RORY SPEAKS ON THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE
Rory spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on the Administration of Justice in Respect of Daniel Cresswell. Watch it here:
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt for a powerful and heartfelt speech. I had the opportunity to meet Mr Cresswell and his family briefly beforehand, and I join my hon. Friend in paying particular tribute to Mrs Cresswell and her parents for the extraordinary compassion, faith and energy that they have put into the case over so many years. My hon. Friend raised a number of serious issues and it is difficult for me to go through every one in turn, but serious allegations were made against the police, the lawyer, the court process and the way evidence was used, West Yorkshire police, the police and crime commissioner, the Crown Prosecution Service and, ultimately, the Prison Service.
It is, as you will be aware, Mr Howarth, a very important principle of English law that Justice Ministers do not comment on individual cases. For better or for worse, for 1,000 years the principle of this building has been that judges and juries are independent of politicians, and therefore I am not able in this case to comment on what happened in that courtroom. The grounds for appeal, as my hon. Friend pointed out, cannot be that the jury came to the wrong decision; the appeal can be made only on the basis of new evidence or a legal error. That has been central to this case.
Perhaps I may touch on the broader issue of miscarriage of justice in general and on the all-party parliamentary group on miscarriages of justice that has been set up. There is no doubt that miscarriage of justice does occur, and as the Ministry of Justice, we need to be aware of that. We have seen it in high-profile cases, such as that of the Birmingham Six. Research in the United States suggests that between 2.3% and 5% of convicted people in American prisons are in fact innocent. We need to take that very seriously, in thinking about our entire legal system. Miscarriage of justice can happen for a range of different reasons. It can happen directly through perjury. I am not in a position to comment on the present case, but we must be aware that there are cases of perjury by victims or by police officers. There can be issues to do with insufficient evidence, or with expert testimony. There can be instances of confirmation bias—people’s prejudices affecting the outcome of a case. A good, functioning legal system—and the British legal system has for 1,000 years had reason to pride itself on being one of the best legal systems in the world—has to remain ever-vigilant for these dangers of miscarriage of justice. Although Mr Cresswell has now served his term it is very important, for the sake of others who in future might go through such a situation, that we are absolutely rigorous about making sure that miscarriages of justice do not occur.
I take my hon. Friend’s speech very seriously. I will circulate it to my colleagues in both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, to ensure that everybody dealing with the police, with the Crown Prosecution Service, with the operation of legal aid and ultimately with the prison system, is aware of the very serious allegations that have been made today. I want to conclude with a strong tribute to Mrs Cresswell for all the energy, faith and compassion that she has shown, and to my hon. Friend for the compassion and energy that he has shown in presenting his constituent’s case.