HC Deb 21 October 1943 vol 392 cc1500-8
32. Dr. Summerskill

asked the Home Secretary whether, in view of the recent judgments by the Lord Chief Justice and two judges of the High Court, he will make a statement on the practice and procedure of juvenile courts throughout the country?

33. Mr. Thorne

asked the Home Secretary whether he has considered the judgments delivered by the Lord Chief Justice and two other judges of the High Court in a recent case; whether he will make a statement upon the procedure in juvenile courts; and whether he will circularise all magistrates of these courts with regard to their powers and duties?

34. Mr. Gallacher

asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to a recent judgment of the High Court; and whether he has any statement to make on the procedure of the juvenile courts?

35. Mr. Riley

asked the Home Secretary whether he can make any statement regarding the procedure and practice in juvenile courts in view of the recent judgment of the High Court?

36. Mr. Cove

asked the Home Secretary whether he is prepared to order an immediate inquiry into the practice and procedure of juvenile courts?

Mr. H. Morrison

In view of the length of the answer, I will, with permission, make a statement at the end of Questions.

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. MANDER

49. To ask the Prime Minister whether he will grant facilities for a discussion of the Motion in the name of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton on the subject of the Hereford magistrates.

[That, in the opinion of this House, the three magistrates for the City of Hereford, Juvenile Court, whose conduct in a recent case was described by judges of the King's Bench Division as absolutely outrageous and a denial of national justice, should be removed from the bench.]

Mr. Mander

In view of the Home Secretary's statement, I beg leave to postpone my Question till after he has made it.

The Prime Minister

I can at any rate answer the first part of the Question. No Parliamentary time can be found.


Mr. H. Morrison

This matter has received the careful attention of the Lord Chancellor and myself. The facts about which there is no controversy are as follow:

Dennis Craddock was charged jointly with other boys with theft from a school of pencils and other small articles valued at 11s. 6d., with theft from a furniture store of articles valued at £36, and with malicious damage on an extensive scale to furniture and articles in this store. The prosecution was conducted by an inspector of the City of Hereford police. The case was heard by three magistrates in the Juvenile Court at Hereford on the 12th and the 26th January last. At the first hearing Craddock was represented by a solicitor; at the second hearing a solicitor was present representing one of the other boys. To the charge of theft from the school there was a plea of guilty. As regards the other charges, there appears to be no doubt as to the boy's guilty. There was, amongst other evidence, evidence given by his mother that he brought home some of the articles stolen from the furniture store. The mother of one of the other boys was subsequently convicted of receiving some of the stolen goods knowing that they were stolen.

It is a fundamental principle of justice that any information as to the character of an accused person or as to other offences admitted by him shall not be given to the court before his guilt has been admitted or ascertained, and the primary question for consideration by the High Court was whether there had been a breach of this principle. From the affidavits which were laid before the High Court, it appeared that, before the question of Craddock's guilt or innocence had been determined on some of the charges, the police inspector who was prosecuting stated that the boy had asked that other offences should be taken into consideration. No affidavit from the police officer concerned was laid before the High Court and the police were not represented at the High Court proceedings. From such information as I have as yet been able to obtain, it appears that the police inspector believed that there were at the outset of the proceedings pleas of guilty to all the charges. If this were so, the officer's statement at this stage about other offences would have been quite proper.

Neither was there any affidavit before the High Court from the defending solicitor, and the Lord Chancellor is informed by the Justices that neither the solicitor nor the Clerk to the Justices protested against the police officer's statement. If they did not, the question arises why they acquiesced in a proceeding which would be so gross and obvious an irregularity. There was no affidavit before the High Court from the Clerk to the Justices, whose duty it would have been to call attention to this breach of an elementary principle of law. In these circumstances, the Divisional Court, to whom an application was made to quash the conviction, necessarily proceeded upon such affidavit material as was before it, and its decision to quash the certiorari is final and is, of course, not open to question in any quarter.

The Lord Chancellor and I, after making such preliminary inquiries as time has permitted, have come to the conclusion that additional information is essential before any decision can be reached as to what action ought to be taken with regard to the police officer and to those responsible for the conduct and guidance of the Court, and we have decided that for this purpose there must be a special inquiry. I am glad to be able to announce that Lord Justice Goddard has agreed to undertake the inquiry. His terms of reference will cover the whole conduct of the Craddock case, and he will be asked to make a full report. It will, of course, be understood that their is not, and cannot be, any question of reviewing the decision of the Divisional Court. The inquiry will be in public and the report will be published. Pending the conclusion of the inquiry the three Justices concerned have given their undertaking to the Lord Chancellor that they will not sit on the Bench, either in the juvenile court or the ordinary court.

