§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Lord WILBERFORCE
My Lords, I beg to move that the Report from the Committee for Privileges be now agreed to.
Moved, That the Report from the Committee for Privileges be agreed to.—(Lord Wilberforce.)
§ Viscount BOYD of MERTON
My Lords, I confess that I have grave anxiety about the Motion just moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. I am not happy that this House should advise Her Majesty to issue a Writ of Summons in a case where serious doubts exist and where there is a readily available method of resolving them. I will briefly give the House my reasons. The verdict of the original jury 50 years ago which meant in effect that Mr. Geoffrey Russell was not the son of the third Lord Ampthill was set aside by a majority verdict of the House of Lords on the basis of a technical rule of evidence which has since been reversed by Statute. I imagine that if a similar case arose today the verdict of the jury would stand.
Secondly, there is the question of blood tests. I realise that under the Legitimacy Declaration Act of 1858 declarations of legitimacy as in this case are binding on everyone, including the Crown, unless obtained by fraud or collusion. If there is doubt, as there is in this case, whether or not there was a fraud it seems that it could now be settled one way or the other by blood tests. Other noble Lords are far better qualified than I am to speak with authority on blood tests. As the House knows, Mr. Geoffrey Russell, having agreed to a comparison of blood tests, changed his mind. Wide publicity has been given to the suggestion that the tests taken of the blood of the third Lord Ampthill are unreliable, yet no chance was given by the Committee to the doctors concerned to give evidence before them. It is of course true that had they done so it might have involved the Committee in adjudicating between possibly conflicting evidence, but this dilemma could have been overcome by the appointment of medical experts chosen by the Committee or the Solicitor General to advise the Committee.
7 It was stated by counsel for Mr. Geoffrey Russell that the tests on the third Lord Ampthill were in doubt because they were not carried out in strict conformity with current Home Office regulations, but these regulations did not exist when the tests were made. Much information to refute the allegations that the blood tests were unreliable was given in the correspondence between the parties but no opportunity was given for this to be considered by the Committee, and this at a time when medical science can now determine paternity with a high degree of precision. I wish that even at this late hour Mr. Geoffrey Russell could be invited to agree to a comparison of the blood tests by independent medical experts, who should be required at the same time to satisfy themselves as to the reliability of the tests on the third Lord Ampthill. If the tests on the third Lord Ampthill were then found to be unreliable, or, if reliable, comparison showed that Mr. Geoffrey Russell could not be ruled out as his son, then no one could object to this Motion or fail to approve it. But if the tests showed that Mr. Geoffrey Russell could not have been the son of the third Lord Ampthill then the propriety and the justice of Mr. John Russell's petition would be shown. Here I recognise that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, averred in his opinion that one of the persons upon whom the declaration of legitimacy is binding is Geoffrey Russell himself, and any attempt by him to throw doubt upon that declaration would therefore be wrong. This shows a strange and to me wholly unsatisfactory position in which this House finds itself today. I wish that this Motion could be adjourned for further consideration.
§ 2.51 p.m.
§ Lord PLATT
My Lords, in the first place, I had better say that I have no personal interest at all in this case, not having been known to any of this family until the last few days. My interest has been taken up solely by the fact that I am a physician who has been interested in medical genetics for a very long time; in fact, I gave a paper on the subject when I was still a student. I entirely agree with the legal view that there must be an end to litigation, and that in this country the 8 end to litigation is a judgment by the House of Lords sitting in its judicial capacity. I entirely agree with what has been said, that to dispute a decision of the House of Lords sitting in its judicial capacity might hold the law in less esteem, or even do it discredit. I share the belief of most fair-minded persons that that would be a disaster. I hold this point of view even to the extent of agreeing, albeit somewhat reluctantly, with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, who said—these are not his exact words—that in law there can be distressing cases where justice and truth are in conflict, but it is the duty of the lawyers to see that justice is done. Of course, the noble and learned Lord was using the word "justice" in the strictly legal sense, and not in the sense that most of us normally use it.
My Lords, I find it more difficult to agree with the statement of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, which has just been quoted by the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton—and here we have to come to personalities—that even if Geoffrey were quite certain that he was not the son of the third Lord Ampthill, he not only need not disclose it, which I accept, but he had a duty to conceal it because of the decree of legitimacy. That I find difficult. Nevertheless, I share the view of the Committee for Privileges that the Act of 1858 pertaining to decree of legitimacy must hold and be binding on all persons including the Crown, unless certain exceptions can be made. Again, there must be a point of finality in the legal process.
