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House of Lords

Tuesday, 23rd April 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

Mr. Andreas Pavel

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether legal aid was awarded to Mr. Andreas Pavel to sue Sony for breach of patent rights; and, if so, where Mr. Pavel resided at the time of the award; how much was awarded; and under what circumstances.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, Mr. Pavel was not legally aided for the proceedings in the court of first instance. He was, however, granted legal aid to appeal to the Court of Appeal against the decision of the Patents County Court.

As to Mr. Pavel's place of residence, the Legal Aid Board is prevented by Section 38 of the Legal Aid Act from disclosing information provided to it in connection with an application for legal aid. The legal aid costs of the appeal will only be known once the bills have been taxed.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, does not the noble and learned Lord understand that it seems very strange to ordinary people in this country that a German citizen living in Milan can sue a Japanese-based company through British courts and manage to obtain, as I understand from the Daily Telegraph, £0.5 million in legal aid? Is the noble and learned Lord aware also that the judge concerned in the final decision expressed serious reservations about the length of time that both counsel spent dragging out the case for their own financial benefit? Is that not highly undesirable? Will the noble and learned Lord look into the matter? I understand that the money may not yet have been paid. Will the noble and learned Lord take the necessary action to withhold the payment of that money?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, there are a number of aspects in relation to the current aspects for legal aid which I regard as necessary to be reviewed. Your Lordships will know that I issued a Green Paper suggesting fairly considerable changes to the system. I am reviewing the responses to that document at present with a view to bringing out a White Paper as soon as possible.

As regards this particular case, the criticisms to which the noble Lord referred in the Court of Appeal related to the proceedings in the Patents County Court when no legal aid was granted. It is interesting to note what

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Lord Justice Aldous, who gave the leading judgment, said. I shall not weary your Lordships with all of it, but he said a good deal about the length of time that the proceedings had taken in a county court set up to deal swiftly and reasonably cheaply with patent matters. He spoke about how long it had taken and he said:

    "Mr. Pavel ended up needing legal aid".
In other words when he started the proceedings, he had some money. By the time they had finished, he required legal aid. That is the substance of the matter in relation to that particular court. The criticisms of the Court of Appeal were really levelled at what had taken place in the Patents County Court and the failures there.

Needless to say, I wish to follow up this matter. The last but one sentence in the Lord Justice's opinion is:

    "However, some alteration is necessary if the purposes of the Patents County Court are to be achieved".
That is a sentiment with which all your Lordships will agree. The question is how to achieve that.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, will my noble and learned friend tell the House how much was paid to that man by way of legal aid?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, nothing was paid to this man. In due course the money will be paid on claim to his lawyers, who are practising in this country. I cannot tell the House the precise amount until the claims have been submitted. The case has been concluded only fairly recently.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend not agree that British taxpayers resent having to foot bills for people who do not live in this country? I understand that the Legal Aid Board is absolutely independent. Its terms of reference are quite obviously wrong and is it not high time that they were changed? Under no circumstances should people like the person in this case be afforded British taxpayers' money.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the terms of reference of the Legal Aid Board are fixed by legislation which is passed by Parliament. That is what I am seeking to review in the Green Paper that was published and in the responses which have come in to that Paper.

The question of who should be entitled to legal aid is difficult. The courts of this country obviously have jurisdiction in the matter and the precise outcome of the Green Paper will be awaited. I am not certain that all your Lordships have yet had an opportunity fully to respond to it, although the formal period for consultation has been concluded.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his detailed and long reply to my initial Question. I was, of course, aware that Mr. Pavel did not require any legal aid when he started his action and he would not have

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required any legal aid if he had won, but he lost the case. I am still mystified as to how a German national who is not living in this country--as far as I know he has never resided in this country--can sue a Japanese-based company. Is he just using our legal system because it is a rather generous one from which he can obtain money for legal fees?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I have no doubt at all that our system of law is an extremely good one. From that point of view one would seek to have recourse to it. Mr. Pavel came to this action in the Patents County Court at his own expense. That is an important fact to keep in mind. He lost in the Patents County Court and by that stage, as the judge said, he needed legal aid for reasons which I have sought to explain. He then applied for legal aid. Before legal aid was granted obviously the Legal Aid Board had to seek legal opinion upon whether or not Mr. Pavel had reasonable prospects of success. The legal aid was eventually given. It is on that basis--as I understand it--having regard to the financial criteria laid down under the Act of Parliament and the opinion on prospects of success, that legal aid was granted.

Unidroit Convention

2.45 p.m.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What part they took in discussions leading to the Unidroit Convention on stolen and smuggled antiquities, why they have not signed the convention, and what measures they will take to restrain the sale in Great Britain of antiquities illegally excavated in and exported from other lands.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, the United Kingdom was represented at the meetings to discuss the draft convention. While the convention's aims are laudable, the Government have not signed because its scope is too wide. All members of the UK antiquities trade subscribe to a code of practice agreeing not to deal in illegally excavated or exported antiquities.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, first I thank my noble friend for that Answer. I accept that there are difficulties with the Unidroit Convention, but are the Government aware of the enormous scale of the looting of historic sites worldwide, and the colossal scale of the traffic in looted antiquities? Are the Government aware that London is a significant clearing house for this trade, whatever the code of practice may state? Will the Government look further into this and will my noble friend consider consulting the British Academy for its views on the matter?

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Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I am not sure whether the scale of looting to which my noble friend referred is so colossal, but the antiques unit of the Organised Crime Group at New Scotland Yard has recently seized antiquities from Egypt, China and Turkey. I understand the police have established that the Chinese and Egyptian antiquities were illegally exported and that it has been established that some were stolen. The Turkish antiquities are still under investigation.

With regard to my noble friend's supplementary question about the British Academy, the Government do not seek advice from the British Academy. Expert advice on archaeological matters is sought from the British Museum. However, if my noble friend can give me a good reason to consult the British Academy I shall pass on that information to people who are more knowledgeable on this subject than I.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, what is the length of the limitation period under the Unidroit Convention during which action can be taken to recover objects which have been allegedly stolen or exported? Is it true that it is as long as 50 years?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, as regards the limitation period, a most unsatisfactory situation arises with that part of the convention dealing with stolen property as the provisions affect ownership. Bona fide purchasers and their heirs will not be sure that they have good title possibly for 50 years, or for 75 years, or in certain cases, for ever.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, does the timescale involved affect the British decision to refuse to return the Elgin Marbles?

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