HL Deb 26 July 1967 vol 285 cc879-80

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 whether Goody, Hussey, Welch and Wisbey were granted legal aid at the public expense in order to bring libel actions against the News of the World and the People.]


My Lords, none of the plaintiffs Goody, Hussey, Welch or Wisbey was granted legal aid in order to bring libel actions against the News of the World and the People or anyone. There is in fact a case for contending that legal aid ought to be available in some defamation actions. Under the Act and Schedule as they now are, legal aid has never been available for any form of defamation proceedings.


My Lords, may I ask the noble and learned Lord a supplementary question? Do the Government agree that the rule in Hinds v. Sparks, under which conviction in a criminal court is not only not conclusive, but it is not even admissible evidence in a civil action for defamation, is really a most unsatisfactory state of affairs—indeed, that it is little less than a scandal that convicted persons should be able to sue when it is not questioned that the criminal trial has been perfectly properly conducted and has resulted in an entirely proper conviction? Will the Government consider altering the law upon this subject?


Yes, my Lords. The Government do so agree. I think the noble Lord was not here a week or so ago on the Third Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill, when the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, moved an Amendment on this point. I said that I was unable to accept it, first, because this is part of our civil law and it would not be appropriate in a Criminal Justice Bill; secondly, because while we agreed the law ought to be altered, everyone was not agreed on what the alteration ought to be—whether it should be not only admissible but conclusive evidence—and, thirdly, because I had myself some time ago referred this question to the Law Reform Committee and I thought we should await their Report. Today I can add that the day before yesterday I received the Report of the Committee. I at once sent it to be printed and published, and I hope that before we reassemble the Government will have decided whether or not to accept the recommendations of the Committee and, if so, when the necessary legislation can be introduced.