HC Deb 15 July 1948 vol 453 cc1583-9

Lords Amendment: In page 33, line 5, to leave out "practicable," and to insert "available."

Mr. Younger

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with Lords in the said Amendment."

This and the other Amendments to page 33 are drafting.

12.45 a.m.

Mr. Hale

The hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) put this point before, and I apologise for my failure in not supporting him on that occasion. The first Amendment is to alter "practicable" to "available." I should like to find out precisely what that means. The use of the word "practicable" is this, and it is a very important word, that where, for instance, a man is before the court and the next court is in two days' time, if the defending solicitor thinks it is not reasonably practicable to prepare the defence before then, the case is taken at the following court. The alteration to "available" means that it has to be the next court, whether convenient or not, whether there has been time to prepare a defence or not. The point is rather an important and practical one.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for supporting me in the inquiry I made about the effect of altering the word "practicable" to "available." "Practicable," I am sure, is the word which is normally used in statutes in regard to appeals—appeal "to the next practicable court." I refreshed my memory at an earlier stage today. The reason for the change had not occurred to me, but the hon. Member for Oldham has put his finger on it. He is right; it is a very important point in the administration of justice. People do not want to delay trials, but often an assize or quarter sessions start on a heavy case and immediately afterwards commit it to the next court available. It may well be that those defending want more time to get more information to put before the court to enable justice to be done. I am sure we passed too speedily from the other Amendment in view of the Under-Secretary's reply. He was not able to throw much light on this problem, but that should not deter us from putting the matter right.

Mr. S. Silverman

Assuming my hon. Friend is right and the word "practicable" was altered to "available" in order to establish the difference between the next coming session and the next session practicable in all circumstances, can it be explained why the word "available" was inserted at all? Why do we not leave the word "practicable" out of the words, "next practicable session" and be content with what is left.

The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend has put the point exactly. I do not think there is any material significance in the change of wording that has been made. Clearly, if it was intended to mean that the committal should be to the next sitting of the court it would have been inappropriate to use either the word "practicable" or "available." I think for some reason, which I confess does not occur to me, it was thought that "available" is the better word. I think the phrase should be construed to mean the next available sitting of the court. It clearly cannot mean the next sitting.

The word "available" must be given a qualifying meaning. If it was the next sitting of the court the word "available" would be otiose. It is intended to mean the next convenient sitting. The point taken in another place was a purely verbal one. It was thought that there was no such thing as a practicable sitting of an appeal court. What is meant is the next one at which the case can be heard, that it is say, at which it can be properly heard. The word "available" was thought to be the appropriate word. There is no doubt that in another place great legal minds were brought to bear upon this, and it was thought that this word was the appropriate word. The difficulty we are in now—and I confess it frankly—is that we have already passed it by agreeing to the same form of words in an earlier Clause.

Mr. Mikardo (Reading)

As one who loves the English language and hates to see it abused, I cannot accept the contention that there is no significant difference between the meaning of the word "practicable" and that of the word "available." There is a great significant difference. The word "practicable" can be applied only to an action, and not to a session, or to anything like a session. I do not know what the law is in these matters, but I think that I do know what syntax is. The Clause as at present drafted would be in a reasonable form, if one wanted to use the word "practicable," if it read that each case will be dealt with by the Appeal Committee at the next sitting of the Committee at which it is practicable so to deal with the case. I do not know whether that would make good law, but at least it would make good English. It cannot be good English to talk about a practicable sitting of a committee.

Mr. Pritt (Hammersmith, North)

I would say that it is not an important difference. I think the House ought to say that the word "practicable" has been doing this job for a long time, and certainly one can understand what is meant. It would be a pity to put in another word and have a little more uncertainty and a few more fees trying to make out what that word means, when one does know that meaning of the one word.

Mr. Benn Levy (Eton and Slough)

It seems to me that it is surely right to say that the words are the same in meaning. The only evidence to the contrary is that it was thought desirable in another place to change the usual word "practicable" to the word "available." Surely the word "available" means, in this context, the next sitting of the Appeal Committee of which those concerned in the case can avail themselves and, in point of fact, is more right in English than the words "practicable sitting."

Mr. Paton

Is there any practicable method by which this House, if it desires to retain the word "practicable," can do so, and at the same time change the original decision of "available" into "practicable"?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think it would be practicable to insert the word now, seeing that we have already inserted the other word in a previous Clause.

Lords Amendment: In page 34, line 2 at end insert new Clause "C"—

(Abolition of privilege of peerage in criminal proceedings.)