There are certain general questions on which something should be said. First, when a court of summary jurisdiction orders a boy to be whipped, the law provides for this to be done "as soon as practicable" and in the presence, if he desires to be present, of the parent or guardian of the child. The words "as soon as practicable" must be applied reasonably, and with regard in particular to the importance of giving the parent a reasonable opportunity to be present if he wishes. The exact circumstances, in Craddock's case, will be part of Lord Justice Goddard's inquiry. The question whether advice on this general subject can usefully be given to juvenile courts is receiving my immediate attention. Secondly, I am not sure that it is everywhere understood that when a Bench orders that a child should be put in the charge of an education authority the period is of an indeterminate character, so as to enable it to be brought to an end on review of the circumstances, but terminates in any case at the age of 18. This is, as I understand, the nature of the order that was made in the present case. Thirdly, the question has been raised whether the exclusion of the general public from attendance at Juvenile Courts is open to objection. This question received the careful attention of Parliament when the Children Act was amended in 1932, and the provisions enacted were designed to secure that the restrictions on the attendance of members of the general public should not prevent adequate publicity. There is an express provision that the representatives of newspapers or news agencies shall not be excluded from the court, and the only restriction on newspaper reports of juvenile court proceedings is that the name of the child or particulars calculated to lead to his identification shall not be published. In the Hereford case a newspaper representative was present and a report was published in the local Press. On my present information, I cannot find that there is anything in this case to call for amendment of the provisions enacted by Parliament in 1932.

A point to which great importance attaches is that the special arrangements authorised by Parliament to prevent the proper treatment of children being prejudiced by undue formality shall not lead to the neglect by juvenile courts of procedural requirements which are essential to the administration of justice. If any juvenile court has tended to overlook the importance of this point, the judgment of the High Court and the wide publicity given to it will serve a valuable purpose in bringing home to Justices throughout the country, and to the clerks who advise them, the need for strict attention to this matter. I should like to add that in the experience of the Home Office the methods of dealing with children and young persons sanctioned by Parliament in the Children and Young Persons Act have had beneficial results. Many men and women who have special qualifications for this work are rendering most valuable public service by devoting time, trouble, patience and judgment to hearing cases in juvenile courts.

Mr. Mander

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the case of the second boy who did not appeal and who, apparently, was wrongly convicted, is on the same lines as that of the first boy?

Mr. Morrison

An inquiry covering the whole conduct of the Craddock case will necessarily, of course, cover the case of Payne, who was charged jointly with Craddock, and, therefore, I think that any question affecting Payne should be deferred until the report of the inquiry has been received.

Mr. Mathers

As it appears that the Justices have, in effect, been suspended from duty in the meantime, is any similar action being taken with regard to the clerk to the Justices, who usually acts as their guide and adviser, and also with regard to the police official who acted as prosecutor in this case?

Mr. Morrison

As a matter of fact, the clerk is serving His Majesty in the Royal Navy, which he joined four days after this case was last heard, and, therefore, that does not arise. The Justices have, voluntarily, undertaken not to act. They feel that it would be difficult in the circumstances for them to act, but I would say to the House, and I would say to the Press, that it would be fair to suspend final judgment about this case until the inquiry has been completed.

Mr. Austin Hopkinson

Will any proceedings be taken against the proprietors of those newspapers which published the name of this unfortunate child?

Mr. Morrison

That would depend on the circumstances of the publication. Possibly the name may have been given by the parent, in which case I doubt whether exception could be taken. With regard to the police officer referred to by my hon. Friend, on the information at present before me, I do not think I should be justified in taking any disciplinary action. I think that also should wait until the inquiry is completed. I want it to go forward dispassionately and fairly, and in the meantime I hope that trial by newspaper will not be continued.

Mr. Maxton

Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman, in his very full statement, to say that the Appeal Court, with the Lord Chief Justice, had come to a decision upon this matter without having all the relevant facts before them?