If the noble and learned Law Lords are going to insist on the letter of the law, as is their right and duty, then I presume so can I. In the first place, I am not presuming to doubt, or even to call into question, a decision of the House of Lords sitting in its judicial capacity. I am calling into question certain statements in the reports of the Committee for Privileges, which comprised nine members, five of whom are not lawyers, let alone Law Lords. We are called upon to accept the Committee's reports, and our only real obligation is to decide what advice we, as the House of Lords, are going to give to the Queen in this extremely difficult case. It would be to the discredit not only of the law perhaps, but to 9 the whole House, if people like myself were so muzzled by the various statements and warnings that have been given as to be unable to debate the report of the Committee whose duty it was to report to us.
The first point is that we are not examining a judgment of the House of Lords sitting in its judicial capacity, and therefore we are not bound by what is said by anyone who argues that litigation must come to an end, and so on. Point two is that the House of Lords is clearly allowed to come to its decision irrespective of other legislation. Here, I am on a difficult legal point. I am not a lawyer, but I have read the reports put before noble and learned Lords, and it seems to me clear that this House has a right to come to its own conclusions, irrespective of other legislation. This was rapidly thrown aside as being irrelevant—exactly why I was unable to clarify to myself. I almost felt that the appropriate word might have been "inconvenient" instead of "irrelevant"; but that would be very naughty of me, and I hope that will be immediately ruled out. I do not see that this is irrelevant at all. If in fact it is laid down by Statute, even if we think it is a silly old Statute and the sooner we repeal it the better, nevertheless in the letter of the law we are bound by that Statute and have the right to set aside any other legislation, including, of course, the declaration of legitimacy, if we think it right to do so. If I am wrong on these points of course I ought to be put right.
These two contentions seem to conflict with each other. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, tells us that when justice and truth conflict, he is on the side of justice. But these two contentions contradict each other, and I am left in the dark as to whether we should follow the absolute rules of legitimacy, or whether we should follow the absolute rule that this House has a right to make its own decisions.
My Lords, I now want to say something very shortly about blood tests. In my capacity as a rather amateur medical geneticist, I have for very many years been interested in blood tests. I know they are held to be irrelevant because if the first premise is accepted, that there is no escape whatever from the decree of legitimacy even if everyone in the 10 country were to know it was wrong, then blood groups and any other kind of evidence is irrelevant. But if my dilemma over the other two points is real, then, surely, the only sensible course is to examine the only evidence which can completely settle this case, evidence which is at present withheld from us.
I will not go into all the details of blood tests, but I will tell your Lordships, in case you do not already know, that in certain circumstances it is quite possible to say with absolute assurance that this man could not have been the son of that man. It is never absolutely possible to say that this man must have been the son of that man; but it is possible to say he could not have been. In this case, we come to an end of the litigation, because if it were proved by the blood groups that Geoffrey could not possibly have been the son of the third Lord Ampthill, one assumes he would acknowledge the situation. On the other hand, if it were proved he could have been the son, even though it was not proved he was the son, then John would immediately withdraw his Petition.
As to the question of blood group tests being unreliable, I was upset by the Press report, which apparently emanated from the Committee, that the blood group tests might be unreliable. In the hands of experts, blood groups—which can, of course, be repeated by two or three different experts—are utterly reliable. The suggestion was made that the blood said to be from the late Lord Ampthill might not have been his blood; it might have been mixed up with somebody else's in hospital; it was not taken for the specific purpose of blood tests. But this can be virtually proved by the evidence, were we allowed to look at the evidence. For one thing, the blood tests were done on two totally different occasions and came out to be the same. For another thing, they proved that the person whose blood tests these were was compatible with being the brother of his various siblings and the father of his two children by his third wife, Adeline. So it goes a very long way to refute the very idea that there is something unreliable and that some mistake has been made.
Finally, when we have heard all these difficult arguments, do not let us forget that we are here to advise the Queen on a 11 question of succession and legitimacy. We can, if we like, sheepishly sit down and accept the extraordinary story put before us, when the only crucial evidence is being withheld from us and judged irrelevant; we could, I suppose, adjourn, or we could perhaps invite the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, to withdraw his Motion for the time being until further evidence of a more definitive nature can be received.
