HC Deb 20 October 1972 vol 843 cc727-31

Lords Amendment No. 28: In page 35, line 39, at end insert: Provided that— (a) sections 24, 26 and (Punishment for certain offences of Sunday trading) and (Punishment for use of premises in breach of closing order) shall not affect the punishment for an offence completed before those sections come into force; and (b) neither section 30 nor the corresponding section referred to in section 54(3) shall come into force until provision has been made by rules of court with a view to preventing or restricting the disclosure of the identity of the acquitted person in references under that section.

Read a Second time.

Mr. John Fraser

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, in line 10, at end add: 'and no such rules shall take effect until the instrument in which they are contained has been approved by resolutions of both Houses of Parliament'. The purpose of the Amendment is self-evident, that the rules of court to be made to restrict or prevent disclosure of the identity of a person whose acquittal is being appealed against on a point of law should be approved by both Houses of Parliament.

It is true that the House has a great deal of business, and that it is difficult to find time to approve Statutory Instruments. If that is a reason for not implementing Clause 30, that is all the more welcome, because that Clause in effect allows an appeal on a point of law against an acquittal; where a person is acquitted, the Attorney-General can refer the case to the Court of Appeal on a point of law. The Bill does not say that that is done as a matter of general guidance but talks about an opinion on a particular case. It is a question about which a great deal of concern and apprehension has been expressed both outside and by both Houses of Parliament.

That the appeal is against the decision in a particular case is quite clear from the way in which Clause 30 is drafted, because the defendant has the right to be represented in the Court of Appeal and to argue there. The conclusion is inescapable that it is an appeal against acquittal. We shall have a peculiar kind of verdict of "guilty but acquitted" if the decision is reversed on a point of law by the Court of Appeal, or "not guilty on a technicality".

A defendant acquitted by a jury but having the decision reversed by the Court of Appeal on a point of law is likely to suffer opprobrium. For that reason the Lords' Amendment was made to restrict or prevent disclosure of the defendant's identity. But the matter is not as easy as that. As was pointed out in another place, it may be a famous trial, and details of the offence complained of may have been published in every Sunday newspaper. Once a celebrated case goes to the Court of Appeal, whether or not the identity of the defendant is prevented or restricted, if the result is reported people are almost bound to identify the defendant. If he is, as it were, convicted by the Court of Appeal on a point of law, when he has already been acquitted by a jury, there is great danger of damage to his reputation.

What is the position of newspapers if they publish the facts or a brief description of the case which may identify the defendant? What happens when my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), who unfortunately cannot be here today, puts down Questions to the Attorney-General, asking, "Are you referring the case of the Crown v. Smith to the Court of Appeal on a point of law?"? Is he to be in contempt of court for putting such a Question to the Attorney-General? It can therefore be seen that the question raises matters which can affect the right of Parliament to question the decision of the Attorney-General. It raises most difficult questions for newspapers and the other public media. We do not know quite whether the rules will simply restrict the disclosure of identity or prevent it altogether. It is by no means clear from the way in which the Lords' Amendment is worded, The whole matter bristles with difficulties.

Therefore, we say that the rules of court to restrict or prevent disclosure of the identity of the defendant should be approved positively by Parliament, and not simply be left to the judges.

3.15 p.m.

Mr. Carlisle

The simple answer to the hon. Gentleman's comments is that of course Parliament can have the opportunity to learn all the information about which he spoke and to debate it, since the provisions will have to be subject to the negative procedure, and it will be open to him to pray against the rules and to scrutinise them in that way.

But I should like to take the matter wider and try to allay some of the hon. Gentleman's more extreme fears about the provision. It shall not go into its merits, because that would be out of order. We are anxious to provide adequate safeguards for the person who has been acquitted. The Lord Chief Justice has been consulted and has advised that proceedings on a reference to the Court of Appeal can be conducted without the need for the name of the acquitted person to be mentioned.

The procedure that the Government intend should be adopted is that the Attorney-General should state a case for the opinion of the Court of Appeal, without any names, in much the same way as magistrates state a case. Proper names of persons and places would not be mentioned in the case or in any formal documents. In addition, there would be a requirement not to disclose these particu- lars in open court except with the consent of the acquitted person. Appropriate rules of court would be made to ensure that a procedure on these lines would be adopted.

The Lord Chief Justice envisages that when a case came before the Court of Appeal the Court would not refer to any of the facts of the original trial, except those stated by the Attorney-General in his submission of the case, and that when the Court gave its decision it would merely answer the questions posed for it as questions of law, and thus decide the point of law without indicating what effect this view might have had on the earlier case.

It is felt that it is right that the Crown Court Rule Committee should now be invited to make the rules to see that that provision can be carried out, with a view to preventing or restricting the exposure of the identity of the acquitted person.

Once those rules have been made it will be up to the Home Secretary to satisfy himself that they are adequate before making the order bringing this provision into effect. At that stage those rules will be subject to the negative procedure and can be debated in the House. It would be creating a dangerous precedent to say that rules made by the Crown Court Rules Committee should in one particular suddenly become subject to the positive rather than the negative procedure.

Amendment to the Lords Amendment negatived.

Lords Amendment agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendment amended and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: No. 30, in page 35, line 45, at end insert— (c) section 55(1) and Schedule 2 so far as they relate to the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851 extend to Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

Mr. Lane

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

I believe that it would be convenient if we also discussed Lords Amendment No. 38.

The purpose of these Amendments is to enable the chief superintendents of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to endorse warrants issued in Northern Ireland for execution in other parts of the British Isles, that is the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and vice versa. The need for the change has arisen simply from recent changes in police ranks in Northern Ireland.

Question put and agreed to.

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