this is not primarily about saving money. That said, here as elsewhere, we must deliver value for money for the taxpayer and, accordingly, it is in no one’s interests for us to be spending at least £50,000 contesting each decision to refuse compensation. That, by the way, is an estimate of the Government’s average costs per case. The taxpayer also usually funds via legal aid the unsuccessful applicant’s costs of litigation, which, in many cases, are considerably higher than the Government’s. The total cost of each unsuccessful judicial review can, therefore, run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. If we maintain an ambiguous definition, we expect the flow of judicial reviews to continue, however many times the court ultimately concludes that the Secretary of State’s interpretation was the correct one. We believe that a simpler test, which focuses only on the new fact and what that new fact shows, will make it easier for all concerned, while ensuring that those who have truly suffered a miscarriage of justice will be quickly compensated for it. That said, we have listened to the concerns that noble Lords raised about how the clause was originally drafted.
The rationale for the presumption of innocence is that it is better that 99 guilty men go free than that one innocent man is convicted. That stems from our abhorrence of the idea of an innocent man losing his liberty. Here we are concerned not with liberty but with compensation or, in other words, money, so the considerations are different.
We recognise the difficulty around the use of the term “innocent”. The European Court of Human Rights has suggested that the presumption of innocence is engaged when considering whether a miscarriage of justice has taken place. All those who have not been convicted, or whose conviction has been quashed, are presumed innocent. To avoid any implication that this is not respected, or that the Secretary of State intends to adjudicate on this question, Amendment 112A uses different language. The issue now is not whether a person is considered innocent or guilty. The issue is whether a miscarriage of justice took place when the applicant was first convicted. This will be true only if the applicant did not commit the offence, if that is what the new fact shows. That is what Amendment 112A would achieve.
Your Lordships’ House has quite properly asked the House of Commons to examine this issue again. It has now done so and has clearly resolved both to reject Amendment 112 and to agree the government amendment in lieu. Now that the elected House has reaffirmed its view on this matter, I urge your Lordships not to insist on their amendment, to reject Motion A1 and to let this Bill now pass. I beg to move.
My Lords, on Report your Lordships’ House supported an amendment to include in this Bill the criteria for the payment of compensation for a miscarriage of justice based on the judgment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, speaking for the majority of the Supreme Court in the Adams case. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, himself spoke in favour of my Amendment 112 on Report. He has asked me to express his regret that he is unable to be in his place today to support Motion A1 because he is abroad.
We are concerned today with cases where an applicant has been wrongly convicted of a criminal offence. In many of these cases, he or she spent years in prison before the Court of Appeal overturned that conviction. Compensation is not paid, and rightly so, simply because the judge made an error of law or there was some other technical basis for the successful appeal to the Court of Appeal. The applicant must show, on the test stated by the Supreme Court—the test approved by your Lordships’ House—that a new fact has emerged that so undermines the prosecution evidence that no conviction could possibly be based on it. That is a very difficult test to satisfy, and rightly so.
I continue to believe that the test of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, for the Supreme Court is preferable to the Government’s approach, approved by the other place, and that the amendment approved by the other place, with great respect to them, is wrong in principle and would have very damaging consequences. That was true of the original criteria set out in this Bill and rejected by your Lordships’ House on Report—the criteria that the applicant must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he or she is innocent of the offence—and it remains true of the variation introduced by the Government in the other place, that the applicant must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he or she did not commit the offence. The Minister has very fairly acknowledged in his opening remarks that there is no substantive difference between proof that you are innocent and proof that you did not commit the offence.
I will first seek to explain why I say that the Government’s approach will have very damaging consequences. The Minister has suggested today that the judgment of the Court of Appeal will be the only evidence which the Secretary of State needs to see in order to form a judgment on whether the applicant did or did not commit the offence. However, the Court of Appeal very rarely says whether it thinks that a defendant has proved that he or she did not commit the crime. That is not the role of the Court of Appeal. It focuses on whether a new or newly discovered fact fatally undermines the case that is presented by the prosecution. The test of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, is consistent with what the Court of Appeal does. It has never been the role of Ministers in our jurisdiction—rightly so—to pronounce on whether a person has committed a crime.
The cases in which compensation is claimed for a miscarriage of justice will often be the most controversial and sensitive. When an appeal has been allowed in the Court of Appeal on the basis that the prosecution case has been fatally undermined by a new or newly discovered fact, and when the defendant is then released from prison, often many years after their wrongful conviction, it is very unwise for legislation to state that it is then for the Secretary of State to pronounce on whether she thinks that the defendant has proved that they did not commit the crime. I can think of nothing more likely to keep open the sore of a regrettable miscarriage of justice, and nothing more likely to involve a politician in controversial matters of criminal responsibility.
