HL Deb 27 July 1921 vol 43 cc59-62

LORD PARMOOR rose to ask the Lord Chancellor whether he is in a position to make a statement on the conduct of, and the sentences in, the trials which have been held at Leipzig, at which the Government has been represented; and to move that any reports received in reference thereto should be published, so far as publication is consistent with the interests of Justice.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope that the noble Viscount on the Woolsack will be able to make a statement in answer to my Question, because the statement that he can make, coining from him, would put an end to a good many of the suggestions and uncertainties which now appear to surround this Question. The noble Viscount will notice that I carefully eliminate from my Question any matter of policy, because my desire is to limit it merely to matters of judicial procedure and judicial sentence.

With regard to the question of the conduct of the trials held at Leipzig, the noble Viscount will know that criminal trials under the German law are held under a different form of procedure from trials in this country. Under German law the conduct of trials of a criminal kind is in the hands of the Presiding Judge, who practically himself maintains complete control of the procedure throughout. What I should like to ask, in the first place, is whether there is any ground whatever for suggesting that the conduct of the Presiding Judge at Leipzig has not been altogether judicial and impartial. I ask the question because, from what is certainly good authority (I do not want to use any other expression) I have heard high praise of the conduct of the Presiding Judge. They are difficult matters to be dealt with, no doubt, but I am told that in every way he has acted both judicially and impartially.

The next matter relates to the sentences in the trials. Your Lordships perhaps may be aware that the scale of punishment in Germany for criminal offences is more lenient than the scale of punishment here. Not long ago our sentences were extremely harsh, but the tendency of modern legislation and modern practice has been to make them more lenient. I am informed that a number of the sentences at Leipzig are really the maximum allowed under the German Code, the German system being that you have comparatively light sentences for a number of these offences, but that they are cumulative; that is to say, for two offences you get a cumulative punishment, and, as regards a large number of these sentences at Leipzig, they are the result of the cumulative sentences on the maximum scale. Therefore, if there is any fault to be found, it is not with the conduct of the trial, but with the principles of German law.

I do not want to enter upon any question of policy. I am one of those who desire very strongly to see International Courts set up to deal with international questions, and I sincerely hope that if trials of this kind have to be conducted in the future—as seems probable, human nature being what it is—they will be carried out by International Courts of which both the method of conduct and the sentences will have the approval of all countries. So long as there is a difference, in the conduct of the trial or in the sentence to be imposed, there will always be reasons for making comment sometimes of a rather unfriendly and critical character.

May I say at once that I do not intend to move formally, but simply to ask that any reports received in reference to the conduct of these trials or the sentences passed at Leipzig should be published so far as publication is consistent with the interests of justice. That is the limitation which your Lordships have laid down judicially in this House as that within which publicity ought to be allowed, unless there is any countervailing reason. I do not suggest for a moment that there should be publicity if it is not consistent with the interests of justice. But it is difficult to think that after a trial is over any report as to the conditions under which it has been held, would be inconsistent with the interests of justice. If the noble Viscount on the Woolsack thinks that the publication of reports of these trials would be inconsistent in any way with the interests of justice, I should be the last person to suggest that they ought to be published.

In conclusion, I believe that in accordance with the procedure of the German Courts, the representatives of this country have not been entitled to take any part in the actual proceedings. If that is a rule of the German Courts I think it is only right that the procedure should have been followed. The sane: procedure, I think, would apply as regards the Criminal Courts in this country—that is to say, only those parties who were primarily interested in the administration of justice would be allowed to appear and to be heard in a particular case. As we know, there have been representatives of this country present, including the Solicitor-General, on the occasion of these trials, and I assume that some report has been received from them of what they have experienced in relation to the trials. I hope that the noble Viscount on the Woolsack will be able to allow the publication of these reports, or to say that they are going to be published, except so far as publication would be inconsistent with the interests of justice.


My Lords, I do not think it is convenient at this moment to make a statement of the kind which my noble and learned friend invites me to make. The requisite materials are being collected and prepared for early publication and, in my judgment, criticism would be more properly deferred until those materials can be fully considered. The noble and learned Lord's wishes as indicated in the Question are satisfied, I think, by the assurances I have given that there will be as full a publication of the requisite materials for the formation of a judgment as is really possible under the known circumstances of the case. I might be tempted to make some observations, not necessarily of a hostile character, upon certain parts of my noble friend's speech, but the matter is extremely delicate; it must at some future date engage the attention of the Supreme Council; and I think that, on the whole, the course I have indicated is the best.


I am much obliged to the noble and learned. Viscount for the answer he has given, although I regret that he could not go more fully into the matter. At the same time, if there is an intention to publish at no distant date all that can be published about these trials, so that there shall be no ex parte statements and that the whole matter may be ripe for discussion, I do not care to press the discussion any further at the present time.