Earl Russell (Liberal Democrat)
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 amendments and it is a good one. But the question is: have we here arrived at a clear and workable situation? Normally when one has a provision to include the expression "part-time", one has a maximum number of hours that will qualify for inclusion as part-time. However, we have no such qualification here. I believe I understand why that is so. But are we moving into a situation that may be rather more far reaching than we really intend--for example, one where a single meeting, in which a relationship of trust may subsist for about an hour, is covered if the people concerned meet perhaps several months later and a relationship then develops after the relationship of trust is over? We need some boundaries as to how far this will extend. I look forward with interest to hearing what the noble and learned Lord has to say about that question.