HC Deb 14 May 1924 vol 173 cc1357-65

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate the publication of reports in cases of indictable offences. The purpose of the Bill which I am seeking leave to introduce is to remedy a very serious and growing evil. Hon. Members will observe that nowadays, in every serious case of crime, most noticeably in cases of murder, it has become a common practice among the more widely read journals of the Press to make what is called a feature of the crime, and to enter into a kind of competition with each other in the sensationalism which they present to their readers. This is by no means confined to reports of the various preliminary inquiries, but it goes to the extent of publishing interviews with prospective witnesses, and minute descriptions of the conduct of the accused before and during the inquiry. It extends to publishing accounts of the life story of the victim, either contributed directly in the form of interviews with the friends of the victim, or pieced together very skilfully by writers of the Press, the whole thing being profusely illustrated by photographs and sketches. Of course, one has to recognise that it is not possible by legislation to deal with all these activities, and it would probably only be feasible to curtail some of them by some form of agreement among the writers in the Press themselves.

In that connection, I would venture very deferentially to suggest that it might be a very appropriate matter for the Institute of Journalists and the Newspaper Proprietors' Association to see whether they could not come to some agreement, so as to make it a canon of good journalism not to fill the papers with this sensational writing. In regard to the Bill I am asking the House to give me leave to introduce to-day, however, this matter must be looked at from the point of view of its effect upon the accused person. It is not merely a matter of public taste, though, of course, that is a matter of considerable interest and has considerable bearing on the question, but it is a matter of protecting, quite literally, the interest of the accused person in a fair trial. The Bill is a Bill to regulate the publication of reports in cases of indictable offences. I want to take an illustration from what has recently occurred. Take the publicity given to what is known as the Eastbourne Case.


Is the hon and gallant Gentleman referring to the present case?




Then I venture to suggest the hon. and gallant Member is not carrying out his own ideas, if he is going to comment on a case now before the Courts.


If the hon. Member will allow me to complete my sentence, I was not going to refer to the proceedings, but to ask whether the kind of wide publicity in that case is not likely to create prejudice? That was all I was going to say, and I venture to suggest that it is perfectly in order. What I was about to submit was that, in view of the publicity which, we all know, has taken place, it is virtually impossible for a juryman in a trial to come to his duties without some preconceived opinion on the merits of the case, and I submit that it is entirely contrary to the spirit of the administration of the criminal law, because it, obviously, must tend to undermine the presumption of innocence. The Bill I am proposing to introduce to remedy this does not create a new principle of law, but merely seeks to simplify and to extend the existing law. Hon. Members of the House who are members of the legal profession will know that anything written or published calculated to prejudice the defence, or pervert the course of justice, is a contempt of Court, and the accused has a remedy in a motion to commit the writer or the publisher. But that is a proceeding which, in my humble judgment, is both more elaborate and more expensive than it ought to be, or need be. The accused is not always in a financial position to take steps to engage solicitors, brief counsel, and make an application to the High Court for a rule or an order. It is too costly for the average prisoner. Of course, there is also the possibility that in cases where the Crown considers that a substantial interference with the course of justice is about to take place, the Crown may proceed by intervention or indictment; but what is far more desirable, is far less the punishment of the writer or publisher for writing of publishing such articles, than the prevention of such articles being written at all, and it is for that purpose I am introducing this Bill.

The aim of the Bill, which is very short, is to make the whole business easier and simpler, and the proposal is to make it an offence, punishable, on summary conviction, by imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or a fine not exceeding £100, or both, and for a second offence six months and/or a fine of £250, in relation to any preliminary inquiry arising out of an indictable offence for publishing matter calculated to prejudice the accused in his defence on trial, or which actually does prejudice the accused. I observe that my hon. and learned Friend on my left regards it as a matter for laughter that this state of affairs should be permissible.



I am about to complete my sentence.


The hon. and gallant Member has no right to misrepresent me.


