HC Deb 03 August 1944 vol 402 cc1603-4
Mr. Molson

(By Private Notice) asked the Home Secretary whether, in view of the refusal of certain magistrates to try a case unless assurance were given that certain Regulations had been laid before Parliament, he will circularise all magistrates informing them that they are not entitled to investigate the procedure under which legislation or delegated legislation has been enacted and published.

Mr. H. Morrison

It is not for me to correct a bench of magistrates on a question of law, but I recognise that it is in the public interest that a statement should be made on this point, which is made clear by the Documentary Evidence Act of 1868. I am advised that the effect of that Act is that the production of a Statutory Rule and Order purporting to be printed by the Government printer is prima facie evidence of the Order, and that a Court is not entitled to require any further evidence unless, of course, the defendant should be able to prove by affirmative evidence that the Order is invalid. Failure to understand this somewhat elementary legal principle is, I am sure, exceptional, and I do not think that a general circular to magistrates is called for.

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes

Is not a special circular to this particular magistrate necessary in view of the fact that he has said: As they make such a muck of things up there, we should ask in every one of these cases, whether the laws have been laid before the Government"?

Mr. Morrison

I think there is little doubt that the magistrate will see the report of my statement, and in all the circumstances of the case I doubt whether I had better enter into individual and direct controversy with him.

Mr. Pritt

Would the Home Secretary consider, in the light of things like this, which are often happening, whether some steps should be taken to give elementary teaching in law to the magistrates?

Sir Reginald Blair

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the House should show a little deference to this particular magistrate—who is learned in the law—on account of the fact that he has suffered a great personal bereavement?

Mr. Morrison

I am very sorry about that.