HC Deb 16 May 1969 vol 783 cc1881-2
Mr. Dewar

I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 20, leave out 'admissible in evidence' and insert: 'evidence (and in Scotland sufficient evidence) of the matters stated in it'. I am rather sensitive to the charge of prolonging the proceedings and I intend to take but a very short time on this matter.

As the House realises, this Amendment redrafts the provisions of Clause 3(3) which allows to be produced in evidence a document purporting to be a certificate under the hand of a Minister of the Crown that the act in question was prejudicial to the public interest. The difficulty is that it takes no account of the Scottish law of corroboration.

Subsection (3) states that when an accused person is charged with receiving an official secret and relies upon the defence afforded in subsection (1)—namely, that it is not prejudicial to the public interest— … the judge shall take into account together with any relevant matters any certificate … and the reasons advanced in the certificate … This allows the judge, if he thinks fit, to give that consideration without any witness being called to speak to its contents.

As I understand the law in Scotland, this would not be the situation, and if the judge gave the kind of consideration which the sponsor of the Bill has in mind, and which I do not challenge, unless the matter has been made specifically clear in the Clause, corroboration would be necessary. This form of words is merely to give exact statutory definition to the situation to make it clear that this is an exception to the normal rules of corroboration as we know them in Scotland and that a judge in Scotland can take evidence of the certificate as sufficient evidence without calling anyone to testify in its support.

I hardly think that it is necessary, but I might mention that the certificate is not conclusive. It merely gives the judge the option to accept it if he wishes. As the Clause stands now, as I understand,—I am open to correction—there might be some doubt about the position in the Scots courts and it might be held that evidence had to be laid before the judge to give the consideration which the sponsors of the Bill envisage.

Mr. Eyre

May I say that I shall be prepared to accept this Amendment.

The Attorney-General

While I strongly oppose Clause 3, it seems to me that, in the unhappy event of its surviving, this Amendment improves matters a little because it takes into account the Scots law of corroboration and it relates the matter to Scottish procedure in a satisfactory way.

This is not the appropriate moment for me to develop my objections to Clause 3, but I give due warning that I shall have to do that in due course.

Amendment agreed to.

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