§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
My Lords, I intervene very briefly because I have been somewhat disturbed by the remarks of the noble Lord who has just spoken. It is of course entirely within the capacity of this House to reject the Report from the Committee for Privileges before us, and no doubt those who are in opposition to it considered whether or not they would in fact propose a suitable Motion for this purpose. As it is, I understand, they are merely asking for the debate to be adjourned. It is within our power to do so. But, my Lords, it is the long experience of your Lordships' House that it is not reasonable or practical—it is the practicality that concerns me—for us to rejudge something that has been explored in very great detail by a Select Committee. I would not suggest that there are not occasions when we should overthrow a Report of a Select Committee, and indeed I have known this, especially when the Select Committee has been divided. But in this case, for those of us who have read—and most of us probably have not had the time—the extraordinarily eloquent and learned advice given to the Select Committee by the Law Lords, which the Select Committee accepted and which I hope your Lordships will accept, it is almost impossible to attempt to debate this subject.
I do not accept that it is right in this case to take the phrase, that there can be a "conflict between justice and truth", which is used in a general sense in, I think, Lord Wilberforce's speech, and imply that in this particular issue there is a conflict between justice and truth. Nor do I find convincing the arguments so eloquently just deployed on the blood tests, having read the arguments in great detail as to why it would be inappropriate in this case to rely on the blood tests.
12 Therefore, my intervention is only to say to your Lordships that at some point finality must be achieved. I think, therefore, it would be unwise for us to prolong the agony. It has been an agony for the Russell family on both sides. We should now decide to accept this Report and advise Her Majesty accordingly. I have been aware of and interested in this case and must confess to a friendship with Geoffrey Russell. I did not, therefore, serve on the Committee for Privileges, but I have read all the evidence since; I am entirely satisfied that the advice we are now given is the right advice and that we should accept it at the earliest possible moment. It may well be that one or two of your Lordships would like further legal opinion, and if one or more of the noble and learned Law Lords would like to give some further argument I am sure it may set at rest the minds of some of your Lordships. But I am satisfied, and I hope your Lordships will accept the Report.
§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Viscount DILHORNE
My Lords, I must say that I much regret that this Motion moved by my noble and learned friend Lord Wilberforce has been opposed, and I hope that it will not be pressed to a Division. My noble friend Lord Boyd of Merton has, I think, suggested that this debate should be adjourned. I cannot myself see that that would serve any useful purpose at all. What would happen then I do not know. Nor do I know what it is envisaged should happen if this Report is rejected, because the Committee for Privileges appointed by this House has conducted the most thorough and careful investigation into both Petitions before it. So I see no useful purpose to be served either by adjourning or by rejecting. Is it suggested that the Committee for Privileges should sit again? There is no proposal that an Instruction should be given to them. We of this House have appointed a Committee for Privileges to go into these matters in great detail and in great thoroughness. It is a task that we sitting as a House cannot possibly perform of our own. They have spent many days hearing able counsel put forward every possible argument on both sides and they have reached a unanimous decision.
13 My Lords, I have read the opinions of my noble and learned friends and I have read them very critically. If I dissented from them in any respect, I can assure your Lordships—and I think your Lordships know me well enough to know—I would not hesitate to express my dissent. But I must say that I am utterly and completely convinced that the conclusion to which they came was the right one, and indeed the only possible conclusion to which that Committee could properly have come.
In these days there is a tendency—and one sees it in many fields—to challenge decisions made in our courts. We have had it in relation to murder cases; books are written about them, broadcasts are made and television shows are produced, to challenge decisions which have been reached in trials which have taken place, sometimes a long time ago. Far be it from me to say that every decision reached by the courts has invariably been right, but our legal system of trial, with our complicated systems of appeals, is designed to ensure, so far as human endeavour can ensure it, that justice and not injustice should be done. When a matter has been fully investigated it surely is a matter of public interest that there should be finality to the litigation. That is well recognised, and I think has been for many centuries.
