HC Deb 21 January 1947 vol 432 cc26-7
44. Mr. Nield

asked the Secretary of State for War how many capital charges were tried by field general court martial in 1946; and how many such charges were tried without the services of a shorthand writer being made available.

Mr. Bellenger

The proceedings of 16 trials by field general court martial on capital charges tried during 1946 have so far been received in the office of the Judge Advocate-General. In seven of these there was no shorthand writer.

Mr. Nield

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think the time has arrived for all capital charges to be tried by general court martial, and to insist forthwith that there be a shorthand writer available at the trial of every such charge in order that, at least, an accused person who is convicted may thereafter have full opportunity for presenting a petition on legal grounds?

Mr. Bellenger

Yes, Sir, I am in agreement with a good deal of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said in his supplementary question, and on 5th November I gave an answer indicating that I hoped generally to be able to provide notetakers in the future. Of course, there has been a shortage of these specialists, but I should imagine that the present committee under Mr. Justice Lewis sitting on court martial procedure will possibly make a recommendation.

Mr. Hector Hughes

But will my right hon. Friend give a direction that in cases of all future trials involving capital punishment, a shorthand writer will be made essential?

Mr. Bellenger

I will endeavour to do what I can in that matter.

Mr. Walker-Smith

Will the Minister deal with the other part of my hon. and learned Friend's supplementary question with regard to requiring that all capital charges shall be tried by general court martial and not by field court martial?

Mr. Bellenger

I would like notice of that Question.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Would my right hon. Friend say whether it is not a fact that in the majority of cases, capital charges since the termination of hostilities have been charges triable by civil law, and in those cases is there any reason why the trial of capital offences should not be carried out under the civil law?

Mr. Bellenger

I think that is an entirely different question from the one on the Order Paper.