The hon. Member laughs at my proposal. The whole purpose is to create a procedure by which an accused person, if he considers that his fair trial is being prejudiced by the reports that are appearing in the papers, may be able, speedily and inexpensively, to invoke the Courts of the country in order to put a stop to articles of that kind. I am also proposing that the Bill should contain a Clause safeguarding the rights of the Press, which must be safeguarded, to publish impartial reports of the proceedings of these inquiries, but making it quite clear that it is illegal to do the kind of thing that has occurred in the Press in the reporting of the preliminary inquiry of the Byfleet case, where certain passages of the evidence have been set out in special black type, and which could quite easily prejudice the accused very seriously. In these circumstances, I venture to hope the House will allow me to introduce this Bill.


I am sure the object which my hon. and gallant Friend has in view will be shared generally by Members in this House. I think, even with the brief explanation of the matter, there must arise in the minds of many Members the great difficulty with which it is confronted, and of the machinery which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has devised in order to attain his object. I, as I dare say many hon. Members, approach this proposition, if possible, with a view of preserving, in the first place, the liberty of the Press, and, in the second place to safeguard any accused person and protect his rights, but my hon. and gallant Friend knows full well that there is already very adequate provision made for the safety and the rights of accused people in this country, and I have heard no demand made by any person to justify my hon. and gallant Friend bringing forward this Bill this afternoon. Any accused person has a very summary method of getting what my hon. and gallant Friend, apparently, wants to attain by this Bill. He can apply straight away to a judge. The cost is comparatively inexpensive. I suppose the amount of out-of-pocket fees, and whatever one has to give to counsel and solicitor, would not exceed a five-pound or ten-pound note, and I may say that in all these cases, to which, I think, my hon. and gallant Friend has rather unwisely referred at the present time, there is little difficulty on the ground of expense or any matter of that kind.

Moreover, as I am reminded, it would be no cheaper at all to apply to a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, and it opens a very grave objection, because while I am prepared that a High Court Judge should decide the issue, on the one hand, of the liberty of the Press, and, on the other, the rights of an accussed person, I doubt very much whether it is desirable that that right should be given to every police magistrate or bench of justices up and down the country. I can conceive very grave issues arising which would, probably, make greater difficulties than my hon. and gallant Friend contemplates. I think, therefore, he would be very well advised to leave the matter, in the first place, to public opinion, and, in the second place, to the powers already in existence. I can say in the presence of the Attorney-General, as I could in the presence of the late Attorney-General, who was here a minute ago, that if the Grown in any of these cases thought that justice was not being done to an accused person, and that he was unable to seek his rights and obtain justice on the ground of lack of means, they would very speedily see that action was taken on his behalf. My objection to this Bill is not, of course, to any of the ideals which my hon. and gallant Friend has, but simply because I think it would be a great mistake to allow issues of this kind to be dealt with by small courts up and down the country.

I hope, therefore, in these circumstances, my hon. and gallant Friend,

having made his point this afternoon, will not press the matter further, but will leave the question where it is. I may say it is going to be dealt with in another Bill which will shortly be before this House, when we can discuss it more adequately than we can on a brief occasion like this. Consequently, I hope my hon. Friend will see his way not to press the matter further on this occasion.


Will the hon. Gentleman state what is the Bill which he says is to be introduced?


It is a Bill dealing with reports of cases of this kind, introduced by the hon. Member for the Aston Division of Birmingham (Sir E. Cecil). There is also another Bill, a Government Measure, which has been introduced by the Attorney-General, dealing with the question of photographs being taken of accused people entering and leaving Court, as to which there might be something to be said. I think, having regard to these two Measures, both of which will be shortly before the House—certainly the Government Bill—I would ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman not to press the matter further.

Question put, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate the publication of reports in cases of indictable offences.

The House divided: Ayes, 224; Noes, 112.

