HL Deb 26 November 1963 vol 253 cc584-8

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that, in pursuance of the power conferred by subsection (3) of Section 1 of the Administration of Justice Act, 1960, the decisions of the Appeal Committees in Petitions and Applications under that Act shall be taken on behalf of the House. This Motion is not one which your Lordships have been asked to consider before, and I hope, therefore, that the House will bear with me if I say a few words of explanation.

As your Lordships will be aware, the Appeal Committee is the body which entertains applications for leave to appeal to your Lordships' House. As in the case of other Committees, the Appeal Committee invariably reports its decisions to the House, which in this case is constituted as a Judicial Sitting for the purpose. By constitutional convention, the House always accepts the Committee's Report without debate. The necessity for a sitting of the House may, however, mean (for example if a week-end should intervene) that a delay of several days may occur between the date when the Appeal Committee announces to the parties its decision on the application and the date when legal effect is given to this decision by a formal Resolution of the House.

In civil cases it is most unlikely that so short a delay would cause any hardship. In the case of convictions in criminal cases, however, I do not think it satisfactory that there should be such a delay. For example, a man convicted in a capital case may apply to the Appeal Committee of your Lordships' House for leave to appeal against his conviction. If his application is refused it is clearly undesirable that there should be any unnecessary delay in giving legal validity to the Committee's decision. Such a delay might well be likely to occur if the appeal, for example, were to be heard as a matter of urgency during the Summer when the House itself was not sitting. In my view it is right that use should now be made of subsection (3) of Section 1 of the Administration of Justice Act, 1960, which reads as follows: Section five of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, 1876 (which regulates the composition of the House of Lords for the hearing and determination of appeals) shall apply to the hearing and determination of an appeal or application for leave to appeal under this section as it applies to the hearing and determination of an appeal under that Act …". My Lords, may I stop there for a moment to draw your attention to the second part of the subsection, which is the part that is particularly relevant to what I have just been saying? This reads: and any order of that House which provides for the hearing of such applications by a committee constituted in accordance with the said section five may direct that the decision of that committee shall be taken on behalf of the House". It was contemplated at the time when the Administration of Justice Bill was before Parliament that your Lordships would be asked in due course to make this order, and in my view the time has now come when the order should be made.

It may be—I do not know—that the time may come when I shall have to ask your Lordships to agree to make a similar order to deal with the decisions of the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House. That time has not yet come; indeed, I am at present precluded by Statute from inviting your Lordships to make such an order. I only mention this to draw your Lordships' attention to the possibility that the work of the Appellate Committee may at some future date make it necessary for me to come to your Lordships and to ask for such an order. At present, however, I am only asking your Lordships to agree that we now should take advantage of the statutory powers conferred on this House in 1960 and make the order which I have outlined to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That in pursuance of the power conferred by subsection (3) of section 1 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960, the decisions of the Appeal Committees in Petitions and Applications under that Act shall be taken on behalf of the House.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, I doubt whether many Members of your Lordships' House will fully have grasped the significance of what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has just been saying. I am not sure whether I do myself. I think I do but I should much prefer to read what the noble and learned Lord has said. Certainly I would say that nobody reading this Motion would have gathered exactly what was being proposed. In order that we, as an intelligent Chamber, may be fully in possession of what we are doing, would it not be a good idea if we could now adjourn this matter to let us think about it and see whether, in fact, we approve of what is proposed?

After all, what the noble and learned Lord is asking the House to do is to forgo one of its rights: that of having the decision of the Committee brought to the House. I think I can understand that there may be urgent reasons in some cases why it would not be convenient, or is not convenient, for the matters to be brought to the House. But one should, I think, only reluctantly deprive the House of any of its rights, even though it has not exercised them perhaps for a long time or at all. I do not think I have any particular objection, but I should feel much happier if we could read what the noble and learned Lord has said and then, if he would come back with this order I have no doubt that the House would be prepared to approve it.


My Lords, I am sorry if I did not make the point of this order clear to the noble Lord. The House will appreciate that the power to make this order was conferred by the Act passed in 1960, and no doubt the whole matter was considered then. The issue involved (and if I may put it quite shortly, perhaps I shall be more successful in making it clear) is really a very narrow one. It applies only in relation to the Appeal Committee which hears applications for leave to appeal. What one is seeking to avoid, and what this Act gives power to avoid, is the delay (which on occasions can occur, and can be embarrassing) between the announcement of the decision of the Appeal Committee to the parties in the case and giving that decision legal validity. That may mean, on occasions, a delay of several days. I endeavoured to point out that this proposal does not in any way affect the constitutional procedure which is followed when an appeal is allowed or dismissed by your Lordships. This applies only in the limited field of dealing with applications for leave to appeal.

Power having been granted in 1960 by Parliament to make an order such as that for which I am asking, after due consideration I thought, for the reasons that I have given, that the time had now come when that power should be exercised. But if, in the light of what I have added to what I originally said, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, still desires further time to consider this matter, I will certainly withdraw the Motion now and move it again later. But as it is such a narrow Motion, perhaps if I have now succeeded in making the point clear he would agree to its being dealt with to-day.


My Lords, I said earlier that I thought I understood what the noble and learned Lord had said, but then I am in a rather better position to understand these legal matters than are most Members of the House. I feel that in the interests of the House—the House being asked to approve something which looks as if it is a relaxation from its rights—it ought to have an opportunity of considering it. That is all. If no harm would be done by deferring this for a few days, I think it would be more seemly to do so. I promise the noble and learned Lord that on that occasion, unless I can see something in his explanation which I do not see at the moment it will go through sub silentio.


My Lords, if I may add a further word, in the light of what has been said, this is not an urgent order, and I will certainly give more time for the consideration of it. I thought it necessary to give some explanation of what is proposed because it is the first time one is seeking to exercise this power. In the hope that, after what I have said has been considered, the Motion may secure the approval of your Lordships' House quite speedily, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.