HC Deb 07 May 1973 vol 856 cc34-5
44. Mrs. Castle

asked the Attorney-General whether he will introduce legislation to amend Section 27(2) of the Supreme Court of Judicature (Consolidation) Act 1925 in order to enable a petition for leave of appeal to the House of Lords to be presented in custody cases without the preliminary leave of the Court of Appeal.

The Attorney-General (Sir Peter Rawlinson)

My noble Friend has this point under consideration.

Mrs. Castle

Does not the Attorney-General agree as a general principle that where a marriage has broken down the custody of small children should be given to the mother unless there are very strong reasons to the contrary? Is he aware that my constituent, Mrs. Buckley, a Jehovah's Witness, has had her three small children taken from her by the Appeal Court on grounds which are at least partly religious and that, thanks to Section 27(2) of the 1925 Act, she has not the right to petition the House of Lords to hear her further appeal? Surely, in custody cases concerning the welfare of children, there should be the right of access to the supreme court of the land. Will the Attorney-General treat this matter seriously and urgently?

The Attorney-General

The right hon. Lady is correct in what she says with regard to the right of appeal. I assure her that this is being considered seriously, but these are very difficult cases. For instance, in the case to which she referred, the judge had two reports from the welfare officer and he saw the two elder children, one of whom expressly and categorically stated a wish to go to the father. The father is an electrical supervisor, an up-and-coming man, earning £26 a week. The mother is on social security. The judge, who saw both the mother and the father, was clearly very impressed with the father. These cases always give intense difficulty to the judges who have to try them. I appreciate what the right hon. Lady said about the point of law, which will certainly be considered.

Sir Elwyn Jones

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that there are already exceptions in Section 27 (2) of the Act to the doctrine of the finality of the Court of Appeal in these matters, and will he give sympathetic consideration to the request made by my right hon. Friend?

The Attorney-General

Yes, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right— there are exceptions. I presume that finality was given in interlocutory matters because the exception refers to whether there should be a decree or whether it is a particular point of law which the Court of Appeal certifies. As I have told the right hon. Lady, I shall give this matter my attention.