Division No. 74.] AYES. [4.45 p.m.
Ackroyd, T. R. Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips Gilmour, Colonel Rt. Hon. Sir John
Adamson, Rt. Hon. William Compton, Joseph Gosling, Harry
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Cope, Major William Gould, Frederick (Somerset, Frome)
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro') Courthope, Lieut.-Col. George L. Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)
Alstead, R. Crittall, V. G. Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)
Ammon, Charles George Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) Groves, T.
Attlee, Major Clement R. Curzon, Captain Viscount Grundy, T. W.
Baker, Walter Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln) Guest, J. (York, Hemsworth)
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Davies, Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh) Hacking Captain Douglas H.
Barclay, R. Noton Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Davison, J. E. (Smethwick) Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)
Barnes, A. Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S) Harbord, Arthur
Barnston, Major Sir Harry Doyle, Sir N. Grattan Hardie, George D.
Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar (Banff) Duckworth, John Harmsworth, Hon E. C. (Kent)
Batey, Joseph Dukes, C. Harris, John (Hackney, North)
Betterton, Henry B. Duncan, C. Harris, Percy A.
Black, J. W. Dunn, J. Freeman Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon
Briant, Frank Dunnico, H. Harvey, T. E. (Dewsbury)
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) Haycock, A. W.
Broad, F. A. Egan, W. H. Hayday, Arthur
Bromfield, William Emlyn-Jones, J. E. (Dorset, N.) Hayes, John Henry (Edge Hill)
Brown, A. E. (Warwick, Rugby) Eyres-Monsell, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Henderson, Rt. Hon A. (Burnley)
Buckie, J. Falconer, J. Henderson, T. (Glasgow)
Butler, Sir Geoffrey Foot, Isaac Hindle, F.
Cape, Thomas Franklin, L. B. Hirst, G. H.
Charleton, H. C. Gavan-Duffy, Thomas Hoffman, P. C.
Climie, R. Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)
Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R. Gillett, George M. Isaacs, G. A.
Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Nixon, H. Stanley, Lord
Jenkins, W. A. (Brecon and Radnor) Oliver, George Harold Stranger, Innes Harold
John, William (Rhondda, West) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William Sullivan, J.
Johnston, Thomas (Stirling) Owen, Major G. Tattersall, J. L.
Johnstone, Harcourt (Willesden, East) Paling, W. Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)
Jones, C. Sydney (Liverpool, W. Derby) Palmer, E. T. Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro, W.)
Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Pattinson, S. (Horncastle) Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell-(Croydon, S.)
Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne) Pease, William Edwin Thornton, Maxwell R.
Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W. (Bradford, E.) Perry, S. F. Thurtle, E.
Kay, Sir R. Newbald Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Tillett, Benjamin
Kennedy, T. Potts, John S. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton Toole, J.
Kindersley, Major G. M. Raffety, F. W. Tout, W. J.
King, Captain Henry Douglas Raine, W. Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.
Kirkwood, D. Rathbone, Hugh R. Turner, Ben
Lamb, J. Q. Rawson, Alfred Cooper Turner-Samuels, M.
Lambert, Rt. Hon. George Raynes, W. R. Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
Lansbury, George Rees, Sir Beddoe Viant, S. P.
Laverack, F. J. Rees, Capt. J. T. (Devon, Barnstaple) Wallhead, Richard C.
Law, A. Rendall, A. Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen
Lawrence, Susan (East Ham, North) Rhys, Hon. C. A. U. Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)
Lawson, John James Richards, R. Warne, G. H.
Lee, F. Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Lessing, E. Ritson, J. Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney
Lumley, L. R. Robertson, T. A. Wedgwood, Col. Rt. Hon. Josiah C.
Lunn, William Romerll, H. G. Weir, L. M.
McEntee, V. L. Rose, Frank H. Wells, S. R.
Mackinder, W. Roundell, Colonel R. F. Westwood, J.
Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan) Royce, William Stapleton White, H. G. (Birkenhead, E.)
Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J. Royle, C. Whiteley, W.
Maden, H. Samuel, H. Walter (Swansea, West) Wignall, James
Makins, Brigadier-General E. Scott, Sir Leslie (Liverp'l, Exchange) Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Marks, Sir George Croydon Scrymgeour, E. Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)
Marley, James Sexton, James Williams, Lt.-Col. T. S. B. (Kennington)
Martin, W. H. (Dumbarton) Shepperson, E. W. Williams, Maj. A. S. (Kent, Sevenoaks)
