Miscarriages of justice for police investigation only

Cross-party hope for independent case reviews fails Football's season of shame prompts protest Bill
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A cross-party attempt to ensure the proposed Criminal Cases Review Commission will not be solely dependent on the police for investigating miscarriages of justice failed in the Commons last night by 267 votes to 239.

Chris Mullin, the justice campaigner who is now more praised than vilified, warned that without an independent element the commission would lack credibility and there would in due course be a further series of scandals.

"It is an extraordinary state of affairs," said Mr Mullin, who worked relentlessly for the freeing of the Birmingham Six. "Here we are protesting our desire to put right the mistakes of the past while at the same time building into the new system one of the central weaknesses of the old."

The commission is the centrepiece of the Criminal Appeal Bill, which, having completed its passage through the Commons, now goes to the House of Lords. Mr Mullin, Labour MP for Sunderland South, was credited as the author of the measure - one the Government introduced almost reluctantly - but unless the peers force amendments his object will remain unfulfilled. Backed by the Labour front bench, the Liberal Democrats and a handful of Conservative backbenchers, Mr Mullin moved a new clause to give the commission a reserve power to take an investigation into an alleged miscarriage of justice out of the hands of the police and give it to an independent investigator, possibly an in-house unit.

Alan Beith, for the Liberal Democrats, said the new clause addressed the "extraordinary weakness" that the commission did not have the staff or capacity to mount its own investigations, even in the rarest of cases. "One wonders why the commission should almost be told from the start to keep their distance from the investigation."

Tory Euro-rebel Richard Shepherd, MP for Aldridge-Brownhills, who had his party's whip restored on Tuesday, said ministers were "over hung-up on the concept of self-regulation". Why should there be any objection to the commission having the discretion, if necessary, to appoint an investigating officer? "What is the philosophical bar to that? It seems to me the gains to be achieved are quite profound."

Jack Straw, the shadow Home Secretary, said he did not doubt in any way the integrity of the Police Complaints Authority. "But what is a fact of life is that the PCA and its arrangements have always lagged behind public opinion. They have never quite overcome the suspicion that they are merely part of an operation of self-regulation in which the police end up investigating themselves." Opposing the new clause, David Maclean, Minister of State at the Home Office, said the police should be seen as the ones who destroyed corruption in their own midst. But he insisted the commission would have all the powers needed to do its work thoroughly.

"It isn't just bobbies doing their own thing without anyone directly supervising them." Supervision of an investigation could be as close as the commission thought fit, Mr Maclean said, but he rejected an in-house unit as unhelpful and costly. A common flaw was detected by Mr Mullin in arrangements for investigating the police and those for tackling corruption in football - "a group of the unwilling, picked from the unfit to do what they think is unnecessary".

He was echoing his backbench colleague Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall, who introduced a Bill to impose stricter control on football's financial dealings.

She said: "The 1994-95 football season will go down as the one that brought the shameful headlines of bungs, corruption, alleged match-fixing, drugs, racist abuse, violence on and off the field, and greed.

"The common thread in all of this is the inability of the football authorities to tackle the malaise.

"There is a complete lack of leadership and this has not been helped by the complacency of the National Heritage Department," she said.

Ms Hoey's Professional Football Compliance Bill - a protest measure rather than a statute- book hopeful - would require the Secretary of State for National Heritage to establish a unit with power to create and maintain proper financial controls on the game and to report irregularities.

"The governing bodies of sports' rules were made for fair-minded, honest people. They cannot cope with the crooks of today or even the international TV moguls," Ms Hoey said.

Two moguls, Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer, had already received a thorough bashing in a debate on the crisis they have provoked in rugby league.

Sport was also on the agenda along the corridor, where peers debated "the state of British football". From the Labour front bench, Lord Donoughue expressed concern at the way satellite television was buying up and setting the agenda for soccer and rugby.

He also asked the Government to consider setting up a monitoring unit to investigate allegations of financial irregularities which had rocked football. "If the football authorities fail to act, a full independent inquiry must be introduced."

Earlier, the Bishop of Lichfield, Keith Sutton, voiced the Church of England's doubts about registrars performing a civil "naming ceremony" as an alternative to the traditional religious baptism of babies.

A backbench Bill, proposed by Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead, and Lord Young of Dartington, is expected to be introduced next month enabling registrars to conduct namings as well as marriages.

But Bishop Sutton said the ceremony seemed to adopt many of the features of Christian baptism "while emptying them of their spiritual content".

He urged all churches to redouble efforts to encourage parents to bring children to be baptised rather than to use a "confusingly similar imitation deprived of its full spiritual meaning".

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