HL Deb 31 July 1968 vol 296 cc387-91

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ROYLE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Power of court hearing certain appeals and applications to sit in private:]

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved as an Amendment to Clause 1: Page 1, line 10, leave out ("subsection (2)") and insert ("subsections (2) and (3)").

The noble Viscount said: I hope that it will be agreeable to the Committee if the two Amendments to this Clause are discussed together, because the first merely paves the way for the second. Some members of the Committee may recall that this Bill aroused a considerable debate on its Second Reading, and this was largely concerned with the question of whether or not the Court of Appeal and other Appellate courts ought to have some restriction or direction on the powers that are given to them under the Bill to sit in camera. Everyone agreed that it would be most undesirable that the Appellate courts, or indeed any courts, should sit in private unless there were very good reasons indeed for this to happen—and of course there are sometimes very good reasons.

Several noble and learned Lords and other noble Lords spoke on this matter, and it was quite clear to me that there was liable to be something of a delicate situation, because some who spoke took the view that the Bill was just about right as it was, whereas others took the view that there was a great deal wrong with it, which even the Amendment I suggested putting forward at that time might not necessarily clear up.

Your Lordships will be glad to hear that since that time I have had discussions with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lords, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, Lord Hodson, Lord Wilberforce, my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne and Lord Leatherland. I have also been in correspondence with a surprising number of organisations connected with the Press and various individual newspaper editors, and I think that they, having all considered the two Amendments that are down on the Marshalled List to-day, have come to fairly favourable conclusions. I hope I am right in thinking that nobody is dissatisfied with these Amendments—some people think they are a great improvement. I believe they may be to some people's minds a bit of a compromise, but all the same I hope they will prove acceptable.

I would commend them to the Committee for this reason. The noble and learned Lord, the Master of the Rolls, in the course of his Second Reading speech, when talking of what advocates before Appellate courts might say in the future, foresaw an advocate saying this: See what Parliament has done; it has given you power to sit in private. Surely Parliament means you to exercise that power, otherwise why should it give it to you?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10/7/68, col. 1050.] He, and I think others, foresaw a trend whereby, simply because this Bill has been passed at all, advocates wishing perhaps to conceal the cases of their clients because something disagreeable might emerge in the court, would seek to press upon the courts, and some successfully, that the cases should be heard in private. The advantage of the second Amendment is that I hope it makes perfectly clear what Parliament intends to be the general rule. I do not believe that it will be possible to extend any further the cases where in future appeals and other such matters may be heard in private.

One difficulty has been brought to my attention, that is, that under the wording of the second Amendment it might be difficult for a court to state the grounds which seem to them good and sufficient for giving their decision in private without at the same time disclosing enough of the facts of the case to vitiate the whole of the operation. It is certainly not for me to suggest how learned judges would be able to cope with this situation, but I find it very difficult to believe that, in the types of case of which I have heard as being relevant in this connection, the learned judges in all courts in this land would really find it impossible so to phrase the reasons for having given their decisions in private without in fact doing any of the harm that is feared by people who take this view. Although those views were held, both in this House and outside, I hope that these two Amendments will commend themselves to the Committee and to those who have previously taken an interest in this Bill, to whom I am very grateful for that interest, and accordingly I beg to move the first Amendment.


When this Bill was before the House on Second Reading I opposed it. I opposed it, I fear, at some length and also with at times some ferocity. That was due probably to the fact that the noble Viscount who introduced the Bill was a distinguished lawyer and I was an old newspaper man, and there always is some kind of conflict between the two. I believe that the reasons which I gave for not liking the Bill were, first of all, that it interferes with the freedom of the Press to report certain cases in certain courts, a freedom which they had had hitherto, and that the public therefore was being deprived of the freedom to read those reports. I also did not like the idea of allowing more of our courts to sit in private, either during the whole of a case or during part of a case. I also did not like the idea that in this country, where the public is supposed to be aware of everything that the law sets down for their conduct, the public would be deprived of an opportunity to learn how the learned judges in the Appeal Courts were interpreting the various laws that they were supposed to observe.

I still feel that perhaps this Amendment does not go quite as far in permitting the Press to retain their existing freedoms as I should like. Nevertheless, one has to be a realist in this world. I appreciate that in the judicial machine there are powerful interests which want to see some kind of reform here, and I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, in bringing forward his Amendments, has gone some way to meeting the requirements that the Press would like to see, and also to meeting the requirements of the very skilled High Court reporters, whose Association has been in contact with us. Taking a realistic view of the situation, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for having introduced this Amendment, and at this stage I support it. That does not mean to say that I would have been pleased to have been the author of such a Bill had I been acting independently. But the Bill is here; we must make the best of it. This goes a considerable way towards making the best of it. If there are any difficulties that arise of the kind the noble Viscount has indicated, I think we shall have to trust the judges, and I would certainly be inclined to trust those judges. I support the Amendment.


So far as the Government are concerned, I do not want to repeat what has been said already. There was, as those present on Second Reading will remember, a difference of opinion, even among the noble and learned Lords. As I under and it, all those who took part in those discussions are now prepared to accept this Amendment, and that being so I am sure the Government would be foolish if they did not do so too.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move the second Amendment.

Amendment moved—

Page 1, line 13, at end insert:— ("() Without prejudice to the next following subsection, the court hearing the appeal or application shall give its decision and the reason for its decision in public unless there are good and sufficient grounds for giving them in private and in that case the court shall state those grounds in public.")—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the Amendments.

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of July 15), the Report of the Amendments received; Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)


My Lords, I suppose it must always be of satisfaction to a private Member when a Bill of his gets on to the Statute Book. We owe this Bill to Sir Lionel Heald in another place and to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, who has taken the Bill here. As your Lordships know, it arises out of an anomaly which was reported to the Law Commission and on which they reported; and, subject to the Amendments which have been agreed, the result of the Bill will I think be that in some cases in which the courts cannot now do justice they will be able to do justice in the future. I should like to offer my congratulations to the noble

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