I remember in the days of my youth all the litigation about the Russell case. My noble friend Lord Boyd of Merton has referred to the verdict of the jury. The matter came right up to this House, and that verdict was set aside by a decision of this House. If ever there was a case where the rule as to the end of litigation should apply, that was this case. In this House the rule which we lawyers then called the rule in Russell v Russell was laid down. I know neither of the parties to these Petitions. My only connection with this case has been that I in fact introduced the Bill in the House of Commons, which reached the Statute Book, to abolish that rule in Russell v Russell, but that is by the way. I do not accept for one moment the suggestion put forward by my noble friend Lord Boyd of Merton that the result of that abolition would have necessarily meant that Geoffrey would have been established as illegitimate in those proceedings more than 50 years ago.
14 As your Lordships know, that litigation was followed by the declaration of legitimacy in 1926. That Act of 1858 was surely designed to secure that there should be an end, after proper inquiry, to litigation of this character. So I would say to your Lordships, are we now as a House to challenge not only the conclusions of the Committee for Privileges but also that declaration reached by the courts of 50 years ago? Are we now to say as to Geoffrey, having been declared legitimate then, having been regarded as legitimate for 50 years, that there are doubts about his legitimacy? I think that that would be quite intolerable and quite wrong. We of this House must at least set an example of abiding by the law and respecting the law, and the law laid down by the Statute of 1858 has been thoroughly applied.
It is said by my noble friend Lord Boyd of Merton that there was doubt as to whether there was fraud or not, with regard to the obtaining of that declaration of legitimacy. But one thing is clearly established—and I was taught it in my earliest days at the Bar—that it is for those who allege fraud to establish it, to give particulars of it. It really is not enough to cast a smear by saying that there is doubt whether fraud exists and now it is for you to prove that it does not.
§ Viscount BOYD of MERTON
My Lords, as my noble and learned friend referred directly to me, may I say that I did not say there was fraud. I said that there was some doubt, and that that doubt could only be resolved by comparison of blood tests, and that if the blood tests were regarded as irrelevant that doubt remained, but no solution could be proved.
§ Viscount DILHORNE
My Lords, I do not think that I misquoted my noble friend. I said that he had said that there was doubt whether or not there was fraud. What I was saying to him was that that was not enough. If you want to challenge this declaration of legitimacy, it is not enough to cast the smear of saying there is doubt about legitimacy; you must come forward with facts to establish the fraud, and that has not been done. It is said that if you have the blood test you may be able to show that there was fraud, but that is a very different thing from the burden 15 of proof which is required to set aside that decision of the courts on the ground of fraud. Those who assert fraud must come forward and prove it, and it is not enough to say that there was doubt. I would say to my noble friend that, even if it were the case that the blood tests now showed that Geoffrey was illegitimate (and the only case put forward is that it might show that), I would still say that it was quite intolerable after 50 years of legitimacy to declare that Geoffrey was a bastard, and that is the substance of these proceedings. I think that that would be absolutely intolerable.
I do not intend to speak at any length for the simple reason that we cannot really review the proceedings of the Committee for Privileges. But there is one matter to which I wish to draw attention which is not of a controversial character and it is simply this. The Committee for Privileges heard Petitions from two Petitioners, but in substance it was litigation between members of the Russell family. One Petition has been accepted, the other rejected. It was in substance what we lawyers call a "lis". When litigation comes before this House in its judicial capacity the House has the power to make orders as to costs. I think it desirable that if there were in future any similar proceedings of this character between two Petitioners, each seeking the same Barony, that the Committee for Privileges should have the same power of awarding costs; a power which I understand they are not regarded as possessing today. I think that Mr. Geoffrey Russell, whom I do not know, has really had to bear a very heavy burden, not only all the obloquy and doubts as to his paternity which have been expressed, but also a very heavy financial burden. I feel that the ordinary rule with regard to litigation might well have applied in this case, and that, if the Committee for Privileges had the power, they might have ordered his unsuccessful opponent to pay the costs.
I conclude by saying this. I hope that this question will not be pressed. I have no doubt that the words I have uttered will not affect those whose minds have been made up in the other way, or affect the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Platt. It is really too much to assume, in an 16 assembly of this size, complete unanimity of view, but the fact remains that we have had this matter very fully investigated, and I ask that this House should accept the Report.
