HC Deb 19 March 1984 vol 56 cc698-9
34. Mr. Waller

asked the Attorney-General if he will seek to amend the Legal Aid Act 1974 so as to make legal aid available in respect of cases of defamation.

The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)

No, Sir.

Mr. Waller

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that as long ago as 1975 the Faulks committee on defamation recommended that, subject to certain safeguards, legal aid should be available for cases of defamation? If counsel's opinion is favourable, should any individual be prevented by reason of lack of finance from pressing ahead with a case to clear his name? Should a poor man's name be regarded as any less valuable to him than that of a more wealthy man to whom the remedy of the courts is available?

The Attorney-General

Since 1948 all Governments have maintained the exclusion of defamation from those actions for which legal aid is available. The Government are always ready to consider proposals for extending legal aid to new categories of cases, but in the light of competing claims, one must look at every question, because of the limited resources. The Government recognise the difficulties facing an individual in challenging statements made about him, but we are not persuaded that they outweigh the serious difficulties involved in extending legal aid into this area of litigation, in particular the problem of assessing beforehand whether an applicant has reasonable grounds for taking or defending defamation proceedings.

Mr. Ryman

Since the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949 prohibited legal aid not only in cases of defamation but in cases of malicious prosecution and false imprisonment, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance to the House that public money will not be wasted on financing frivolous pieces of litigation in such cases?

The Attorney-General

I think that this is another way of putting what I said before. We need to be convinced before we accept that a change is necessary.