HL Deb 23 July 1979 vol 401 cc1625-7

3 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 what proposals they have, in the light of the speech made by Lord Diplock in the case of Gleaves v. Deakin, to amend the law on criminal libel to bring it into line with the European Convention of Human Rights (All England Law Reports 19th June 1979, p. 499).


My Lords, the law on criminal libel is currently under review by the Law Commission. Although the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, in the case of Gleaves v. Deakin has been Given careful study, I think it is preferable to await the conclusion of the Law Commission's study before contemplating legislation in this area.


My Lords, will the noble Lord, first, be good enough to accept that the asking of this Question does not diminish the significance of a vote in this House in the last Parliament on the subject of a Bill of Rights designed to incorporate the European Convention into our domestic law? But on this particular point, will he agree that the law with regard to private prosecutions for criminal libel is very archaic, and if, as it appears, it is inconsistent with Article 10 of the European Convention, is it not appropriate that the law should be reformed?


My Lords, I am advised that it is not certain that private prosecutions for criminal libel would necessarily be inconsistent with the European Convention; this may or may not be the case. This is one of the many reasons why the Government think it appropriate to await the report of the Law Commission on the whole subject of criminal libel.


My Lords, would it not be prudent to follow the advice of several of the noble and learned Lords who made the speeches in the case of Gleaves v. Deakin—that this difficulty could be remedied by requiring the consent of the Attorney-General to be given before proceedings for criminal libel could be instituted? That would get rid of any difficulty that we may have under the European Convention, which I know would cause grave concern and anxiety to the noble Lord, Lord Wade.


My Lords, I know that my right honourable friend and others who read this exchange will be interested that it is the noble and learned Lord's view that the requiring of consent would get rid of the difficulty so far as the European Convention is concerned. However, I am not entirely persuaded that that would totally clear up all the problems with regard to the law on criminal libel. This is the reason why the Government feel it is right to await the recommendations of the Law Commission.


My Lords, I appreciate that this matter is being considered, but would the noble Lord agree that one of the relevant points here is the public interest, and that that should be taken into account before there is a private prosecution for criminal libel?


Yes, my Lords; I certainly agree with what the noble Lord has said.