HC Deb 16 June 1977 vol 933 cc534-5
3. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will introduce legislation to extend those areas in which prosecutions may only be brought by the police.

Mr. John

No, Sir. Most prosecutions are instituted by the police, but I know of no areas where they have an exclusive right to prosecute.

Mr. Janner

Does my hon. Friend agree that the area of both direct and indirect private prosecutions for criminal offences is very great, is growing greater, and ought to be diminished if it is not to cause considerable dangers to our rule of law?

Mr. John

If there is evidence of abuse, that must be looked at in due time. However, the right of private prosecution is long standing and has hitherto been regarded as an important safeguard against possible failure on the part of the prosecuting authorities.

Mr. Aitken

Since the hon. Gentleman has asked for evidence of abuse, does he not consider it highly alarming that a criminal convicted of serious offences of a type which were first exposed by the "Johnny Go Home" television documentary, can come out of prison and then institute proceedings for criminal libel against the very journalists who first made the programme? Should not some restrictions be placed on the law of criminal libel, which is giving such anxiety at present?

Mr. John

The question of criminal libel has been causing concern and is a special case. I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman said.