The Minister suggested that the Government’s approach would promote certainty in the law. I have to say to him that, far from promoting certainty, the Government’s approach will inevitably be a recipe for complex, expensive and highly acrimonious litigation. The Minister said that there had been a few cases since the Adams judgment, which, he said, itself suggested that the Adams criteria were uncertain. However, as the Minister recognised, none of those cases has succeeded, and he well knows that members of our profession are quite capable of litigating any statutory definition. I therefore agree with the Government that the Bill should define the criteria for receipt of compensation for miscarriages of justice but I cannot agree that the Government’s wording, approved by the other place, is sensible in practice. It will have disastrous consequences.
Perhaps I may also say something about the issue of principle because the Minister emphasised this point in his opening remarks. He suggested that only those who are truly innocent should receive compensation for a miscarriage of justice. I say to him with the greatest of respect that that approach is wrong in principle. Our law does not ask people to prove that they did not commit a crime; it is for the state to prove that they did commit a crime. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who I am pleased to see in his place, addressed this point with characteristic clarity at paragraph 97 in his judgment in the Adams case. He said that a person against whom there is no sufficient and admissible evidence on which a conviction can be based should not be the subject of the criminal process in the first place. Therefore, if a new or newly discovered fact fatally undermines the prosecution evidence, it is,
“right in principle that compensation should be payable”.
My noble and learned friend added at paragraph 102 that if the evidence against the defendant is conclusively shown to have been completely undermined, then there has been a miscarriage of justice which is as great whether or not the defendant committed the crime because in neither case should the defendant have been prosecuted.
The Minister emphasised in his opening remarks that these Adams criteria may occasionally result in compensation being paid to a person who may in fact have committed the crime. My noble and learned friend Lord Phillips powerfully answered that point in his judgment in Adams at paragraph 55. He recognised that his test—the test approved by this House on Report—
“will not guarantee that all those who are entitled to compensation are in fact innocent. It will, however, ensure that when innocent defendants are convicted on evidence which is subsequently discredited, they are not precluded from obtaining compensation because they cannot prove their innocence beyond reasonable doubt”.
I commend the analysis of my noble and learned friend Lord Phillips to your Lordships as plainly correct in principle.
In the other place the Government did not address— far less answer—the concerns about the practical consequences and the issues of principle which I have summarised. I cannot—again, with respect—agree with the attempts by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, to respond to those points today. This House should invite the other place to think again on such an important issue. I beg to move.
My Lords, I supported the Government on the clause at Second Reading and again in Committee and on Report. At the risk of wearying your Lordships and displeasing, yet again, those who procured the original amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, I support the Government again on their proposed amendment and I resist that of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.
For my part, I, too, accept that this reformulation is in substance no different from its predecessor. Because it avoids the explicit language of guilt or innocence, it may be regarded however, as better able to resist what at one stage was suggested to be its vulnerability to challenge under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
I do not propose to repeat all the arguments that I canvassed in support of the Government’s approach at the earlier stages. I now make just three basic points. First, there is all the difference in the world between, on the one hand, a person’s right to be acquitted and thereafter presumed innocent whenever there is any lingering doubt as to his guilt and, on the other hand, the right to monetary compensation for his incarceration pending that eventual acquittal. On Report, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, reminded us all, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, reminds us again, that it is better that 10—the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, says 99—guilty men go free than that one innocent man be convicted. Of course, that is so and it is integral to our criminal justice system, but it by no means follows that it is better that 10, let alone 99, guilty men get financial compensation rather than that one innocent man goes uncompensated. That illustrates the total distinction between the presumption of innocence and the right to go free if there is any doubt at all about the safety of one’s conviction and, on the other hand, the right to monetary compensation for the period of incarceration until that innocence can be established.
Secondly, the present formulation put forward again by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is, as has been explained, essentially that of the majority in the Supreme Court in Adams—a majority of five votes to four. The then Lord Chief Justice, my noble and learned friend Lord Judge, who, alas, cannot be here today, and I were in that minority of four. The majority preferred it to the test of the minority that the claimant should have to establish his innocence. In truth the majority’s formulation is a fudge—indeed, an unprincipled fudge. None of the parties in the case argued in support of it—not even leading counsel who appeared as interveners for Justice. They were all arguing for compensation to be paid to all those whose appeal eventually succeeds. Now no one pursues that absolutist view. Of course, under this fudge, compensation would still be required to be paid even to those who, albeit entitled to succeed on their appeals, can nevertheless be seen clearly to have committed the offence.
