HC Deb 23 October 1989 vol 158 cc638-40

' .—(1) Rules made under section 144 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 may make provision for a magistrates' court to sit in private in proceedings in which any powers under this Act may be exercised by the court with respect to any child.

(2) No person shall publish any material which is intended, or likely, to identify—

  1. (a) any child as being involved in any proceedings before a magistrates' court in which any power under this Act may be exercised by the court with respect to that or any other child; or
  2. (b) an address or school as being that of a child involved in any such proceedings.

(3) In any proceedings for an offence under this section it shall be a defence for the accused to prove that he did not know, and had no reason to suspect, that the published material was intended, or likely, to identify the child.

(4) The court or the Secretary of State may, if satisfied that the welfare of the child requires it, by order to dispense with the requirements of subsection (2) to such extent as may be specified in the order.

(5) For the purposes of this section—

"publish" includes—

  1. (a) broadcast by radio, television or cable television; or
  2. (b) cause to be published; and

"material" includes any picture or representation.

(6) Any person who contravenes this section shall be guilty of an offence and liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.

(7) Subsection (1) is without prejudice to—

  1. (a) the generality of the rule making power in section 144 of the Act of 1980; or
  2. (b) any other power of a magistrates' court to sit in private.

(8) Section 71 of the Act of 1980 (newspaper reports of certain proceedings) shall apply in relation to any proceedings to which this section applies subject to the provisions of this section.'.—[The Solicitor General]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Solicitor-General

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 310.

The Solicitor-General

This new clause is concerned only with cases heard before magistrates and deals with the matter of privacy.

The ability of magistrates courts to sit in private and restrictions on publication of material about children involved in civil cases differ, at present, between courts and according to the type of case being heard. For example, most cases affecting the custody of or access to children which are heard in magistrates courts are heard under the Guardianship of Minors Act 1971 in the domestic court. Rules of court may specify when hearings under this Act can be held in private, and rules currently provide that the court shall hear applications in private where it considers this is expedient in the interests of the minor. But there is no similar power in relation to care cases.

The Bill repeals the 1971 Act and new clause 18, which we have already debated, removes jurisdiction to hear care cases from the juvenile court and transfers it to the domestic court. The net effect of all this, if we do not provide otherwise, is to remove protection already afforded today by the law to children involved in care, custody and access cases. In addition, the current hotch-potch of protection in these matters needs to be replaced by coherent and consistent provisions.

Amendment No. 310 adds another exception, to take account of new clause 28, which deals with privacy for children in certain proceedings. A court or the Secretary of State will have power by order, under subsection (4) of that clause, to lift the restrictions upon identifying a child involved in proceedings under the Bill. This is because it may be in the child's best interests, albeit only in rare cases, for facts to be fully published, rather than have rumour and speculation flourish. Such orders will have to be made quickly. It would be both unwieldy and inappropriate for them to be made under the statutory instrument procedure.

I commend the new clause to the House.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

I shall not detain the House long, but I wish to explore with my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General what this clause comprises because I think that it may go wider than he has described. He may be aware that I was in correspondence with my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health about a related matter some time ago. Would my hon. And learned Friend the Solicitor-General agree that under the proposed clause, with which I heartily agree, it would be possible for magistrates to order privacy when powers under the Bill were being considered when privacy was required not for the child but for another person connected with the case?

I am thinking of a case which occurred in my constituency in which privacy would have been necessary for the protection of the accused adult in the case. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree with me that, under the new clause, should magistrates so decide, there would be powers available to them to protect the adult? I am not necessarily asking my hon. and learned Friend to answer this query straight away, but I should be most grateful if he would write to me if he cannot give me an answer now.

The Solicitor-General

If I do not rise to my feet too rapidly, I may be able to oblige my hon. Friend now.

The position will be dealt with by rules of court which will set out the circumstances under which the court can sit in private. Those rules of court have still to be formulated and my hon. Friend's point will be borne in mind when we draft them.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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