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Sub Judice Rule

Volume 972: debated on Monday 29 October 1979

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asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will refer the issue of sub judice to a Select Committee on Procedure.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

When a Select Committee on Procedure is next appointed this matter will be within its scope.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to refer the matter to the Committee? Is he aware that litigation on important issues of public policy should not be allowed to gag the House? Does he appreciate, for example, that the aftermath of the SPG action in Southall and the Blair Peach inquest prevent the House from discussing a range of issues that it should be able to discuss? There will be problems until the issue is finally solved. It is an issue which the recent Select Committee on Privileges, to whose sittings the right hon. Gentleman made such a notable contribution, failed to solve.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his latter remark. I am not unsympathetic to the important matter that he has raised. It is generally best to leave a Select Committee to decide its own priorities and programme of work. I have noted the hon. Gentleman's concern, and I shall ensure that any Committee is aware of it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, on the whole, the sub judice rule should be confined to criminal cases which attract juries and the very few civil cases which also attract juries?

I do not wish to define exactly the scope of the sub judice rule, which has extremely complex ramifications. Unlike my hon. Friend, I am not a practising lawyer but a retired academic lawyer.