HC Deb 27 February 1951 vol 484 cc1890-1
23. Mr. Keeling

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the inaccuracy of some Press reports of general courts-martial, he will, in the public interest, as soon as judgment has been pronounced, publish either the summing-up of the Judge Advocate or a statement of the charges and a summary of the evidence.

Mr. Strachey

The proceedings of all courts-martial, including the summing-up of the Judge Advocate, take place normally in open court and are therefore available to the public and the Press who attend the hearing.

Mr. Keeling

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the effect on discipline, on recruiting and on public opinion when misleading Press statements are made, as in the recent Linsell case, which suggested that the accused fired the fatal shot while on duty on ordinary sentry-go? Is the right hon. Gentleman going to do anything to counteract that tendency?

Mr. Strachey

I have great sympathy with the hon. Member's intention, but I rather doubt whether the publication of the necessarily lengthy proceedings of courts-martial—they are very difficult to summarise, and it may be unfair to do so —would serve that purpose. What I am sure matters is that the Press should publish full and balanced accounts. I am, sure they try to do so.

Mr. Soames

Is it not a fact that many erroneous reports which appear in the Press are brought about by insufficient information being handed out by public relations officers? Will he ensure that those officers are instructed to give to the Press the fullest information about courts-martial?

Mr. Strachey

I do not think that we can hand out our views of a case, even after it has taken place. All we can do is to see that the Press have access to report the case.

General Sir George Jeffreys

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's statement that a court-martial is an open court, surely there cannot be any objection to publishing at least a summary of the charges, possibly the summing-up of the Judge Advocate and perhaps a summary of the evidence so that it would be available to the public and there would be no excuse for any newspaper omitting or concentrating upon any part of it?

Mr. Strachey

Again, I strongly sympathise with the hon. and gallant Gentleman's intention, but all these things are public in the sense that they take place in open court and are fully accessible to the Press.

Mr. Mitchison

Is my right hon. Friend aware that similar inaccuracies arise in the course of the reports of ordinary legal proceedings and that it is a very dangerous step indeed to try to give to the Press information which they can perfectly well collect for themselves?