I have given various examples of this at earlier stages. Today I shall give just one. Let us suppose that a defendant confesses his guilt and in his confession discloses facts of which only the perpetrator of the crime to which he is confessing could have knowledge. Later, however, on a late appeal, he is able to establish that that confession was induced by, for example, a promise that if only he would confess his guilt he would get bail. Once that is established the confession has to be set aside as one induced by guilt, even though it is self-evidently true as a confession. He is entitled to succeed on his appeal but is he really to be regarded as entitled to compensation, which could run to hundreds of thousands of pounds? I would suggest not.
My third and final point is on certainty. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, has made this point. I should have said earlier that, alas, I missed the first few minutes of his speech as it never occurred to me, in common with one or two others, that this Bill would be reached at the stage that it was. I apologise for that but I think I heard everything that he said that needed to be heard by somebody supporting his case. The proposed formulation is very far from easy to apply. Perhaps a good illustration of that is the tragic case of Sally Clark—a case about which the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, spoke more than once at earlier stages of the Bill. It is a case which raises considerable and understandable emotions. On my reading of that case—I believe this to be correct—the Court of Appeal never went further than to say that on the fresh evidence that had come to light a jury might well not have convicted her. It was not said, in the words of the proposed amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that the fresh evidence showed—let alone showed “conclusively”—that the evidence against her at trial had been so undermined that no conviction could possibly have been based on it. Maybe, in the light of all the material, the jury would have convicted; maybe it would not.
If it is said that I am wrong in my understanding of that case, it just goes to show that the proposed formulation will lead, not to the desired clarity and certainty in the law, but to further protracted litigation on this issue. As the Minister said, based on the Court of Appeal judgment, it is perfectly simple for him to form a view —yes or no—on whether, in the light of all the material, this defendant was indeed innocent of the charge and therefore whether or not it was a clear miscarriage of justice in that sense. The elected Chamber rejected this House’s amendment first time round and I respectfully suggest that we should not challenge it again.
My Lords, I had the advantage of listening to the whole of the Minister’s address with great care. I respectfully say that it was very well put across. However, I remain of the view, advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that the Commons amendment should not be accepted. I have spoken on this matter on a number of previous occasions, so I will make a few short points.
I agree entirely with the Minister that the issue before us is what is meant by the phrase “miscarriage of justice”. This still remains in Section 133 of the 1988 Act because in this Bill we are adding a new subsection to try to explain what the basic rule, set out in subsection (1), is all about. Therefore one has to consider how that works out in practice, given the nature of our criminal appeal process. In effect, it is an element of working out the court’s function in the appeal and the position the Secretary of State must take, given the material in the Court of Appeal’s judgment.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, has confirmed that the Court of Appeal does not have to ask itself whether the appellant was innocent: it has to consider whether the conviction was unsafe. No one is suggesting that that should be the test applied when working out whether there has been a miscarriage of justice. The problem with the test which the Minister is now suggesting and which is in the Commons amendment is that it is striving for something which is, in nearly every case, almost impossible to demonstrate. I prosecuted for four years in the course of my career at the Bar and secured a number of convictions. It frequently occurred to me that we—by which I mean the jury, the prosecutors and everyone else who was looking on—were not there. It is so difficult to work out what actually happened: one can only proceed on evidence. The Crown’s function is to demonstrate guilt as best it can on the evidence but it is extraordinarily difficult to work out whether somebody did not commit the crime and put it in a positive way in favour of the accused if you did not actually see what happened when the crime was committed. You have to rely on other people to demonstrate that fact. That is the basic problem with the test being suggested.
In my judgment in the case to which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, referred, I recorded that when Article 14 of the covenant, from which we take the phrase, was being discussed it was suggested that the test of innocence should be put in to elaborate what was meant by miscarriage of justice, but it was not put in to the final draft. The matter was considered then but it was taken out and we are left with a phrase which we now have to construe and apply.
Without going on any further, I suggest that a better way of approaching it would be to tie the phrase, as carefully as we can, into the way our criminal process works, in a world where there can rarely be absolute certainty. We cannot achieve mathematical certainty in our system of criminal justice: we are not expected to. Because of that, I suggest we take the practical approach embodied in the phrase proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I support his amendment.