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARY-LEBONE
My Lords, after the last two speeches I hope that the House will find its way to accept the Motion proposed by my noble and learned friend Lord Wilberforce. I, like other noble Lords who have spoken, have no interest in this case, but I perhaps ought to remind the House that my father appeared on one side of the litigation 50 years ago in the House of Lords and that I, myself, appeared on the other side in the uncontested divorce suit which ultimately brought an end to the unhappy marriage between the two original parties.
I am concerned about the constitutional position. The Prerogative of issuing a Writ of Summons to your Lordships' House rests with the Queen. Originally, the Sovereign exercised that Prerogative of Her own certain knowledge and mere motion, but for centuries now the privilege—and it is a privilege of this House of Parliament—of advising the Sovereign how to exercise this right in contested cases has rested with this House. It does, but is it not unthinkable that this House should ask the Sovereign to exercise Her Prerogative otherwise than in accordance with the rule of law, and that in a case where four of Her judges—the senior judges of the Realm—have unanimously reported to your Lordships' House that the rule of law is that it should go in a particular direction. Could we as a responsible legislative body advise the Sovereign to act against the advice of Her own judges where a Statute of the Realm is in question as to its meaning, and the Statute which is in question expressly declares that it is to be binding on the Sovereign? The idea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Platt, that this House is not bound or might not be bound to accept a judicial decision on the meaning of a Statute is not one, I hope, which will commend itself to a majority of this House.
The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, has rightly pointed out the nature of the proceedings which have just 17 taken place. There were before the House and before the Committee for Privileges, which is the appropriate organ of the House to conduct the investigation, two Petitions, one adverse to the other. Counsel of great experience and distinction was engaged on both sides. The matter was argued about day after day. In the outcome the decision in the case depended on a naked proportion of law, namely whether the Sovereign was bound by the Declaration of Legitimacy of, I think, 1926. We are now being asked to go behind what is in effect a piece of contested litigation. I am not in the least saying that, as a matter of procedure and of the rules of this House, such a Motion as we are now discussing is not debatable; it is being debated. The question is whether it really ought to be a responsible decision of this House to go behind a judicial decision of this kind, and I would respectfully urge the House to say that it is not.
At 10.30 in the mornings, usually on Wednesdays, we have reports from the Appellate Committee and there is a Motion before the House that the report of the Appellate Committee be agreed to. No one ever thinks of getting up and saying that he does not agree to it, even when, as not infrequently happens, the Appellate Committee divides 3 to 2. I agree that on occasion in the past Committees for Privileges have had their reports discussed and, I think on one or two occasions, rejected in this House. I do not in the least wish to canvass the question whether the precedents are good, but they are certainly very different from the present. All the ones I remember turned on the extent of the Royal Prerogative itself and the limitations on it, as in the Rhondda decision and the Wensleydale decision, and the idea that the House should now overturn a piece of judicial procedure depending in its decision on a point of law simply because certain Members of this House, no doubt sincerely, doubt the facts underlying the point of law or which gave rise to the litigation in the past, is something which I would beg the House not to consider.
It is being suggested that we should adjourn consideration of this matter. I wonder what we should gain by that. We were of course right, and the Government were right, to postpone the original consideration of the report which came 18 out, shortly before the Recess, but now that we have had time to read the speeches of the noble Lords who have made their decision, surely we must come to a conclusion. I suspect that those who ask for an adjournment—I am, of course, not impugning their complete sincerity in the matter—are doing so basically because they do not agree with the Report, and no amount of adjournments will make them agree. I ask the House to consider that now at last this unhappy matter should be brought to an end.
