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Lord Patten: My noble friend Lord Windlesham and I have known each other for too many years for him to take offence when I tell him that I dissent a little from the line he has taken on subsection (6). In all the years that I had the pleasure of representing him in another place, never a cross word passed between us when he was my constituent. I hope that no cross word will pass between us after this evening's debate.

It is critically important that in cases dealing with juveniles, where the public interest is clear, judges should have the opportunity to waive the total ban on publicity. Why do I say that? I say it because young people mature at a different rate. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, at the end of the last group of amendments, referred to children as being those under the age of 18. I believe that many 16 and 17 year-olds would take the attribution of being a child as an insult if they were called it at any stage.

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The noble Lord, Lord Monson, made an important point from the Cross Benches a few moments ago. He asked why we have a cut off at 18. What is the difference between someone aged 17 and 11 months and someone aged 18 and one month? The noble Lord put his finger on it; it is extremely difficult. If we are to stick with the age of 18--and I am in favour of 16 years of age, but I know there is no chance of that provision being introduced into the legislation--then when the public interest demands it the learned judge should have the opportunity to waive reporting restrictions. Then when someone of 16 or 17 is judged to be mature, and is not a child but has done something dreadful, it would be made public. It is often said at the moment that we cannot trust the judges. I believe that we can very much trust them when they have seen someone in the dock for a period. We can trust them to make up their own minds as to whether the boy or girl under 18 is nevertheless of such mature years and what they have done is so dreadful that it should be reported. That would demonstrate to the outside world the abhorrence of the judicial system.

Thus, I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Windlesham. It is the first time that I have ever dissented from him in public and I hope it is the last. Nor do I wish to cause the Minister any disquiet by telling him that he has my wholehearted support. If necessary, I shall even go through the Lobbies with him.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I also hesitate to go against my noble friend Lord Windlesham. However, it seems to me to be right that Clause 43(6), which is referred to in the first of the amendments, should remain in the Bill. In this case, it is not dealing with a defendant, an alleged offender, it is dealing with a victim or witness, someone else involved in an offence. The offender may be of quite a different age. The provision is intended to protect people involved who are under 18.

Subsection (6) does not widen the provision a great deal, it only mentions "the interests of justice". That is the only criterion which the criminal court has to apply in deciding whether to dispense with the restrictions. It seems to me that the override should apply here.

The case for the later amendments dealing with offenders is slightly greater, but nevertheless I support the other two subsections remaining in the legislation.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I must caution the noble Lord, Lord Patten. His remarks were backward-looking, dealing with what someone had done. It would in no way help the rehabilitation and resettlement of the young person if he had had his or her name emblazoned across the newspapers. It would not be helpful for the future.

Lord Renton: Perhaps I may throw more light on the matter. I am puzzled by the effect of subsection (2) to which subsection (6) refers. My noble friend Lord Cope mentioned the result of the words "involved in the offence". Obviously it does not mean having committed or been alleged to have committed the offence, it refers to the victim or a witness. If it is any of the people,

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whether a person who has been acquitted, who has been a victim or who has been a witness, if it is right that they should be protected from publicity under the age of 18, why should it then be perfectly all right for the whole matter to be disclosed after they have reached the age of 18? That is what I find so puzzling about subsection (2). If it is puzzling in relation to subsection (2) it has a bearing upon the question whether or not subsection (6) should stand part of the Bill.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I deal first with Clause 44. This is in effect a continuation of Section 39(5)of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. By virtue of the 1933 provisions restrictions on reporting that are imposed automatically in youth court proceedings can be removed if the court is satisfied that it should be done in the interests of justice. That is an important safeguard. I respectfully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patten, that the safeguard must be there for the court to exercise the power. As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, pointed out, Clause 43 is an extension back to the point of allegation and is therefore capable of being, and in the generality is intended to be, a further protection for those who need it on the basis that he outlined.

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, is right to point out that the phrase is "involved in". It may well be appropriate for the police and media representatives to apply to the court for an order for restrictions to be lifted. I give an important example that is very much to the point these days. It would be very important in a case of alleged child abduction for the identity of the child involved to be made public. I do not want to trespass into particular cases that are before the courts at the moment. It is, however, generally recognised that there are cases in which publication is of enormous assistance to the child in question. To take just one example, it is very important that the media should have power to carry the details of a missing child if the court makes that order.

Obviously, one wants to bear in mind--Clause 43 makes this plain--the interests of the young, but it should not be an absolute prohibition. In some circumstances it is right that the public should know not simply about a defendant but about those who may have been victims. As an example one has in mind Dunblane. There may well be a genuine and proper public interest in the public knowing the details. I sympathise with the theme expounded by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, but I believe that this discretion should be retained in Clauses 43 and 44.