My Lords, I remind the House that I served for 10 years as an assessor for compensation for miscarriages of justice. That role required me to assess compensation, not to determine eligibility. However, in order to determine compensation I was equipped with the factual basis for the ministerial decision to allow compensation to be awarded.
We are here faced with a choice between two different ways of seeking to achieve justice, and the key test for this House should be which way better serves the interests of justice. The Lords’ amendment creates a stiff test: you have to show conclusively—it is a tough obstacle—that the evidence was so undermined that no conviction could possibly be based on it. The evidence so undermined is a matter for judicial assessment in this context. Whether it makes a conviction impossible to sustain is a matter for judicial decision. Both the assessment and the decision arise in the process of whether guilt has been established, not whether innocence has been shown.
Because of that well established system, judges, both at trial and in the Court of Appeal, look at these matters of assessment and decision very carefully. The process is a fundamental part of the system; it is well established. The judges, the lawyers and the legal commentators know what is happening. It accords with what we have traditionally thought to be the best of legal principle in applying our criminal law. A miscarriage of justice is an aberrant product of our criminal law going wrong in its process. The system I have just described has sufficient clarity in its process so that when the test in the Lords’ amendment is applied to it, justice will usually be done if there is a miscarriage of justice.
What of the government test? The words “innocent” and “did not commit” we can treat as synonymous for the purpose of this argument. The government test involves the Minister looking for material to show innocence from proceedings that were designed to establish guilt. Other than the Criminal Cases Review Commission, of the potential sources the key source of his or her approach will be what happened in court then, or afterwards if there was an appeal, or a newly discovered fact well after that. So the context of the ministerial decision will be outwith our present system.
Indeed, the Minister will be applying himself or herself to making a quasi-judicial decision: should this person, in justice, be given compensation for this miscarriage of justice? It is a very serious decision most pertinently determined by solid evidence, and from where is he or she to extract it in our present system? The new fact which establishes innocence or that someone did not commit the offence has to be very powerful indeed—for example, irrefutable DNA evidence or a subsequently discovered group of witnesses who prove a rock solid alibi. There are very few sets of circumstances.
It will be of significance to this House—and I trust to the other place if this goes back to it—that no one on the government side in any debate so far has chosen to illustrate by example how their test would work and why the Lords’ test is not appropriate. Although proceedings before the assessing Minister are confidential, it is open to the applicant to make them public. I shall refer to two public examples which show that the Lords’ test would work in justice and the government test would not.
The first is the “arms to Iraq” case, in which some of the defendants got to court and no evidence was ultimately offered against them—there never was a trial. Others of those cases were stopped during the trial and in yet more cases there were acquittals. The result of that set of circumstances meant that in the ones where no evidence was offered or the judge stopped the trial, there never was an appeal; there never was any new evidence because the scenario was well known. We did what we thought was legal because the government agents and people responsible said that we could do it.
In those circumstances, with no Court of Appeal judgment, on the test in the Lords’ amendment it is almost certain that those people would have received compensation. If you do not offer any evidence, how can you possibly say that the conviction could be sustained? If the judge stops it on the basis of the Lords’ test, why not give compensation? How could these men “prove their innocence” in the context of the government test?
There is another very telling example. Many of you will remember the case of Colin Stagg and the murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common. She was stabbed to death, with 49 blows, in front of her two year-old child. Stagg was one of many arrested and he was eventually charged. The judge threw the case out at the end of the prosecution case. This was in the mid-1990s and Stagg was vilified in the national press almost from day one. When the judge stopped the case, he went back to Wimbledon and lived by night because he was hounded and harassed in the street by day. He lived a hermit life for years. Eventually the Minister decided, on all the material before him, to grant compensation, and I made an award. It was only a year or two later that someone else, Robert Napper, was arrested for that murder. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was confined to Broadmoor for the rest of his life.
How can anyone in this House plausibly suggest that Stagg should not have got compensation until someone else was proved to have been the person who killed Rachel Nickell? Who would not regard that as an affront to justice? The Minister at the time, in applying the law on eligibility at the time, gave Stagg an award. Under the Lords’ test he would get such an award today; under the government test he would not—he would have to wait and endure circumstances until someone else was shown to be the murderer.
My Lords, I just ask my noble friend to agree that, under any test, neither of these cases would qualify for compensation because compensation is payable not on an initial acquittal, a first appeal or an appeal brought in time, but only ever on a late appeal. They would therefore not have qualified anyway: it is only for a restricted group of cases in which they are not included.
