§ 25. Mr. GINNELL
asked the Attorney-General for Ireland whether any civil legal authority was consulted by the military authorities in Ireland before holding their recent courts-martial in camera on the legality of that procedure; and, if approval was given, will he say on what statutory provision it was based, seeing that none exists in either the Army Act or the Defence of the Realm Act for holding a field general court-martial in camera?
Mr. H. SAMUEL
So far as my right hon. Friend is aware, no civil legal authority was consulted upon this question beforehand, but during the progress of these trials, and while disaffection was still seething, the Law Officers were informed by the military authority that in the interests of public safety and the defence of the Realm it had been considered essential that in certain cases the courts-martial should not be 1195 open to the general public. The Law Officers, in reply, informed the military authority that while the responsibility for their procedure must rest with the courts-martial, they entirely approved of the course adopted in such conditions, as the safety of the State was the supreme and overruling consideration.
§ Mr. GINNELL
With reference to the last answer the Clerk at the Table refused to take a question to the Attorney-General on the subject.
§ 50. Mr. GINNELL
asked the Prime Minister, seeing that in connection with the recent insurrection in Ireland no opportunity was afforded for raising the question of the legality of holding field general courts-martial in camera, and that neither the Army Act nor the Defence of the Realm Act gives authority for holding field general courts-martial in camera, will he say whether the opinion of judges or of Law Officers on the question of the legality of that procedure was obtained before those courts were so held; and, if approved, on what statutory provision was that approval based?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The Law Officers advised that express power to exclude the public is conferred by the Defence of the Realm Act, 1915, in cases tried before a Court within Section 1 of that Act, and this Section seems to assume the existence of a similar power in courts-martial in the trial of similar offences. Apart from statutory provision, a Court has inherent power to exclude the public when the publication of the proceedings would be prejudicial to the national safety. The course taken was in accord with the procedure adopted in cases tried by court-martial in London in which for public reasons it has been considered advisable to exclude the public.
§ Mr. GINNELL
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Law Officers of the Crown have not expressly approved courts-martial held in camera, but have left the responsibility to the military officers? Now that these men have been executed and there is no one to raise the point, which was not allowed to be raised at the trial, will the Prime Minister arrange to get a legal decision on this important point?