HC Deb 27 April 1953 vol 514 cc1735-7
14. Mr. Donnelly

asked the Attorney-General whether he will introduce legislation to remove the powers to license barristers to practise from the benchers of their respective Inns of Court.

The Attorney-General (Sir Lionel Heald)

No, Sir.

Mr. Donnelly

Is the Attorney-General aware that a practising barrister has been suspended from practising at the Bar because of a political speech he made, in which he commented on certain aspects of the Lord Chief Justice's work? Is this not an extremely undesirable precedent and a restriction of political freedom of speech?

The Attorney-General

As the gentleman in question has still the right of appeal to a special legal tribunal, consisting of the Lord Chancellor and a committee of judges, I am most anxious not to express any opinion on the matter. But in order to answer that question, I think that I am entitled to say that the suggestion that the offence in question was a political offence was entirely unjustified. In the comments which have been made in the Press I think that there has been a considerable degree of misunderstanding, largely due to the fact that the remarks which were made by the barrister on the occasion in question were, perhaps not unwisely, not reported in full by any except a very few newspapers, and certainly by none of the London papers. Therefore, it may be that the honourable Gentleman and others have a wrong impression of the offence that was found to have been committed. Beyond that I do not think that I ought to say anything at this stage.

Mr. Shinwell

Was not the comment by this barrister—on the Lord Chief Justice—one that had a political implication? If so, why should this process be permitted? May I ask the Attorney-General whether, in view of the fact that hon. Members on his own side of the House are very much opposed to the "closed shop," he could make a beginning by abolishing it in this particular instance?

The Attorney-General

According to the report certain comments of the nature referred to by the right hon. Gentleman were made, but in the newspaper report which I have before me reference was also made to another matter, in these words: Unfortunately I am precluded from expressing in public the universal concensus of opinion in the legal profession about the manner in which he now conducts criminal trials. I should not have thought that that was a political utterance.

Mr. Hylton-Foster

My hon. and learned Friend having gone so far, would he now be in a position to say upon what basis the charge against this barrister was actually framed?

The Attorney-General

I am not at liberty to make a statement. That is a matter for the benchers of Grays Inn, and I have no control over them whatever.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Now that the hon. and learned Gentleman has gone so far, it is surely but a step to let us know what the actual charge was. Cannot we have that?

The Attorney-General

What I should be prepared to do to assist the House—as the report which was published in the Press of the decision of the benchers of Grays Inn was of a very truncated character and I do not know whether they published everything that was issued—would be to make a request that the entire decision be published.

Mr. S. Silverman

Would the hon. and learned Gentleman say what conceivable objection there is or may be to an expression of an opinion—on a public platform, at a public meeting, as part of a political campaign—by a barrister or any other free citizen about the conduct of criminal trials by the Lord Chief Justice or anybody else?

The Attorney-General

I certainly should not agree that it would be desirable that anyone, above all a member of the Bar, should make a suggestion that the universal concensus of opinion in the legal profession was that the Lord Chief Justice conducts criminal trials improperly.