HL Deb 01 July 1981 vol 422 cc256-7

8 Clause 13, page 6, line 21, at end insert ("in the case of committal by a superior court, or one month in the case of a committal by an inferior court.").

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 8. I speak also to Amendments Nos. 9, 20, 21 and 22. This group of amendments imposes a general limit on the powers of inferior courts to punish for contempt, the limit being one month's imprisonment or a £500 fine or both. Without these amendments Clause 13 imposes only a limit of 2 years' imprisonment.

Most inferior courts and tribunals do not possess power to punish contempts; at common law only courts of record possess that power and inferior courts of record—and most of them have now been abolished—can only, in the absence of special statutory powers, punish contempts committed in court. They cannot, as can superior courts, deal with contempts committed elsewhere, for example threats made against witnesses or prejudicial publications. It is therefore inappropriate for them to have such extensive powers as Clause 13(1) would give them. The first of this group of amendments therefore restricts the two-year maximum to superior courts and imposes a one-month maximum for inferior courts—in line with Clause 11(2) and the analogous provision for county courts.

The second of this group of amendments inserts a new subsection into Clause 13, imposing a £500 maximum on fines. Again this is in line with the new maximum for magistrates' courts under Clause 11(2) and Section 157 of the County Courts Act, as it will be amended by Schedule 5, paragraph 4, of the Bill. The remaining three amendments simply do the same thing for the Northern Ireland equivalent of Clause 13, which is in Schedule 4.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said amendment.—(Lord Mackay of Clashfern.)

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I am sure that the House is indebted to the noble and learned Lord for such a clear explanation. One would feel that it was right in these circumstances for the Commons amendment to be agreed to.

On Question, Motion agreed to.