Mr. Morrison

No, Sir. My hon. Friend will appreciate that the Divisional Court, under the Lord Chief Justice, can only deal with the case on the material contained in the affidavits before it, and nothing else could be done. It would be wrong of me to criticise the High Court, and there is no basis for any criticism of the High Court as far as I know. The matter in dispute is whether, in the affidavits that the Justices themselves put in, there was enough material to give that degree of reliable assistance to the Divisional Court which was appropriate, and that is a matter for them.

Mr. Maxton

Could they not have called for additional evidence?

Mr. Morrison

I doubt whether they could. I think they must deal with the case on the evidence before them.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Astor.

Mr. Gallacher

On a point of Order. The Home Secretary has made a statement in answer to a Question put down by me. Is it not permissible for me to ask a Supplementary Question arising out of that? Other hon. Members have asked Supplementary Questions, and not one of them had a Question on the Paper on this subject.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member may put a Supplementary Question when his name is called, and not before.

Mr. Astor

Will this question of the possible lack of sufficient affidavits from all the parties concerned before the High Court be within the terms of reference of Lord Justice Goddard?

Mr. Morrison

I imagine it is a relevant consideration in relation to the inquiry. It is a matter, of course, for Lord Justice Goddard to come to his own conclusion, but, on the face of it, I think it is probably relevant.

Mr. Gallacher

Can the Home Secretary tell the House why, when he got a full report of the proceedings, he condoned and approved of the proceedings in March, in a letter that he sent to me; and will he not pay tribute to the great service given by the Council for Civil Liberties in bringing these very undesirable proceedings to light?

Mr. Morrison

As this matter has obtained considerable publicity, perhaps the House will permit me to make this statement. No reports were made, or any information given to me, about the major matters which formed the subject of the High Court's decision. The story in the enclosure to the hon. Member's communication was that when the sentence of birching was announced, the father immediately said he would appeal and that, three or four minutes later, the chairman sent a messenger to stop the birching, but it was then too late. Inquiries made by the Home Office showed that this version of the proceedings was inaccurate, and the hon. Member was so informed. On 14th April the hon. Member sent another letter from the father repeating the story that delay was caused through the ignorance of the Justices' clerk on the question of whether there was a right of appeal. The clerk says there was no such delay. The father asked whether there was a right of appeal, and the clerk, according to himself, replied immediately, "I think so, but will verify it," and he verified it in a few seconds.

Mr. Gallacher

Did the Home Secretary say, in a letter to me, that while he was sympathetic with the parents, it was in the interests of the child that he should be separated from the parents for seven years?

Mr. Morrison

On the facts before me it appeared to me that the order of the court was not unreasonable. [Interruption.] Believe me, I have had experience. I think to misrepresent it by saying the child was necessarily going to be separated from his parents for seven years is quite wrong. It might well be he would be back in three months.

Mrs. Hardie

The fact is that they both thrashed the boy and then handed him over to the education authorities. Some might say, "Give him a smacking, and that will be a lesson to the child," but the real point is that they thrashed him and then handed him over.

Mrs. Adamson

I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if, in the administration of juvenile courts, he will ensure that when a child is sent away the parents know his whereabouts?

Mr. Morrison

That is a disputatious point. There are cases in which it is desirable that for a time the child should not be communicated with by its parents. I am bound to say that in this case my opinion is that the education authority conducted itself very well and that the boy was looked after very well where he went.

Mr. Rhys Davies

Is it possible to ask these courts dealing with juveniles to be good enough to look at proposals issued by the Committee appointed by the Home Office indicating to them the way these juveniles should be treated?

Mr. Morrison

We do all we can in that direction.

Major Lyons

Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say the father approached the magistrates' clerk to ask him if there was a right of appeal, and the magistrates' clerk said, "I think so, but I will look it up?" Did the birching take place before any further communication with the father? Secondly, when will the inquiry begin?

Mr. Denville

On a point of Order. Is it not the case that writs had been issued by the parents and that this case is before the courts?

Mr. Speaker

I am aware of that fact, and therefore I have been watching these questions very carefully, and I was a little alarmed about the last question.

Mr. Morrison

That is certainly a matter which must be left to the inquiry. I do not think I ought to say anything.

Mr. Benson

May I ask the Home Secretary to make clear to benches that the denial of the right of access by parents to children should be limited to care and protection cases where the child is taken from the parents on the ground of bad conditions at home and not on account of the naughtiness of the child?