HL Deb 22 March 1983 vol 440 cc1000-1

2.41 p.m.

Lord McCluskey

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 whether the Lord Advocate is prepared to issue guidance to the publishers of newspapers circulating in Scotland as to the risks they will run if, between the dates of arrest and trial, they publish photographs of persons accused of serious crimes, allegedly committed in Scotland.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, while I have made it clear to newspaper editors and others that I am always willing to discuss the subject of what may properly be published in relation to cases being investigated or prosecuted, I do not consider it appropriate that I should issue guidance to newspaper publishers on the subject of contempt proceedings arising out of the publication of a photograph of an accused.

Lord McCluskey

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that reply. May I ask him whether he agrees with me that the clear and unambiguous line which he has taken on this matter, not only today but especially in his Written Answer to my Question of 9th March, is likely to give satisfaction? This is not only to those who fear that the law in Scotland is in some danger of becoming obscure and uncertain in its application, but also to those of us who were afraid that by stages we might approach a situation, which is perhaps threatened in England, in which pre-trial publicity might prejudice the outcome of important criminal trials in Scotland.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord for what he has just said so far as Scotland is concerned.

Lord McCluskey

My Lords, has the noble and learned Lord nothing to say to the House about the situation in England, given that recently, well before any criminal trial, there have been published in national newspapers circulating in England photographs of an accused person fully identifiable and handcuffed to two detectives? Is that a matter which he can view from the Front Bench with satisfaction?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord well knows, my responsibilities relate to Scotland and I am not aware of the detailed circumstances of the case to which he refers. I am sure he must agree that the best judgment I can exercise upon it is to make no comment upon that particular matter.

Lord Morris

My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware, as I am sure he is, that pre-trial publicity can be of the greatest importance in certain cases in establishing the innocence of an accused person?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

My Lords, I am not at all certain that I can agree with that as a general proposition. Indeed, I think the progress of the law in England suggests that the view in this country would accord with my own, because the amount of pre-trial pub-licity has, I think, gradually been reduced.