HL Deb 12 May 1965 vol 266 cc69-71

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government in how many cases since the beginning of 1964 a High Court Judge has exercised his discretion to hear an application in private under Order 44, Rule 2(4)a; in how many of these cases a person has been committed to prison; and in how many of the cases where a person was committed to prison no public announcement was made.]


My Lords, I am informed that, since the beginning of 1964, thirteen such applications have been heard in private under Order 44, Rule 2(4)a; in four of those cases a committal order was made; three such orders were made in private and one in open court.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for that information. May I ask what considerations are taken into account when this discretion is exercised? Secondly, while recognising the need for certain cases to be heard in private, and not wishing to criticise the judge, may I ask whether in a wardship case where an individual is committed for contempt it would be practicable, and if so desirable, for the judgment to be delivered in open court, without the name of the ward concerned necessarily being mentioned and published?


My Lords, on the first point, the procedure in contempt of court cases was exhaustively considered by Parliament as recently as 1960. Section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act of that year provides that publication of matters heard in camera shall not of itself be contempt except in the following cases: (a) where the proceedings in question related to wards of court or other infants; (b) where proceedings related to mental patients; (c) where national security was involved; (d) where trade secrets were involved; (e) where the court specifically prohibited publication.

It was stated in Parliament, and accepted, that the question of whether the hearing should be in private should be decided by the Rules of Court. In accordance with that, the Rule Committee made a rule that the court hearing the application may sit in private in the following cases: (a) where an application arises out of proceedings relating to the wardship or adoption of an infant or wholly or mainly to the guardianship, custody, maintenance or upbringing of an infant, or rights of access to an infant; (b) where an application arises out of proceedings relating to a person suffering or appearing to be suffering from mental disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act, 1959; (c) where an application arises out of proceedings in which a secret process, discovery or invention was in issue; (d) where it appears to the court that in the interests of the administration of justice or for reasons of national security the application should be heard in private. The noble Lord will therefore observe that the criticism made of Mr. Justice Stamp in the recent case was wholly unmerited, because the learned Judge, in common with other Judges of the Division, had simply been applying the law as it is.

My Lords, whether the law should be changed in any way is a matter on which anybody can express his Opinion. While there are obvious objections to the hearing in public of applications for committal orders in certain classes of proceedings, particularly wardship proceedings, I propose to refer to the Supreme Court Rule Committee the question whether it would be desirable, consistent with safeguarding the interests of those concerned, to require the committal order itself to be made in public. Of course, unless the court otherwise directed, it would still be an offence to publish what was said if the name of the ward were given, because if that were done it would largely defeat the object of the proceedings.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for that full reply.