HC Deb 18 December 1962 vol 669 cc1094-7
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Henry Brooke)

With permission, I would like to make a statement about the expenses of witnesses appearing before the Tribunal set up to consider the Vassall case.

In the course of answering Questions on this subject on 29th November I promised to bring to the notice of the Tribunal all that was said that day in the House. I have done this, and I am glad to be able now to report to the House that the Chairman and members of the Tribunal have been good enough to agree to undertake responsibility for advising in what cases justice requires an ex gratia contribution to the cost of legal representation to be made from public funds and what proportion of the reasonable costs incurred the contribution should, in the view of the Tribunal, in each case represent.

I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a copy of a letter from me to Lord Radcliffe and a copy of his reply.

Mr. G. Brown

Since this appears to meet very happily and satisfactorily the point made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, may I express our appreciation to the Home Secretary for the action that he has taken?

Mr. Grimond

May I join in saying how grateful we are to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Tribunal for undertaking this job, and how glad I am that no question of blame now enters into this matter? Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether I am right in thinking that this is a temporary solution for this particular Tribunal and that the whole question of the costs of these Tribunals will be reconsidered in general when this one is over?

Mr. Brooke

I am very much obliged to both right hon. Gentlemen for what they have said. This is an ad hoc plan for this particular Tribunal and in no way governs what might happen in the case of any future Tribunal.

Mr. Wigg

As I raised this in the first instance, I hope that the question of blame still enters into it. I trust, for example, that the Tribunal will not con sider paying Mr. Vassall his expenses. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because he has already had £11,000 on account. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, if this point is not clear, will go back to the Tribunal and see that he does not get it, anyway.

Mr. Brooke

We have entrusted this Tribunal with a very important inquiry and I think that we should now trust its discretion to make wise recommendations on this aspect, too.

Mr. D. Howell

Does this mean that the Tribunal will decide before a witness has given evidence whether he will have his expenses paid or after the Tribunal has heard the evidence? In respect of this in the long-term, will the Home Secretary bear in mind that in a recent inquiry into the health services, in which I was concerned, the failure of the Minister to determine how much money was to be paid to the person involved meant a serious embarrassment in providing the defence because that man's solicitor said that he did not know how he could be adequately represented, by what calibre of counsel, and so on, unless he knew before he started how much money he would get?

Mr. Brooke

I do not think that the Tribunal could decide in advance of hearing the evidence. The Tribunal, when it has come to a conclusion in this inquiry, will be prepared to give advice on these additional matters.

Mr. Morris

Surely the Home Secretary will be aware that in ordinary applications for legal aid before the case is heard legal aid is granted after a short resumé of the man's grounds for bringing the litigation. Surely it will be a great embarrassment to a man if he has to brief counsel and mortgage everything he has and yet not know whether he will be reimbursed. Surely that is contrary to the whole system of legal aid.

Mr. Brooke

It is not an ordinary court and this is not a matter of legal aid. The question is whether people who are put to very heavy expense for legal representation before this Tribunal, should, in certain circumstances, regardless of their means, have reimbursement made to them of their expenses. I think that the case is quite clear.

Sir J. Duncan

May I ask my right hon. Friend on what Vote this will appear? I assume that, in the first instance, it will be paid out of the Civil Contingencies Fund.

Mr. Brooke

It will be borne on the Law Charges Vote, Class III, Vote 14.

Mr. Paget

Surely there is a distinction here. Before this Tribunal there is not a right to be represented. The people who are represented are the people whom the Tribunal will decide should be represented. Is not that the time when the decision ought to be taken as to what money will be available for them to be represented? The particular case of Mr. Vassall was mentioned. Presumably, he is to be represented because it will be of assistance to the Tribunal that he should be. In those circumstances, those who are represented ought to know, ought they not, whom they can brief and what they should do? I should have thought that the time to take this decision was when deciding upon representation.

Mr. Brooke

The Tribunal decided some time ago whom it will agree should have legal representation, and no doubt they have taken the appropriate steps to obtain that legal representation by now. I cannot offer any hope that the Tribunal will advise in advance of hearing the evidence whether everybody should receive 100 per cent. reimbursement, or whether some should receive partial reimbursement or none at all. That is something which I know the Tribunal would only be willing to do at the end of its proceedings, and not at the beginning. Quite frankly, I do not think that this will cause the serious difficulties that hon. Members apprehend.

Following are the letters:

Home Office,



12th December, 1962.

Dear Lord Radcliffe,

I made a statement in the House of Commons on the 29th November indicating that, in the case of witnesses appearing before the Tribunal appointed under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, to inquire into the Vassall case to whom the Tribunal allows legal representation, the Government would be prepared, in the public interest, to give consideration after the Tribunal has reported to claims which may be made to them for a contribution from public funds to the expenditure incurred.

As you will have seen from the report of the discussion which followed (Hansard, Cols. 661 to 665), there was support for the view that, in order to insure general confidence in the impartiality of the decisions reached on applications for the reimbursement of expenses, the advice of the Tribunal about the disposal of each application should be sought. I should myself welcome this; and I am venturing to inquire whether, in the light of the views expressed in the House of Commons, you and your colleagues would feel able to advise me in what cases of applications for the reimbursement of the costs of legal representation justice requires an ex gratia contribution to be made from public funds, and what proportion of the reasonable costs incurred the contribution should, in the view of the Tribunal, in each case represent.

I assume that in most cases the amount of reasonable costs incurred can be settled by agreement; but where this is not possible, I have it in mind to seek the assistance of the Chief Taxing Master.

I know that in asking you and your colleagues to assist me in this way I am asking you to add to a burden of public service which is already heavy; but I do very much hope that you may feel able to agree. I shall be most grateful to you if you can.

Yours sincerely,


The Rt. Hon. Viscount Radcliffe, G.B.E.

Tribunal of Inquiry 14th December, 1962.

Dear Secretary of State,

I have discussed with my colleagues the request which you put to us, in your letter of 12th December, that the Tribunal should advise you in what cases of applications for the reimbursement of the costs of legal representation justice required an ex gratia payment from public funds, and what proportion of the reasonable costs incurred the contribution should in each represent. We are prepared to undertake this responsibility.

In the light of the views expressed in the House of Commons on this matter, we are prepared to undertake responsibility for giving such advice.

Yours sincerely,


The Rt. Hon. Henry Brooke, M.P.