HL Deb 28 April 1966 vol 274 cc225-7

3.10 p.m.


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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government (1) whether the publication in the Daily Telegraph on March 5, 1966, of the name, address and photograph of a girl concerned in proceedings before a juvenile court constituted an offence against Section 49(2) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, or against any other enactment; (2) if so, whether proceedings are to be taken against these or any other offenders, and, if not, why not.]


My Lords, it is not within the province of Her Majesty's Government to state whether in the circumstances of a particular case an offence has been committed. This is a matter for the courts to decide. The answer to the second part of the noble Lord's Question is that the Director of Public Prosecutions decided, in consultation with the Attorney General, that it was not desirable, nor in the public interest, to institute proceedings in respect of the publication to which the noble Lord refers.


My Lords, does this mean that whilst small provincial newspapers will be prosecuted for this criminal offence, these nine large daily newspapers will go scot-free? Does not the noble Lord think that it will be most un- fortunate if no proceedings whatever are taken and a precedent of this kind is set?


My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that it is a most unfortunate thing that a number of newspapers, including the newspaper mentioned in the noble Lord's Question, departed from their normally high standards in this regard. I do not see, however, that this can be taken as a precedent. Any case of this kind must be considered as an individual case. I hope there will be no more. The Director of Public Prosecutions has always in mind the main purpose of Section. 49, which is the protection and welfare of the child, and he decided that in his view the disclosure of the girl's identity had not in fact resulted in any prejudice to her, and that it was not desirable, nor in the public interest, again to ventilate the matter by instituting proceedings which would cause the girl to be the subject of further publicity.


My Lords, if it is thought that further publication will harm the child in other cases, will not the whole purpose of this section be defeated and will it not therefore be a dead letter?


My Lords, I do not agree that the whole purpose of the section will be defeated, and I hope that the public reaction to what has happened, which is exemplified in the noble Lord's Question, will help to ensure that there is no recurrence of conduct of this kind, which I agree is disgraceful.


My Lords, arising out of that reply, may I ask whether, if the Director of Public Prosecutions does not feel it appropriate to commence proceedings, Her Majesty's Government would report this case to the Press Council?


My Lords, that is not a matter for Her Majesty's Government to decide. This is a matter of which the Press Council must be fully aware. One other point which had weight with the Director of Public Prosecutions was that, had it been taken further, it would not have been within the jurisdiction of a juvenile court to deal with the matter. It would have had to go to another court, in which case there would have been no question, if the child were not required to give evidence, that her name and circumstances would have been known and the whole unsavoury nature of this case would have been revived, to the detriment, we believe, of the child.


My Lords, does the noble Lord not think that public interest is likely to be exactly the opposite to what he has said—namely, that it will now be seen that publicity can be given in these cases, and others will seek to get similar publicity?


My Lords, I hope that my noble friend is wrong in assessing the situation in that way. I feel that it would be right for me to say that any newspaper which was sufficiently ill-advised to share her view would do so at its peril.

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