Now that I am in the same House as the noble Lord and not appearing in front of him as an advocate, I very firmly disagree. Compensation for miscarriages of justice does not depend on a successful appeal. For years, in certain cases, awards have been made without such an appeal. In the examples I have given, no contrary example has been given thus far to show why the other test proposed by the Government should be put forward. I make the following concluding submission: the Lords amendment is based on well founded principle—the Adams terminology—arising from a well established system of criminal law and criminal justice. The government test is neither of those things. The Lords amendment better serves the interests of justice and this House should send it back to the Commons for reconsideration by MPs and by the Government in the interim.
My Lords, I must first congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who managed to escape the onerous task of replying or, indeed, of advocating the Government’s case. The noble Lord, Lord Faulks—the Minister—has, as it were, picked up a dock brief. He comes before the House as a poor man’s lawyer—or, I should say more relevantly, a poor Lord Chancellor’s lawyer.
It is instructive to consider how the debate on the Government’s proposal played out in the House of Commons. Deep concern and opposition to the original Clause 151 was voiced on all sides of this House in 19 speeches. Speakers included former Law Lords, lawyers of varying experience in this field and non-lawyers. Members may recall in particular the powerful speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, who has addressed us tonight, and my noble friend Lord Brennan, who has also spoken to us, with his long history of involvement with this issue. These and other noble Lords voiced profound misgivings over the Bill’s requirement for those claiming compensation for a miscarriage of justice effectively to have to prove their innocence. I do not need to rehearse the arguments advanced at Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and again today. Only four speeches, other than those from the relevant Minister, supported the Government. Three of these, no less, were made by the eminent former Law Lord, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, from whom we have heard again tonight. The other was made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, before his accession to ministerial office. One Member expressed doubts in a speech at Second Reading and did not vote on Report.
The overwhelming body of opinion in debate in this House—right through the progress of the Bill—was, therefore, opposed to a proposal that was at odds with our historic attachment to the presumption of innocence unless and until guilt is proved beyond reasonable doubt. It was a proposal that, as I have mentioned in previous debates, would save all of £100,000 a year, given the paucity of successful claims—some two a year, as the Government’s own impact assessment made clear.
The Government have consistently claimed that the law was uncertain: it was not, though the Supreme Court invited the Government and Parliament—having reached a conclusion by a narrow majority in the Adams case—to consider the matter. However, the decision in the Adams case was clear, and the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, was kind enough to advise me yesterday that it has effectively been followed and upheld by the Court of Appeal. Therefore, it was with some astonishment that I read the terms of the government amendment and the debate on it in the House of Commons.
The Minister, Damian Green, claimed:
“The Government have taken account of all the points that have been made and all the concerns that have been expressed and our position has changed as a result of the very good debates that have taken place in Committee as well as in the House of Lords”.—[Official Report, Commons, 4/2/2014; col. 163.]
The change, of course, is to drop the requirement for the claimant to establish that he was innocent of the offence and substitute the requirement to show that “he did not commit” the offence. I do not pretend to understand by what process of jurisprudential alchemy the base metal of proving innocence becomes converted to the gold of establishing that a claimant did not commit the offence. It is a distinction without a difference—an attempt to preserve the Government’s version of legislative maidenly modesty.
Ministerial sleight of hand, however, did not stop there. The Minister sought to pray in aid the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, who, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has reminded us tonight, actually voted for his amendment. If Mr Green were to be charged with attempting to gain votes by false pretences, I would have to advise him to plead guilty; I think that even the Minister would have to advise him to plead guilty. I cannot see how he could prove his innocence or establish that he did not commit the offence that I have just invented. This, however, is a serious matter, both substantively and from the perspective of how the Government conduct their legislative business. The cases are few, but the principle is important.
There is another factor: last week, to her great credit, the Home Secretary established an inquiry into the use of undercover agents by the police. Who knows at this time what doubts might be cast on convictions procured by such means? What miscarriages of justice might now come to light? Now, I submit, is emphatically not the time to dilute the careful, moderate position established by the Supreme Court in the Adams case. On the contrary, it is time to affirm it and I hope the House will do so.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate once more, in which the House has shown its considerable knowledge, learning and experience of the issues raised by this amendment. Let me start by saying that there is general agreement on one thing: the Government were right to seek to enshrine in legislation the appropriate test for eligibility for compensation following a miscarriage of justice. The common law was undoubtedly in a state of confusion, notwithstanding the distinction of the judges engaged in the exercise of trying to provide a workable test. The decision in the Adams case, a resounding 5:4 victory, was described in a way that I could not possibly presume to describe it by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, as an unprincipled fudge. It was, of course, a culmination of effort—an absolutely high-quality effort—to try to arrive at a workable definition. However, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, says that the Government’s test will lead to disaster—to acrimonious litigation and uncertainty.
