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Oral Answers to Questions — Defamation Proceedings (Legal Aid)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th July 1964.

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Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West 12:00 am, 28th July 1964

asked the Attorney-General whether he is aware of the hardship caused to people who are libelled and who have not the means to take legal action to clear their name; and whether he will take steps to allow free legal aid in such cases.

Photo of Sir John Hobson Sir John Hobson , Warwick and Leamington

So far as my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is aware, hardship is very seldom caused to people who cannot afford to bring proceedings for defamation. In his view, the disadvantages of extending the Legal Aid Scheme to defamation proceedings outweigh the advantages.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Is the Attorney-General aware that to most people their good name is the most precious thing they possess and that it is possible for newspapers to cite the individual concerned and to take liberties which they would not take if he had the money with which to defend himself? Is the Attorney-General further aware that there was a recent instance in which the Western Gazette, a Pembrokeshire paper, grossly libelled a young B.B.C. correspondent in Wales and that, because the man cannot find the large sum of money that is necessary to defend himself, he has to put up with the libel? Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman regard this as monstrous?

Photo of Sir John Hobson Sir John Hobson , Warwick and Leamington

I recognise that there are balances of convenience and inconvenience on both sides and I recognise that this is a difficult question. On the Second Reading of the Legal Aid Bill, my predecessor, the present Lord Shawcross, supported, I believe, the exclusion of legal aid for libel cases on the ground that it was a form of action which is open to great abuse and, moreover, it is a most precarious and risky form of action. It would be extremely difficult for legal aid committees to select those cases which should and those which should not have legal aid. Only one case of hardship has been drawn to the Lord Chancellor's attention. I was not aware of the case in Pembrokeshire. As I say, there are balances both ways. I recognise the difficulty, but, on the whole, my noble Friend thinks it better not to spend public money on this form of action.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I give notice—[An HON. MEMBER: "What a hope."]—that, all being well, after the General Election, I propose to raise this matter again.