Oral Answers to Questions — Crown Privilege (Judgment)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th February 1964.

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Photo of Mr Dingle Foot Mr Dingle Foot , Ipswich 12:00 am, 25th February 1964

asked the Prime Minister whether he will now bring to the attention of all Departments the observations made by Lord Denning, Lord Justice Harman and Lord Justice Salmon regarding claims for Crown privilege in the case of Merricks and Another v. Nott-Bower and Others; and whether Her Majesty's Government will introduce legislation to give effect to the recommendations on this subject made in 1956 by the Law Reform Committee of the Bar Council to the then Lord Chancellor.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

asked the Prime Minister whether he has now considered the observations of the Court of Appeal on Crown Privilege in the case of Merricks v. Nott-Bower and Others; and whether he will take the necessary steps to ensure that the responsibility for deciding whether documents should be disclosed in litigation should be transferred from the executive to the courts, as is the case in Scotland.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

A full report of this case has now been received and the implications of the judgments are being studied.

Photo of Mr Dingle Foot Mr Dingle Foot , Ipswich

Arising out of that reply, does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that not only in this case but in many earlier cases Her Majesty's judges have been extremely critical of claims for Crown privilege? Does he not also appreciate that it is apparent that in many instances justice is being subordinated to mere administrative convenience? Ought there not to be a distinction between cases where national security is involved and where there is merely a communication involving no security between officials? Since the Bar Council made its recommendations seven years ago, how much longer do Her Majesty's Government need to consider this matter?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

As long as is required really to understand this judgment.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind the fact that this is not the first time that the courts have condemned the attitude of Departments in claiming Crown privilege unnecessarily? Would the right hon. Gentleman explain why in Scotland Scottish judges are entitled to see documents for which Crown privilege is claimed and can decide whether or not it is a good claim, yet the same practice is not allowed to English judges in English cases?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

We of course treat this judgment as important. That is why we want time to study it. As far as Scottish law is concerned. I know that the practice is different. One of the matters to be considered is, no doubt, whether we should make English law similar to that applying in Scotland.

Photo of Mr Hector Hughes Mr Hector Hughes , Aberdeen North

Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that he is not addressing his mind to the precise ambit of the Question? Will he look at the matter again and reconsider it with a view to seeing that justice is done?

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

My Answer was that we would look at the matter. That is what we are doing. As soon as possible I will come forward to the House with a proposal; but we must study the judgment, which has only just been made.