HC Deb 02 May 1930 vol 238 cc585-7

I beg to move, in page 1, line 13, at the end, to insert the words, Provided that the term 'counsel' shall include leading counsel only in such cases as the certifying authority shall expressly provide. This was the main subject of discussion in Committee, and, whereas the Home Office at first opposed the Amendment, at the end they said they were overwhelmed by the arguments, and they gave a pledge that they would include it in the Regulations to be made under the Act. The Solicitor-General said the word "counsel" in the Act included King's Counsel, and therefore there was no reason for the Amendment, but throughout the whole administration of the Act the word "counsel" was construed as meaning junior counsel, and it was never recognised in any kind of way that it included King's Counsel. In view of the Debate in Committee, it is essential to raise the matter on Report. I should like to explain why I think it is vital that King's Counsel should be included. One would always be impressed, if one had any practice in the courts, by the lack of advantage which the defence suffers at the hands of the prosecution in this matter. I am afraid the administration of the Act has fallen very largely into the hands of very young and inexperienced counsel. I have seen the last stage of the prisoner worse than the first as the result of the employment of counsel under the Act. The addition of King's Counsel would be a step on the road to improvement. It is of essential importance that in really difficult cases they should be assigned. There is really no answer to the Amendment, having regard to what the Solicitor-General said. I am lost in amazement when I see what the medical profession does in this respect. It is really time that, not as a matter of regulation, but as a matter of Statute, leading counsel should be given this obligation of defending poor prisoners. I should like to know what the Home Office has to say at this stage.

Commander SOUTHBY

I beg to second the Amendment.


I cannot advise the House to accept the Amendment. As the Bill is drafted, there is nothing to prevent King's Counsel from acting. I think the hon. Member has admitted that the word "counsel" is plural in this sense and, therefore, includes King's Counsel. The funds for payment of counsel come entirely out of local rates and, if we are not careful, we may pile up expenses because other people have to provide for it without their consent, and consequently it would lead to objection and tend to defeat the purpose which the House has in view. When the Bill was before the Standing Committee upstairs, I said that it was undesirable to include this, if it were desired to do so, by Amendment of the Bill, but I gave an undertaking that the matter should be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in conjunction with his colleagues, in drawing up the rules and regulations. I am prepared to stand by that undertaking, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied.


Will the hon. Gentleman give us a, little more information as to what exactly is that undertaking?


I do not want in any way to detain the House upon this matter, but I desire to put this point to the hon. Member representing the Home Office. Will he consider, when he is dealing with this matter, this fact, which certainly ought to be considered, in favour of the administration of the criminal law? There is a great deal in what my hon. Friend has said in support of this Amendment, that at the present time, under the Poor Persons Rules, in civil litigation provision is made by which His Majesty's King's Counsel may appear, and do constantly appear, in poor persons cases without fee or reward. I am certain that the whole body of King's Counsel would welcome some such provision in respect of criminal cases. It is not right that the Bar should be debarred, for that is what it amounts to. King's Counsel at present are debarred from appearing in criminal cases because of certain regulations and so forth, whereas they can appear in civil cases without fee or reward. If he will try and adopt some such system which will enable King's Counsel to give their services to prisoners in proper cases, I am certain that he will have the support of the Bar. I hope that he will bear it in mind.


It is the intention of my right hon. Friend to consult the appropriate people such as the Bar Council and the Law Society in relation to this matter. I am hopeful that every opportunity will be provided whereby all members of the Bar, including King's Counsel, will be able to take cases, as suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord). I can assure the House that we shall seek to satisfy the general opinion in the House in respect of this matter.


In view of what the hon. Gentleman has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.