My Lords, I conclude by saying that we are witnessing the end—I hope the end—of a great human tragedy. Both the participants in this dispute have been activated by wholly honourable motives. Mr. Geoffrey Russell is fighting for his mother's honour and what he believes to be his birthright. The other party is fighting for the honour of his family and what he believes to be the truth. But it is the business of this House to advise Her Majesty to bring this matter to an end in accordance with what is lawful and what is right, and what is right according to the law and custom of this Realm is that on a question of the construction of a Statute the views of the judges should be accepted and that, after both sides have been heard in argument, the decision of a judicial body should not be overturned.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Lord BESWICK
My Lords, I am moved by what has been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, to say just one thing; the noble and learned Lord said once—indeed, he said it three times—that we were being invited to set aside a judicial decision. I am not certain that that is a correct description of the finding that is before your Lordships' House. But if it purports to be a judicial decision, then I suggest that we really ought to look at the composition of the body which claims to decide these judicial matters. I confess that I am unhappy—I put it no higher than that—about the finding in this case, but I find it indisputable as a legal finding. I suggest, however, that if such a matter comes again before our purview we should seriously consider whether the matter should not be considered by the Law Lords of this House and not by a body 19 composed partly of Law Lords and partly of lay Members. If it is to be a judicial decision, it should come before the Judiciary and it should be seen to come before the Judiciary.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Elwyn-Jones)
My Lords, I rise to state briefly my own hope that the House will quickly come to a conclusion and a conclusion in favour of accepting the Report of the Committee for Privileges. I respectfully agree with the speeches that have fallen from the lips of the noble and learned Lords who have spoken today. Noble Lords will have read the opinions which were delivered by the Members of the Committee. I confess that I have found those opinions as conclusive as they are authoritative. As we know, the Committee had a powerful nucleus of Law Lords. As the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, said, and as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, said, too, the Committee had the opportunity to hear, and did hear, counsel for both parties as well as the Solicitor-General. That is an advantage which the House does not have today.
I submit that it would be quite impossible for the House to consider the arguments for the respective parties as fully and in such detail as was possible for the Committee, and for my part I am bound to say that, having read the opinions that were given by the Committee, I see absolutely no reason to suppose that, if the matter were referred back to the Committee, the Committee could possibly reach a different conclusion. I do not wish to enter into the legal issues of the case in any detail, but I submit that it is plain from the opinions of the Law Lords who sat on the Committee that the Legitimacy Declaration Act of 1858 binds the Queen, binds this House and binds everyone else to accept the declaration of legitimacy of 1926 in favour of Geoffrey Russell unless it can be shown that it was obtained by fraud or collusion.
The Committee appears to have had no difficulty in deciding that there was absolutely no evidence of fraud or collusion and it seems to me that those who wish to argue that the 1858 Act does not 20 apply here are suggesting that the rules defining legitimacy should be different for Peers from those which apply to other people. In the face of what I submit are the binding and conclusive legal effects of the declaration of 1926, and with great respect to some of those noble Lords who have spoken, the question of blood tests becomes wholly irrelevant and will continue to be so. I therefore invite the House to come to the view that there can be no possible advantage in postponing a decision on this Motion because the legal issue on which the case has turned has been so conclusively settled.
I would only add that a new hearing would involve further public expenditure and would also involve expense to the parties. I submit further that it would be intolerable and would be asking too much of the members of the Committee to expect them to sit again to hear a case which they may with justification, as my noble friend Lord Shackleton has indicated, regard as having been finally settled. In all these circumstances, I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd, will follow the advice which he has already received from other noble Lords not to press this matter to a Division and that it may be withdrawn. If it is not withdrawn, I trust that the House will clearly support the report and support the Motion which has been moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce.
§ Lord BYERS
My Lords, I should like very briefly to add my support to the plea which has just been made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and by other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. We have, after all, our own Privileges Committee. That Committee has gone into this in great detail. It has come to a judgment. It has heard all the arguments and I would say that, on the basis that one does not keep a dog and bark oneself, in this case in which we have had the services of the Committee at our disposal and in which it has made a judgment—and we are not arguing a principle—on the facts as it knows them, the House should accept what the Committee has said. Perhaps I may just add that those of us who are life Peers have the comfort of knowing that this is not likely to happen to our families.
§ Lord WILBERFORCE
My Lords, I certainly do not wish to detain the House, but I feel that it is due to the House and to the importance of the occasion that I should say a very few words. Your Lordships will realise that the Committee was set up in order to undertake the House's constitutional duty of advising Her Majesty. It consisted of four Law Lords. learned, supposedly, in the law, accompanied by five very experienced Members of this House who were not legally trained. I should like to say at once, with particular reference to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, that the presence of those five Members was of enormous importance in the hearing of this case. It prevented the hearing becoming, as it might otherwise have been thought to be, simply a lawyers' exercise in legal acidities and ensured that both possible views—that of strict legality and the broader view of what is due to this House—were taken into account.