I have respectfully to disagree, because the Adams judgment has resulted in some 16 judicial review cases in the three years since the judgment. During the period from 2008 to 2011, when the case law laid down by the courts required, consistent with the Government’s position, that the applicant was clearly innocent, only two judicial reviews resulted from applications from those convicted in England and Wales. Therefore, there is likely to be acrimonious litigation. I am somewhat reluctant to be drawn on what the result would be in any particular cases, whether it is the Sally Clark case or other cases. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, was, I think, referring to compensation under the ex gratia scheme, which was abolished by the Home Secretary in 2006. Here we are considering revisions of Section 133, which requires that the applicant has a conviction—whichever definition is adopted—and this will continue to be a requirement.
The difference of opinion on definition is simply what a claimant has to establish. It is said that the Court of Appeal Criminal Division is not primarily concerned in these cases with proving innocence—quite so. It may well decide that a conviction is unsafe, but in doing so, the Court of Appeal will, and does, provide cogent and comprehensive reasons for that decision. It does not simply declare it. That provides the basis on which the Secretary of State or those working under his direction will be able to make an assessment entirely in accordance with the very straight- forward and clear test that we suggest is appropriate.
The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said that our law does not ask someone to prove their innocence. I agree entirely. Nor does this provision. It does not require an applicant to prove their innocence; it simply requires them to prove eligibility for compensation—money—when they are clearly innocent, to use the expression used in the common law or, as we describe it in statutory language, proof that they have not done it.
We ask the House to bear in mind that we have a position of uncertainty and litigation, which requires clarification by Parliament, as is agreed. Parliament has provided as clear a definition as can reasonably be arrived at, and one which we say is consistent with justice, does not offend the presumption of innocence and resolves the difficulties that judges have had in arriving at a workable conclusion.
The presumption of innocence is not in any way offended by the clause. I suggest to the House that it should agree that the House of Commons has considered carefully the high quality of the debate and the division of opinion among noble and learned Lords, and should respect and confirm the House of Commons decision.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the careful way in which he has addressed these matters and for the time and trouble that he has taken on this issue, not least in the helpful discussions that I have had with him over the past few months. My noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood spoke in favour of the Government's position. As he mentioned, he dissented in the Adams case. He did not approve of the test of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, in 2011 and he continues, as he is perfectly entitled to do, to dissent from the case made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips. The noble and learned Lord described the test of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, as a fudge. Some of us are quite partial to fudge, but I confine myself to reminding your Lordships of what was said in the Supreme Court in answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, in her judgment in the Adams case. She said:
“I do sympathise with Lord Brown’s palpable sense of outrage … But Lord Phillips’ approach is the more consistent with the fundamental principles upon which our criminal law has been based for centuries. Innocence as such is not a concept known to our criminal justice system. We distinguish between the guilty and the not guilty”.
A person does not have to prove their innocence in court, said the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale —I agree—and a person should not be required to prove their innocence when they apply for compensation after a miscarriage of justice has been established in the Court of Appeal.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said this afternoon, the Government’s approach will inevitably mean that people who are in fact innocent will fail to obtain compensation for a wrongful conviction established in the Court of Appeal simply because they cannot prove—it is often very difficult and sometimes impossible to prove—that they did not commit the crime. The Minister said in his observations in reply that the Government’s test does not require an applicant to prove their innocence. That is precisely what the Government’s amendment does; that is precisely what is so objectionable.
I remain concerned not just about the principle; I remain very concerned about the practical consequences of the Government’s amendment. We are dealing here, as I said in opening, with the most sensitive, controversial cases in criminal law. The Court of Appeal will have allowed an appeal because the prosecution case has been fatally undermined. The defendant is released from prison. He or she may have been in prison for many years. Then, say the Government, the Secretary of State must pronounce on whether that applicant has proved that he or she did not in fact commit the crime.
Nothing is more likely to prolong the misery of the miscarriage of justice not just for the applicant but for the family of the victims of the crime, whoever committed it. Nothing is more likely to provoke further litigation. It has never been the role of a Secretary of State in our system of law to determine whether a person is innocent of an offence. I do not think that it is desirable that we should now make it the role of the Secretary of State to determine whether someone is innocent of an offence. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Motion A agreed.