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Earl Russell: I must admit to some sympathy for the objectives of Amendment No. 18. As a serving university teacher, I suppose I ought to declare an interest in that view. I have not yet been the subject of a false accusation, but I have a year and a half to go before retirement and one cannot be too careful. The use of the false accusation as a weapon of malice has been known to the law since before the limits of legal memory, which means that historians may take an interest in that evidence and lawyers may not.
It is extremely difficult at one and the same time to have the necessary severity for dealing with genuine offences and the necessary sensitivity for the fact that some people who are accused of those offences are not guilty. We try, but none of us, I believe, always succeeds. However, there is a further difficulty now; namely, that we face the danger of trial by newspaper where the principles of natural justice do not apply quite as strictly as they do in the proceedings of a court. This is a matter that clearly needs attention.
However, were the noble and learned Lord to say that the problem goes rather wider than the provision in this amendment, as, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, just observed, I should pay attention to that point. Similarly, were the noble and learned Lord also to say that this matter is related to the problem of the working out of a relationship between the press and the Human Rights Act--a problem that has given rise to a large amount of wallpaper--I should also pay attention to that view. I hope, therefore, that the Government will seriously consider the matter. I look forward to hearing the response of the noble and learned Lord as to whether or not they will do so in the form suggested in these amendments.
I should like to say a few words about some of the other amendments in this group. I have in mind Amendments Nos. 23 and 42, which propose the deletion of the expression "full-time", and Amendment No. 40, which seeks to delete the word "regularly". I understand the object of these
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I am grateful to my noble friend for having raised this important point. However, I should like to add my voice to those who have suggested that the amendment, as presently drawn, is rather narrow referring as it does to,
Lord Elton: My Lords, I support the view just expressed by my noble friend. I ask the Minister to be prepared to extend the parameters proposed in the amendment and not to reject it as having parameters that are too narrow. I hope that we can establish the principle tonight that this sort of protection should be given to people who are accused of heinous crimes, quite possibly unjustly, which, once publicised, will destroy their careers irrespective of whether or not they committed them. That principle needs to be accepted. If we can go on from that point to extend the protection to those in other professions, which I believe to be essential, we should do so. However, I do not want us to reject that principle at this point.
Baroness Blatch: I hope that the Committee will forgive me because I spoke only to Amendment No. 18 in my opening remarks. In my enthusiasm and support for that amendment, I did not speak to the others in the group. I do not believe it to be necessary for me to go over all the reasons for extending the categories,
Lord Williams of Mostyn: In answer to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, I can tell him, first, that this does encompass matters that extend rather wider than those presently before the Committee. Secondly, this will involve the working out of relationships with the press under Article 8, and the right to privacy and family life under the Human Rights Act. Thirdly, in answer to his question as to whether this proposal is clear and workable, the answer is no. Fourthly, I can tell the noble Earl that I believe he is safe from any charge because this relates to an offence for a person aged 18 or over, which I believe him to be, whereby that person commits an offence with a person under the age of 18. Fortunately, as he told us earlier, the noble Earl's students are normally over the age of 18.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: This is an example of an amendment which is not capable of working for many reasons. The noble Baroness altered her original amendment, which mentioned no publication before conviction, to no publication before charge. Incidentally, I accept that the court process which addresses these serious offences is extremely lengthy. However, I utter the happiest words in the English language when I say, "I told you so". When we tried to introduce some rational proportionality to reform of the jury system, none of your Lordships agreed although I said that important cases were delayed in favour of the less important.
Secondly, the amendment relates only to teachers. It does not mention, for example, a priest who may visit a school and who is as vulnerable, or perhaps more so, to a certain kind of malicious allegation, particularly a priest who may be celibate. It does not mention a school caretaker who has his life and his rights although he may not be regarded as a mainstream professional. It does not mention a visiting doctor or nurse. It does not mention people--of whom there are a number in this Chamber--who occasionally visit schools, perhaps once, twice or three times a year, to give lectures on politics to schoolchildren.
I understand the problem that is being addressed but the amendment will not cure the mischief. What will cure the mischief in some cases, although I concede not in all cases, is for charges of malicious prosecution to be brought. The noble Baroness is wrong to suggest that anyone has to prove innocence. My noble friend Lord Stoddart made a point which resonates with me. Both my parents were school teachers and I was a school teacher for a time. What is the difference between a false allegation against a teacher and a false allegation of indecency or indecent exposure against a well regarded bank manager? The noble Baroness says there is none. I agree. I make my next point as carefully as I can. That is why it is extremely dangerous to try to legislate on a piecemeal basis solely on the basis of what I accept is legitimate sympathy. That is a certain recipe for bad legislation.
A university lecturer may well be seriously damaged by a false allegation. Under the terms of the amendment he, or she--I am told by some that the latter is less likely--will have no protection at all. That is not workable, particularly as the other amendments in the group concern part-time teaching. Is someone who is giving part-time instruction to be protected in this way, but if the allegation is rape there is no protection?
I readily concede that it is difficult to procure a rational, overall justification for the approach we have to anonymity in sex cases. I do not pretend that that is wholly rational or intellectually sustainable. However, I counsel the Committee against introducing further anomalies on a piecemeal basis which will only make the situation unacceptable and worse. I return to my initial question; namely, why should I as a parent not know about the matters I mentioned?
Lord Elton: I intervene briefly to ask the Minister whether he can accept the principle I mentioned. I accept the point about legislation on a piecemeal basis. However, what interests me is the whole question of anonymity where an unjust charge can destroy someone as effectively as if that person were convicted of it. The Minister's answer is that other persons interested in a case have the right to know what is going on. Presumably, the relatives of the child making the allegation will know because in loco parentis they will have the right to know. I take it that when the Minister said that he, as a parent, had a right to know he meant as a parent of another child in the class. Is that the case?
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