Happily, all four lawyers were agreed and happily too the five lay members were also disposed to accept the view of the Law members. Thus we were not put in the unhappy position which arose in the Rhondda case where one of the non-legal Lords, Lord Muir Mackenzie, said when addressing this House:If we lay Peers had to rely on the legal advice of our judicial colleagues we should be in no slight perplexity.Happily, the legal members were entirely and 100 per cent. agreed in this case and, to our great happiness, we carried with us those who were not lawyers.
I should just like to add, though perhaps it hardly needs saying, that the Committee operated under a very heavy sense of its responsibilities both towards this House in discharging the important constitutional duty of deciding who should succeed to a peerage and towards the members of the family who both, as has been said, felt with intense conviction that the cause that they were putting forward was the right cause and felt that thay had a case which demanded a hearing. The Committee gave to the very best of its ability a hearing to every argument including some which we have heard this afternoon. It had before it two Petitions by Mr. John Russell on the question of blood tests and it gave very earnest consideration to the situation 22 as regards the admissibility of the blood tests.
Some reference has been made by speakers to a supposed contrast between justice and truth which was ascribed to me. If I may read what I actually said, I said:There are cases where the certainty of justice prevails over the possibility of truth. I do not say that this is such a case and there are cases where the law insists in finality.I adhere to those words. This is a case where the truth is perhaps an elusive phantom which one can pursue over the centuries, always raising doubts, but there comes a point when finality must prevail. I should like to suggest to this House that, in this case, there is no doubt in any relevant sense. There were doubts in 1921. They were pursued through all the legal processes right up to this House, as your Lordships know. In 1926, they came before the High Court and the judge said:On the evidence before me, I am satisfied that the Petitioner, Geoffrey Russell, has made out his case. I decree and declare that the petitioner, Geoffrey Denis Erskine Russell, is the lawful child of his parents, John Hugo Russell and Christabel Hume Russell.That was the ultimate result of years of litigation. As your Lordships know, it was never appealed against and it has been made binding by Statute on this House, on Her Majesty, on the two rival claimants, on John Hugo Russell. It is attackable only on grounds of fraud or collusion and I entirely agree with what was said by my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne that there is no question at all whether there was fraud in this case.
I should just like to add to what has been said and adverted to by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor as regards the fact that our hearing was preceded by extensive investigations by Her Majesty's Solicitor-General who reports, in the first instance, to Her Majesty. In his Report, the Solicitor-General says the following words which I feel are worth quoting:I am further satisfied that the matters alleged by the Petitioner [John Russell] to have constituted fraud or collusion in the obtaining of the said declaration were neither fraudulent nor collusive nor were they capable of constituting fraud or collusion. It follows, therefore, that, so far as my own estimation of the matter is concerned, the Petitioner fails in limine to make good his assertion that the declaration of legitimacy is not binding upon him, or upon your Majesty.23 That is the view of Her Majesty's Law Officer. Nevertheless, the Committee fully investigated of its own motion and, after hearing counsel and voluminous material on the question of whether there was any fraud or collusion which would undermine the declaration of legitimacy, came to the absolutely clear conclusion that there was not.
Now, my Lords, that leaves one in this situation. A declaration of legitimacy, fortified by Statute, is there; it is suggested that some further evidence ought now to be entertained. I most wholeheartedly urge your Lordships to avoid taking that course, if it is possible. Particularly in matters of paternity it is necessary and vital that litigation should come to an end. It must surely be intolerable, and a terrible injustice, if a man, born during lawful wedlock, who has taken every step open to him under the law of the land to establish his legitimacy, were fifty years afterwards to be exposed to demands for fresh verification by any method, scientific or otherwise. That is really the beginning and end of this case.
Of course the Committee for Privileges is the servant of this House and will do exactly what this House thinks fit. If the House thinks that the Committee has not done its job properly, as it did in the Rhondda case, it would re-examine the whole matter, but that has not, I believe, been suggested so far. The Committee has done its best, it has read voluminous material and heard counsel. It has come to a conclusion and it is left with the unanimous and very strong feeling that the right thing to do is to terminate this matter here and now.
On Question. Motion agreed to: Resolved and adjudged that:
The said resolution and judgment to be laid before Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.
- (1) the Petitioner John Hugo Trenchard Russell claiming to have succeeded to the Barony of Ampthill has not made out his claim to the said barony;
- (2) the Petitioner Geoffrey Denis Erskine Russell claiming to have succeeded to the Barony of Ampthill has made out his claim to the said barony;