HC Deb 05 April 1954 vol 526 cc18-9
34. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

asked the Attorney-General what steps he is taking to speed up the hearing of court-martial appeals.

35. Mr. Swingler

asked the Attorney-General why it takes, on the average, 20½ weeks for appeals against court-martial convictions to reach the Appeals Court; and what action he is taking to reduce this period.

The Attorney-General (Sir Lionel Heald)

Twenty-and-a-half weeks is the average time from the announcement of the findings of the court-martial to the final disposal of the case by the Appeal Court. My hon. and learned Friend gave a detailed explanation of the appeal procedure in answer to Questions on 29th March. All concerned are, he then said, fully aware of the need to deal expeditiously with these applications, but it is not possible to reduce the time limits prescribed by the Rules of Court without curtailing the rights of the convicted person. The matter is a difficult one, but if the hon. Members have any suggestions for improving the procedure I will, of course, see that they are considered.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Will the Attorney-General consider, among the other deplorable features of the case of Corporal Leighton, the fact that it took about two months between the time he petitioned for permission to appeal under the Courts-Martial (Appeals) Act, and the date on which leave was granted to appeal and that two months is an excessive time? Would it not help if sentences were suspended pending appeal, as that would certainly be a powerful inducement to the authorities to get the appeals heard?

The Attorney-General

I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that I am considering the matter carefully in all its aspects.

Mr. Swingler

Will not the Attorney-General agree that there is no pressure of cases to be heard by the Appeals Court, and that, therefore, the period of five months between the holding of the court-martial and the hearing of an appeal appears to be totally unjustifiable? As the Solicitor-General was unable to explain why there was a delay of 79 days in the case of Corporal Leighton in presenting the petition, we still do not know why as long a period as nearly nine months occurred in his case.

The Attorney-General

The main difficulty in these cases arises from the fact that certain lengths of time are allowed to accused persons and if those times are curtailed an alteration in the Rules of the Court would be required; and there are a number of complications.