HL Deb 29 October 1996 vol 575 cc13-4WA
Lord Skidelsky

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they propose to take to prevent payments to witnesses being made in judicial proceedings.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

The Government have today published a consultation paper,Payments to Witnesses, which invites comments on the proposal that payments to witnesses by the media, as well as offers of payment and requests for payment, should be prohibited. The Government consider that such payments can constitute a real risk to the administration of justice and that their prevalence justifies serious consideration of what action should be taken. We do not believe that the law in this area is clear or that the matter can be left to media self-regulation alone.

The paper seeks views, by 31st December 1996, on the proposal that payments, offers of payment, and requests for payment should be prohibited, and on specific questions relating to:

  • whether the prohibition should take the form of a contempt of court or a criminal offence
  • whether a risk of prejudice to the proceedings need be proved
  • whether an intention to interfere with the course of justice need be proved
  • at what stage the prohibition should begin
  • whether the prohibition should cease at the end of the trial
  • whether there should be any defences.