HC Deb 24 April 1963 vol 676 cc198-201
13. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will take steps to expedite the procedure of appeals to the Courts-Martial Appeals Court.

15. Mr. Lipton

asked the Secretary of State for War what compensation he will pay to the officer who completed his sentence by court martial nine months before his innocence was recently established on appeal; and, arising from this case, what action he will now take to improve court martial procedures.

Mr. Profumo

My noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and I have already instituted together a searching inquiry into every aspect of the case of Major Cory, including the procedure governing appeals to the Courts-Martial Appeal Court, which at present depends partly on statute and partly on rules of court.

When our investigations are concluded—and they may take a little time—I will certainly report to the House. I need hardly add that my noble and learned Friend and I are very concerned indeed about this case.

Major Cory has just raised the question of compensation, and this will be considered. He has, of course, been reinstated in the Army and has received his full pay and due allowances from the date of promulgation—22nd January, 1962—to date of reinstatement.

Mr. Allaun

Was it not a shocking travesty of justice that it took seventeen months before Major Cory's case came to appeal, when he was exonerated? Up to that time he had served eight months in gaol and had been out of work for a long time. Is the Minister aware that, similarly, it took eight months before the requests of my constituent, Private Drinkwater, were refused by the Courts-Martial Appeal Court, during which time he had been in Wormwood Scrubs? Can the Minister ensure that soldiers, like civilians, will have the right to bail pending appeal?

Mr. Profumo

I could not institute that without fresh legislation. If the hon. Member looks up the debates which took place in this House on the Courts-Martial (Appeals) Act, he will find that it was decided that before asking for leave to appeal to the appeal court an objection should be filed with the Secretary of State for War. It was recognised when the Bill was going through the House that it would be possible under the procedure for the presentation of objection to take place at such a late date that the appeal might not be determined before the appellant had served his sentence. I cannot hold out any hope of bail without fresh legislation. We try to do everything within our power to expedite this procedure.

Mr. Lipton

In regard to the first issue raised in connection with this unfortunate case, will the Secretary of State give an undertaking, here and now, that the most substantial recompense, in addition to the restoration of pay and allowances, will be made to this unfortunate victim of what has obviously been a miscarriage of justice? Will he also bear in mind that, in order to avoid the possibility of similar tragedies occurring in future, the House would be quite willing to give him whatever legislative powers are necessary?

Mr. Profumo

I am not sure that I wholly agree that the House would be prepared to grant any powers to avoid this, because it was only in 1956 that the House exhaustively debated the matter and it then expressly denied the granting of these powers. But we shall have a searching examination of the matter. As for the first part of the supplementary question, I cannot give an absolute undertaking at this stage. I have said that I will look into the question of compensation. If the hon. Member will read column 1619 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for 29th March, 1954—which deals with a similar case—he will appreciate why it is impossible for me to give a categoric undertaking at this stage.

Sir H. Harrison

It may be the opinion of the House that what has come out of the question of the appeal of this officer is the fact that the court martial was conducted over a long period and in a very unsatisfactory manner. What we would like in future is for my right hon. Friend or some member of the Army Council to be able to call for papers in cases where it is thought that a court martial is not being properly conducted, or has taken too long, as in this case.

Mr. Profumo

I sympathise with my horn, and gallant Friend and other hon. Members in their feelings about this matter. I hope that the House will not press me too far at this stage, because these are just the sorts of things in respect of which my noble and learned Friend and I have called for a thorough and exhaustive examination. The Army Council calls for papers, and we rely on the Judge Advocate General and his advice when we are looking into these cases. In this case there were about 1,400 pages of typescript in the appeal that came to the Army Council.

Mr. Morris

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept from me that his statement that there will be a full inquiry into this matter, and that he will make a statement to the House about this astonishing case, as described by the court of appeal, will be regarded as very satisfactory. In addition, however, will he place the transcript of this trial in the Library of the House? This case lasted for 43 days and the accused was in the witness box for more than a week. There are many instances to show that this was a very unsatisfactory trial. Will the right hon. Gentleman have a full inquiry into the matter, and will he also state the reason why the whole of the evidence was taken down in longhand when shorthand writers were available?

Mr. Profumo

I once more give an undertaking that a really exhaustive inquiry will be made into this matter. As for putting a typescript in the Library, I hope that the hon. Member will allow me to wait until we have completed the inquiry, because the report may take the form of some kind of paper. It has not yet been decided whether it will be for my noble and learned Friend or for me to deal with the matter, but we want to get going with the inquiry. It will take some time. Perhaps we can consider this matter afterwards.