Lord Windlesham: This debate has been a healthy one. It has shown the independence that this Chamber can bring to bear in the scrutiny of legislation. Conservative Peers have shown that they can dissent just as vigorously as others, as demonstrated in such a spectacular way by the noble Lords, Thomas of Gresford and Lord Lester on the Liberal Democrat Benches and others who spoke on one side or other of the divide in relation to the previous amendments. Likewise, on the Government side the noble Baroness,

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Lady Mallalieu, did not by any means agree with the Minister's view. She argued her case very persuasively and forcefully.

There is no more to be said at this stage. I see the Government Chief Whip sitting in his place, no doubt attempting to conceal his glances at the clock. This issue has been thoroughly discussed. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will take to heart the point I made earlier that if he meets media representatives, which is an entirely proper and appropriate thing to do, he will recall that the United Kingdom has treaty obligations. It is very easy for those who negotiate on behalf of the Government to agree to treaty obligations. The Foreign Office and the Home Office have copies of them on their shelves. But I do not believe that treaty obligations are frequently at the forefront of Ministers' minds when they receive delegations from special interests. But we have great confidence in the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 126B


Page 31, line 42, at end insert--
("( ) Nothing in this section shall impose any restriction on the police from publishing any information in the course of their duties, nor on the reporting of any such publication by the police.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 126B. The Minister has just referred to the way in which the police sometimes seek the assistance of the media in cases involving missing children and all kinds of other cases. He gave the impression that such matters could be readily reported. That is not the impression I gain from reading the Bill or studying what people have said about it. The noble Lord made particular reference to the Dunblane massacre. No doubt he was prompted to do so by the leader in today's Sun. Obviously the Minister does not read the Sun because he shakes his head. Nevertheless that matter was referred to in the leader this morning. It was stated that restrictions would have made the reporting of the Dunblane massacre much more difficult.

This Bill is not intended to apply to Scotland but only to England, Wales and Northern Ireland and therefore the precise case is not as good as it may appear to be. It is, however, a very good example of what can happen.

If the Bill's provisions had been followed in their entirety the newspapers would not have been able to say anything about which school had been involved in the massacre. They could not have named the dead teachers because, at least locally, that would have given away the identity of the school. It would have introduced almost wartime restrictions. Can the Committee imagine the anguish that would have been caused if radio and television in that case had had to say in effect that a gunman had murdered children and teachers in a school somewhere in Scotland without being any more specific? The telephone lines would have melted all over Scotland and elsewhere in attempts to identify the school. In that case the gunman killed himself at the same time and so the case never came to court. I do not see how restrictions on the reporting of the name "Dunblane" and a number of other matters connected with the case would ever have been lifted.

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I am quite sure that there must be a way round the problem, but no British newspaper, television channel or radio station could have given any indication as to where the school was. We would soon have got to know about it because the foreign media would have reported it very promptly. With the Internet and all the rest of it the details would have been available in Britain extremely quickly, although they would have been provided under the counter and from overseas. A court might have been specially convened to permit publicity to be given to it, but it would have been no good the court saying that it was in the interests of justice that restrictions should be lifted, which is the test provided in the Bill, because no one was being tried. The man was already dead and everybody knew it. Therefore, justice would not be served by publishing the name of the school and the other particulars, and the situation would have been extremely difficult. There are other examples, at which the Minister hinted. I refer to the disappearance of children. In such a case no court is involved in the early stages. It is the police who are involved in organising the hunt for the missing child, and often the public are called upon to help and look out for certain things. I became involved in a case of that kind in my constituency about two years ago.

I give another theoretical example. Let us suppose that one has a hit and run driver who injures a child outside a school. The police would be unable to reveal the child's name or the name of the school. No particulars could be given, not even those which might enable the offender to be caught. One might say that one could go to the court and argue that it was in the interests of justice to release particulars of what had happened. But to do so would involve considerable delay for the police and, if the offender were not identified and brought to court, the ban would last indefinitely.

Therefore the amendment seeks to permit the police in the course of their formal duties to make announcements which could be reported. I realise that the police rather than the courts would decide whether it is right that further details should be reported. However, I believe that they are the right people at the time of the allegations to do exactly that. The courts do not become involved until later when a charge is preferred against someone and the matter moves into a different gear and a slower gear in the interests of justice. However, the police have sometimes to act quickly in the interests of identifying the offender.

I sympathise with the general aim underlying the clauses, but, as drafted, they involve a considerable amount of overkill. They need careful consideration. I am sure that the representatives of the media whom the noble Lord will meet later in the week will add further examples. However, those that I have given indicate some of the disadvantages of the wide drawing of the restrictions at present.


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