There was rare consensus between the government and the opposition at the start of the ninth day of line-by-line consideration of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment bill at Committee stage in the House of Lords last week.
The occasion was an amendment to the bill, proposed by Lord Beecham, to insert a clause allowing the ‘right to appeal bail decisions’. The government had also put down a similar amendment. Lord Beecham said: “This amendment and the government amendment arise from the brutal murder of Jane Clough, a 26 year- old nurse and mother of a baby daughter, by the partner with whom she was living who had been charged with very grave sexual offences. The partner was granted bail in the magistrates’ court and the brutal murder occurred shortly thereafter.”
He went on to say that there will never be any guarantee that a person granted bail will not commit an offence. “These amendments seek to ensure that in the appropriate cases the prosecution, knowing of the circumstances which gave rise to the charges in the first place, can at the very least take the matter to a higher court for determination, and offer a perhaps better prospect of avoiding a repetition of this dreadful incident or any incident like it” he said.
Jane’s parents, Penny and John, were present in the Lords, and in his response, minister of state Lord McNally gently chided Lord Beecham for ‘outraging’ the protocol of the House by recognising people present beyond the Bar. But he added “It is good that Members of the House are aware that Jane’s parents are present to see us in action…It is such an important matter for them, their family and the wider public that we have this debate today. I sincerely hope that within a few minutes they will see Jane’s law passed by this House.”
Lord Beecham withdrew his amendment in favour of the government’s amendment, which differs because it does not permit an appeal against a decision by the Crown Court to grant bail where it was itself made on appeal from the grant of bail by a magistrates’ court. Lord McNally explained that if a defendant was granted bail by the magistrates, the prosecution appealed and the Crown Court granted bail, the prosecution would not be able to appeal further. “This is to stop a continuing series of appeals on a matter that by then would have been considered by two courts” he said.
Lord McNally concluded: “However, I can assure the House that what the Government are doing, supported by Her Majesty’s Opposition and, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, made clear, supported firmly by the other place, is approving Jane’s law.”