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Jury Verdicts

Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 18 May 1966

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asked the Attorney-General whether he is aware that there is concern at the state of the law shown by the case of Mr. Boston of Rugeley, Staffordshire, and the confusion which arose from the decision of the jury, resulting in costs against this plaintiff; and whether he will include this case in his review of the administration of justice with a view to the introduction of legislation to clarify the law.


asked the Attorney-General whether, in the light of the recent Appeal Court decision in the case of Mr. Alfred Boston which was the opposite of that intended by the jury, he will seek to amend the law so as to enable the appellate courts to reverse the decisions of juries where those decisions are acknowledged to be mistaken.

No. It is a long-established principle, based on the desirability of finality in litigation and the protection of jurors, that the courts will not go behind a jury's verdict. In any event, in the case referred to—the case of the Three Little Pigs—the Court of Appeal made it plain that the verdict was abundantly justified by the evidence.

Is the Attorney-General aware that the injustice of this clearly indicates that there should be some revision of the laws and procedure of libel?

The hon. Gentleman mentions the injustice of the case. As I have said, the Court of Appeal thought that there was overwhelming justification for the finding of the jury that there was no malice. Perhaps I may cite the words of Lord Justice Harman, who said:

"The plaintiff had every indulgence granted to him, perhaps more than he deserved; he failed; and deserved to fail."

But would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there is at least a possibility here that a serious miscarriage of justice may have occurred at great cost to Mr. Boston and that, in the best interests of justice, steps should be taken to facilitate an appeal to the House of Lords without the risk of further legal costs?

Order. We cannot try the case. The hon. Gentleman can press for the reform of the law but we cannot try a case by question and answer.

I do not think that my silence should indicate agreement with the view that an injustice was done in this case. I agree with you, Mr. Speaker, that neither this House nor I myself can sit in judgment upon the proceedings of the court or upon the proceedings before the Court of Appeal, but the Master of the Rolls said that there was very good reason for the finding of the jury that there was no malice because there was overwhelming evidence that the defendant auctioneers, when they informed the police, made it plain that they knew that it was not the plaintiff who had stolen the pigs. It is difficult to say that there was malice, therefore, in the auctioneers in these circumstances.

Would it not have been better if the newspapers and others proposing to comment adversely on the administration of justice because of that case had read carefully the judgment of the court concerned first to see what was decided and why, and then to have made further inquiries of both parties to the case and not only of the one who lost?

The Press is entitled to comment on court proceedings. I have given certain lectures to the Press lately. I do not think that I should add more at this stage.

Would not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it was very lucky for Mr. Boston that the jury gave the verdict it did, because if it had given the verdict it subsequently said it wanted to give the unfortunate Mr. Boston would have had to pay for an appeal too?