§ 17. Mr. Basil Nield
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department in what terms he has circularised justices on the exclusion of the Press from attending or reporting the proceedings before them where they are asked to commit for trial 1194 at assizes or quarter sessions persons charged with criminal offences.
§ Mr. Ede
No circular to justices has been issued by my Department on this subject. I am advised that justices, when conducting a preliminary examination with a view to deciding whether the accused shall be committed for trial on indictment, are not required to sit in open court, but it is the general practice to do so. My predecessors in office have expressed the view, with which I agree, that justices should not sit in private save in exceptional cases such as those in which they are satisfied that the publicity given to these preliminary proceedings will prejudice the ends of justice. The importance of maintaining the policy of publicity for proceedings before them is, I am sure, well understood by justices.
§ Mr. Nield
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in a recent case, the justices excluded the Press from the proceedings on the ground that the jury might be prejudiced at the subsequent trial? If that is the correct ground, is it not, in effect, preventing the Press from reporting the proceedings?
§ Mr. Ede
Under Section 19 of the Indictable Offences Act, 1848, examining justices taking depositions are not required to sit in open court. In my view that power should be used only in the most exceptional circumstances. If the hon. and learned Member will send me particulars of the case he has in mind I will have it examined, to see whether it is desirable that any communication should be made to the justices concerned.