Meyler, Lieut.-Colonel H. M. Sherwood, George Henry Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Millar, J. D. Shinwell, Emanuel Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Mills, J. E. Simon, E. D. (Manchester, Withington) Windsor, Walter
Morel, E. D. Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness) Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South) Smillie, Robert Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Smith, T. (Pontefract) Wintringham, Margaret
Morse, W. E. Snell, Harry Woodwark, Lieut.-Colonel G. G.
Mosley, Oswald Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L. Wright, W.
Muir, John W. Spence, R. Young, Andrew (Glasgow, Partick)
Muir, Ramsay (Rochdale) Spencer, George A. (Broxtowe)
Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph Spender-Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield) Spoor, B. G. Captain Berkeley and Major
Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert Stamford, T. W. Moulton.
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray Lowth, T.
Ainsworth, Captain Charles Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L. Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.
Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W. (Glas, C.) Fletcher, Lieut.-Com. R. T. H. Marriott, Sir J. A. R.
Apsley, Lord Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Martin, F. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, E.)
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Morris, R. H.
Aske, Sir Robert William Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, North) Naylor, T. E.
Beckett, Sir Gervase Greene, W. P. Crawford Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)
Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Greenwood, William (Stockport) Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)
Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish- Gretton, Colonel John Oliver, P. M. (Manchester, Blackley)
Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.) Guest, Dr. L. Haden (Southwark, N.) O'Neill, John Joseph
Bonwick, A. Gwynne, Rupert S. Parry, Thomas Henry
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Hall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. (Dulwich) Pringle, W. M. R.
Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W. Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Purcell, A. A.
Bramsdon, Sir Thomas Harney, E. A. Raffan, P. W.
Brass, Captain W. Hartington, Marquess of Rankin, James S.
Brassey, Sir Leonard Hastings, Sir Patrick Rea, W. Russell
Buchanan, G. Hemmerde, E. G. Remnant, Sir James
Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James Hill-Wood, Major Sir Samuel Richardson, Lt.-Col. Sir P. (Chertsey)
Burman, J. B. Hobhouse, A. L. Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)
Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D. Hodge, Lieut.-Col. J. P. (Preston) Robinson, S. W. (Essex, Chelmsford)
Burnie, Major J. (Bootle) Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley) Rudkin, Lieut.-Colonel C. M. C.
Butt, Sir Alfred Hore-Belisha, Major Leslie Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R. Howard, Hn. D. (Cumberland, North.) Savery, S. S.
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Col. C. K. Scurr, John
Chapman, Sir S. Jephcott, A. R. Seely, H. M. (Norfolk, Eastern)
Cobb, Sir Cyril Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)
Craig, Captain C. C. (Antrim, South) Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's Univ., Belfst.)
Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Jowitt, W. A. (The Hartlepools) Sitch, Charles H.
Darbishire, C. W. Keens, T. Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Leach, W. Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Dickie, Captain J. P. Linfield, F. C. Spencer, H. H. (Bradford, S.)
Dixey, A. C. Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green) Spero, Dr. G. E.
Elveden, Viscount Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th) Steel, Samuel Strang
Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn) Warrender, Sir Victor Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)
Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- Weston, John Wakefield Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Sturrock, J. Leng Wheler, Lieut.-Col. Granville C. H.
Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser Wilson, Sir Charles H. (Leeds, Central) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Sutcliffe, T. Winfrey, Sir Richard Sir Kingsley Wood and Sir Ellis
Thompson, Luke (Sunderland) Wise, Sir Fredric Hume-Williams.
Turton, Edmund Russborough

Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Captain Berkeley, Major Fletcher Moulton, Mr. Hope Simpson, Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy, Captain Viscount Curzon, and Mr. John Harris.