Dr Julian Lewis: I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Julian Brazier) for permission to take up a slice of his time. This is the third occasion on which I have addressed this subject on the Floor of the House. Quite apart from the shocking individual circumstances that have brought as many as three dozen hon. Members to this House for an Adjournment Debate – an exceptional outcome as I am sure you will agree, Madam Deputy Speaker – one particularly disturbing part of this case has been the iniquitous effect of plea-bargaining.
This was a man who believed he was innocent. He did not wish to plead guilty but did so in a plea-bargaining process that led him to believe he would be given a light sentence, rather than face a heavy sentence of five years’ imprisonment – presumably without the 50 percent discount one gets in civilian jails in this country – if he continued to plead innocent but was found guilty. As a result, he was convicted, but unaccountably sentenced to 18 months, which, without remission, is equivalent to a three-year sentence given to someone in civil society.
I mentioned that I had raised the matter twice before on the Floor of the House. On the second occasion, I raised it with the Secretary of State for Justice, who wisely pointed out that, although it was outside the parameters of his normal area of responsibility, he would hope that a common-sense approach would be taken to such cases. He had the common sense to recommend common sense, which is what we are looking for from those on our Front Bench tonight. We are not looking for bone-headed rigidity, which can give not only military justice, but civil justice, an irreparably bad reputation in this country. When the appeal comes, it should not be opposed, and Sergeant Nightingale should be allowed to resume his career and his life with the honour he so richly deserves.
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Dr Julian Lewis: Did the police not decide that they did not wish to see a prosecution because no criminal intent was involved? Why should the military authorities take a different view?
[The Solicitor-General (Oliver Heald): There is a protocol that decides where these cases are tried. The advantage from the serviceman’s point of view of being dealt with by court martial is that it often does not result in loss of rank or dismissal. In this case, the court martial said it hoped it would be possible, first, for the sergeant to keep his rank, and, secondly, that he would not be dismissed from the service. Had it wished, it could have recommended the loss of rank and service, but it did not. That was the decision. ... ]