  1. (1) Privilege of peerage in relation to criminal proceedings is hereby abolished.
  2. (2) In any criminal proceedings the jurisdiction to be had and the procedure to be followed, the punishments which may be inflicted, the orders which may be made, and the appeals which may be brought shall, whatever the offence and wherever the trial is to take place, be the same in the case of persons who would but for this section be entitled to privilege of peerage as in the case of any other of His Majesty's subjects.

Mr. Ede

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment which has been inserted in another place effects a very considerable change in the way in which members of another place can be dealt with in criminal proceedings in future. The Government were aware that they desired in another place to put themselves in the same position as commoners in regard to this matter. But we thought it was better that the Clause should be proposed in another place and sent down here. I do not know that we are very much interested in it, but I do think that it shows a marching with the times, in one particular matter, which we can welcome, and which I hope is a sign of grace; and I think that we can thank their Lordships for descending to our level in this matter.

Lords Amendment: After the Amendment last inserted, to insert new Clause "D"—

(Jurisdiction and Procedure in respect of certain indictable offences committed in foreign countries.)

  1. (1) Any British subject employed under His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom 1587 in the service of the Crown who commits, in a foreign country, when acting or purporting to act in the course of his employment, any offence which, if committed in England, would be punishable on indictment, shall be guilty of an offence of the same nature, and subject to the same punishment, as if the offence had been committed in England.
  2. (2) A person may be proceeded against, indicted, tried and punished for an offence under this section in any county or place in England in which he is apprehended or is in custody as if the offence had been committed in that county or place; and the offence shall, for all purposes incidental to or consequential on the trial or punishment thereof, be deemed to have been committed in that county or place
  3. (3) Subsection (4) of section one of the Administration of Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1933 (which continues the procedure by way of indictment preferred before a grand jury of the County of London and County of Middlesex in the case of indictments under the enactments specified in the First Schedule to that Act) shall cease to have effect; and subsection (2) of this section shall apply to any offence in respect of which a bill of indictment could, but for this subsection, have been so preferred as it applies to an offence under this section.

The Attorney-General

I beg to move "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The effect of this new Clause is broadly to adapt to modern circumstances a provision which has been on the statute book since 1802, but the procedure under which has become virtually obsolete. It enables a British subject, who while employed as a Crown servant abroad, and commits an indictable offence, to be tried under the ordinary procedure in the courts in this country.

Mr. John Foster (Northwich)

I believe that the words … any offence which, if committed in England, would be punishable on indictment … are the words of the old Section, but from the point of view of a former lecturer in international private law, they do make nonsense because an offence committed in England is often not an offence in a country abroad, and the definition does depend on the interpretation. It is an offence, for instance, to tell fortunes by palmistry in this country, but it is legal in Belgium. If one is charged with dangerous driving, it has to be remembered that one is allowed to drive on the right side of the road in France, but on the left in England, so that one has to decide which part of the road is correct: perhaps it would be the middle. It has always been a subject for criticism for those who dabble in private international law that these words are not logical. One cannot do very much about them at this stage, except register a protest.

The Attorney-General

This Clause, as I have stated, only covers offences by persons in the service of the Crown committed in the course of their employment, and palmistry is not one of the duties of, for instance, His Majesty's Ambassadors.

Lords Amendment: After the Amendment last inserted, to insert new Clause "E"—(Issue of single summons on more than one information.) (1) Where two or more informations are laid under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts against the same person or persons, a single summons may be issued under these Acts against that person or each of those persons in respect of all the informations: Provided that the matter of each information shall be separately stated in the summons. (2) Any such summons as aforesaid shall be treated for the purpose of the Summary Jurisdiction Acts as if it were a separate summons in respect of each information. (3) The foregoing provisions of this section shall apply to complaints as they apply to informations.

Mr. Younger

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This is an addition to the Bill designed to save time and labour to clerks and justices, and it cannot prejudice offenders.

Lords Amendment: After the Amendment last inserted, to insert new Clause "F"—(Supply of copies of information to persons committed for trial.) (1) Where any person is entitled to copies of depositions taken under the Indictable Offences Act, 1848, he shall be entitled also to copies of the written information (if any) required by Section twenty of that Act to be transmitted with the depositions; and any enactment relating to the funishing of copies of depositions shall accordingly apply to any such information as it applies to depositions.

The Attorney-General

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This was introduced as a result of an undertaking which I gave on the Report stage, and it enables a defendant to receive a copy of any written information when he is committed for trial.

Mr. Weitzman (Stoke Newington)

This new Clause does not cover the scope which was covered by the Clause I put down on the Report stage, but it goes a long way to cure the evil of which I complained. It is a real step forward in securing impartiality in the trial of an accused person.