HC Deb 18 June 1959 vol 607 cc617-8
1. Mr. Langford-Holt

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been drawn to the number of American servicemen who, on being charged by United Kingdom civil authorities with purely civil offences, have been removed from the jurisdiction of British civil courts and dealt with by United States military authorities; and whether he will draw the attention of the United States authorities to the desirability of allowing American servicemen to be dealt with by British civil courts for offences against British laws.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

A member of the United States forces who is alleged to have committed a criminal offence in this country is normally dealt with by the British courts. In some cases, however, for various reasons, it is more appropriate for the matter to be dealt with by a service court, and the British and United States authorities co-operate closely in considering what action should be taken in each case. Once a person has been formally charged with an offence the charge can be withdrawn only by permission of the court. My right hon. Friend has no information to support the suggestion that the United States service authorities remove servicemen from the jurisdiction when such charges are pending against them.

Mr. Langford-Holt

Is my hon. and learned Friend able to give us some rough idea of the percentage difference between those cases tried by the military courts and those by the civil courts? Secondly, would he consider drawing the attention of the American authorities to the desirability, although under a Measure passed by this House they have the undoubted right to try these cases, that they should not seek privileges which should not and could not be accorded to the nationals of other countries?

Mr. Renton

As to the percentage difference, we have not got exact figures, but the Director of Public Prosecutions estimates that about 75 per cent. of alleged offences by Americans which have come to his notice have been dealt with by our courts. As to my hon. Friend's second question, candidly I do not think any special action is needed. The Visiting Forces Act is perfectly clear, and there is close co-operation between the American authorities and our own as to its enforcement.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

As the public are interested in this problem, would the hon. and learned Gentleman give an example of the kind of reasons which lead the authorities to decide to take cases in American military courts rather than in our own civil courts?

Mr. Renton

The general principle is that the British courts deal with offences against British law, but, under the Visiting Forces Act, cases in which American Service people are involved which arise out of or in the course of their duty or are committed against the persons or property of other Americans may be tried by American service courts.