HC Deb 06 March 1989 vol 148 cc596-7
45. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Attorney-General how many Queen's counsel are practising at the criminal Bar today; how many were practising 10, 20 and 30 years ago; and if he will make a statement.

The Attorney-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

There are 601 practising Queen's counsel, of whom, according to records held by the Lord Chancellor's Department, 259 undertake some criminal work. The total in practice in 1979, 1969 and 1959 were 404, 391 and 181 respectively, but their specialities are not recorded.

Mr. Greenway

Can my right hon. and learned Friend say whether any of that increased number of Queen's counsel received any part of the £20,000 costs awarded against the two sisters in the Tesco case? Does he agree that it is horrendous that those two ladies should face such appalling costs in their successful efforts to clear their names, following the accusation that they were involved in £2 worth of shoplifting? Does my right hon. and learned Friend further agree that Tesco has a moral obligation, if not a legal one, to pay those costs?

The Attorney-General

Of course I understand my hon. Friend's compassionate concern, but he will recognise that I am unable to comment on any individual judicial decision, and I cannot make an exception in this case. My restraint must not of course be taken as concurrence in any of the adjectives that my hon. Friend chose to employ.

Mr. Janner

While I share the hope of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) that Tesco will, for the sake of its own good name and of justice, pay those legal costs, is it not a matter of concern for the Attorney-General that the system of justice, including payments into court—whether or not they are received by Queen's counsel—has been brought into disrepute? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman look into the entire matter, so that innocent people charged with shoplifting but cleared by a court will not find themselves under a massive burden of debt, which they have to meet because of a defect in the law?

The Attorney-General

The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the Lord Chancellor is responsible for civil law policy, and I undertake to draw the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks to his attention.

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