HC Deb 04 August 1965 vol 717 cc1838-40

Lords Amendment No. 3: In page 2, line 28, leave out subsection (4).

10.43 p.m.

Mr. Martin McLaren (Bristol, North-West)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

This is a paving Amendment leading to Lords Amendment No. 4. I suggest, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it might be convenient to consider it with Lords Amendment No. 4.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)

Yes, if the House wishes.

Mr. McLaren

When the Session began I never thought that I should be responsible for an Order of the Day starred on the Order Paper as a Government Order of the Day, or that the Government would suspend the rule at ten o'clock partly for my benefit. I am very much obliged to the Government for their kindness in finding time for these Lords Amendments to be considered.

The new Clause repeats Clause 2 (4) which is to be deleted and puts an end to the issue of subpoenas in a further case, namely, where a witness summons can be issued to compel the attendance of a witness at a magistrates' court under Section 77 of the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952. The material words of that Section are: Where a justice of the peace … is satisfied that any person … is likely to be able to give material evidence, or produce any document or thing likely to be material evidence, at an inquiry into an indictable offence by a magistrates' court … or at the summary trial of an information or hearing of a complaint by such a court … the justice shall issue a summons … requiring the attendance of the witness.

That is the ordinary procedure, but there is reason to think that the Crown Office subpoena has been used as an alternative procedure in cases where the party issuing the subpoena knows that he would fail to satisfy the magistrates that the witness could give any material evidence, because the Crown Office subpoena can be obtained without him having to show that. It is true that the witness may then issue a summons. He can apply to the High Court to set the subpoena aside on the ground that he would be unable to give any material evidence.

In practice, some difficulty arises in cases where the party delays serving his subpoena until it is too late for the witness to make the necessary application to the Divisional Court. It seems right that the parties should have to use the procedure under the Section of the Magistrates' Court Act, as a person ought not to be exposed to the trouble of attending a court to give evidence, unless it can be shown that he can give some material evidence.

The Amendment was suggested by the Lord Chief Justice, who, in Committee in another place, spoke in its support. It may be a comfort to Ministers to think that they may be the main beneficiaries of this provision, because it has been known for subpoenas to be served on Ministers on inadequate grounds.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Alice Bacon)

I think that this is the last piece of legislation which will be put before the House before the Summer Recess. It is rather remarkable, after all the months we have had of long sittings, of all-night sittings and controversy, that this should be a Bill introduced by an Opposition Whip and given Government time after ten o'clock at night.

The Bill is based on the Sixth Report from the Criminal Law Revision Committee. The proposal in the new Clause was not among the recommendations of that Committee. As it relates to proceedings at magistrates' courts, it was not within their terms of reference which related only to attendance at courts of assize or quarter sessions. But this Amendment was suggested in another place by the Lord Chief Justice who supported it in Committee, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman and accept the Amendment.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendment agreed to.