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Attorney-General (Court Visits)

Volume 940: debated on Monday 28 November 1977

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asked the Attorney-General how many official court visits he has made during the current Session of Parliament.

None. My right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has ministerial responsibility for the administration of the courts in England and Wales.

During my right hon. and learned Friend's court visits previously, has he formed any impression about the need for some reform of the law on criminal libel? Is it not absolutely disgraceful that a crook like Roger Gleaves, whose gang was responsible for the exploitation of young people and for the murder of one of my constituents, Billy McPhee, should be allowed out of prison after two years and should manage to persuade a magistrate to imprison three journalists and to lay criminal libel charges against two others whose only crime was that they were responsible for exposing the Gleaves racket in the first place?

Taking the second part of my hon. Friend's supple- mentary question, it appears that the matter is sub judice, so he will not expect me to comment on it. On the more general question, the reform of the libel law is a matter for my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. On this aspect of it there are conflicting recommendations from the Faulks Committee on defamation and the Royal Commission on the Press, and they are now being considered.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the worrying and increasing delays now being experienced in South-East England before cases are brought on for trial? Will he confirm that this is so because not enough courts are available? Is he satisfied with the liaison that currently exists between his Department, the Home Office and the Department of the Environment with regard to the provision of more courts?

My right hon. and noble Friend has this matter very much in mind. It is largely a question of the provision of court accommodation, quite apart from the provision of judicial officers. I know that my right hon. and noble Friend keeps it constantly under review.

When my right hon. and learned Friend is considering the work of the courts, will he consider transferring from the courts to industrial tribunals all claims and disputes about contracts of employment, as provided for in the Employment Protection Act? Is not it ridiculous that, while unfair dismissal cases, including constructive dismissal, which the Court of Appeal has said must now be decided on contractual bases, are dealt with in industrial tribunals, wrongful dismissal cases by the same people must still go to the courts?

I shall see my right hon. and noble Friend is informed of that point of view.