HL Deb 29 April 1996 vol 571 cc1398-400

2.46 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the total payment by way of legal aid to or on behalf of Mr. Andreas Pavel in connection with his action against Sony Walkman.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, it is too early to say what the total costs to the legal aid fund will be in respect of the appeal proceedings between Mr. Pavel and Sony. These costs will be known only when the final bills have been taxed.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that reply. Can he confirm that the amount paid in this way will be substantial? Can he indicate the justification for the British taxpayer being called upon to finance litigation between two aliens?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the Appeal Court hearing lasted for six days. Therefore, I think that I can safely answer the first branch of my noble friend's question in the affirmative: the payments are likely to be substantial.

As regards the second branch, the dispute was about the infringement of a British patent by sales of equipment within the United Kingdom. As such, these were proceedings in which the English courts had jurisdiction. As I explained on the last occasion, when Mr. Pavel came first to this country to litigate, he did so in the patents county court and had funds with which to support the litigation. By the time that litigation was finished, he was apparently financially eligible for legal aid. The legal aid authorities were ultimately provided with legal advice to the effect that the prospects of success were such as would justify the grant of legal aid.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, does not my noble and learned friend agree that at first sight it seems strange that Mr. Pavel, who is not a British subject, who has never paid taxes here so far as we know, and whose only connection with this country is that he has a hand in our taxpayers' till, should have been granted legal aid? However, on reflection, does my noble and learned friend agree that, had Mr. Pavel, as a citizen of Europe under the Treaty of Union, not been granted legal aid, we should have been guilty of discrimination between one citizen of Europe and another?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, it is not a condition for the grant of legal aid to anyone that he has to pay tax in this country. Indeed, quite a number of people who qualify for legal aid are, by reason of that fact, giving evidence that they are not qualified to be taxpayers.

So far as concerns the detailed information as regards Mr. Pavel, as I explained last time, I read in newspapers matters along the lines that my noble friend has pursued. But, so far as I personally am concerned, and officially, the Legal Aid Board is debarred from communicating to me facts which it learns as part of the application for legal aid. But, assuming the facts are as my noble friend put them, the last point that he made would have force.

Lord Irvine of Lairg

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord share the view of the Court of Appeal that the proceedings became unnecessarily complicated and therefore protracted, so that the purposes of the establishment of that court were in this case frustrated?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the view that the noble Lord expressed was stated by all three judges in the Court of Appeal and obviously with good reason. It is fair to say that they thought that the proceedings in the Court of Appeal itself were somewhat elaborate. I noticed, for example, a remark from one of the Lords Justices to the effect that they were "benefited", or some such expression, with some 16 core bundles. That suggests to me that they thought that the preparations had been somewhat over-elaborated, even in the Court of Appeal where they themselves were in charge—though presumably, by the time that they were in detailed control of the case, the 16 core bundles had landed on their desk.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble and learned friend say when we shall know how much the British taxpayer has had to fork out in order to subsidise that litigation between aliens?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I cannot do so in any detail. However, I can repeat that it will be when all the Bills that come in have finally been taxed. Certainly, that may be some time. In a sense, my answer gives a process by which the date can be determined, although I cannot give the date itself.

Lord Whaddon

My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord say which countries of the European Union give help to British citizens in litigation in those countries?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, there are legal aid schemes in most of the countries. Their conditions vary somewhat. My understanding is that, generally speaking, British citizens will be entitled to participate in them on the same basis as nationals of their own countries.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is being a little misleading in saying that Mr. Pavel does not pay tax in the UK? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, meant that Mr. Pavel does not pay income tax. But are there not many kinds of tax, such as VAT, airport tax, insurance policy tax and so on? Perhaps Mr. Pavel does pay tax in those respects.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I know that for some time there have been quite a variety of taxes in this country. Whether or not Mr. Pavel has paid all or any of them, I do not know. It is perfectly possible to pay even income tax in this country while residing for at least part of the time somewhere else.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is it not the case that some of the cases of legal aid which are brought before this House justify an inquiry into the way in which the system now works?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am extremely grateful for that question from the noble Lord. I entirely agree with it. I am as busy as I can be in trying to carry forward the representations that have been given to me in response to a consultation paper on legal aid.