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Jean Corston (Bristol, East): Given that the hon. and learned Gentleman has become slightly more impassioned about the subject, will he confirm today that, in the unlikely event of the Conservative party winning the next general election, it will make a manifesto commitment to reverse the effects of the Bill?

Mr. Garnier: Yes, I will. The Home Secretary should write it down.

The Home Secretary was not alone in the views that he previously held. In July 1993, after the royal commission on criminal justice had reported, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who is now Attorney-General, but who was then an Opposition spokesman on legal affairs in the other place and a former chairman of the Bar, wrote in The Times:

So do I.

In an interview at the time, Lord Williams also said that there were "no circumstances" under which he could agree to a proposal such as that contemplated in the Bill.

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He said he was "adamantly opposed" to such a proposal. It now seems that he is adamantly in favour of such madness.

If so, he is not the only man guilty of conspiring to damage the administration of justice. Step forward another lawyer, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who said that it was "totally unsatisfactory" to prevent defendants from choosing trial by jury. He said that "fundamental rights to justice" could not be "driven by administrative convenience." I agree.

Who else agrees with the views then expressed by those three members of the Government? The Criminal Bar Association, the Bar Council, the Association of Magisterial Officers, the Society of Labour Lawyers--every member of the Home Office apart from the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), may be a member of that august body--the Society of Conservative Lawyers, the Society of Liberal Democrat Lawyers, the Law Society, any number of Crown court and High Court judges to whom I and others have spoken but who cannot speak out publicly, the Legal Action Group, Justice, Liberty, the Institute of Race Relations, the Blackstone Society, the Howard League, the Portia Trust, Professor Lee Bridges--professor of law at Warwick university--Northumbria police, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, the Quakers and the legal committee of the Joint Council of Her Majesty's Stipendiary Magistrates.

Ms Hazel Blears (Salford): Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Garnier: In a moment. Also in agreement are the Institute of Legal Executives, the Society of Asian Lawyers, the Association of Chief Officers of Probation and, I hope, the hon. Lady.

Ms Blears: The hon. and learned Gentleman is reciting a litany of those who oppose these measures, but has he given any thought whatever to the rights of witnesses, victims and people who have a stake in the criminal justice system, who all too often are not heard in the House and elsewhere because they do not have the ear of rich and powerful lawyers?

Mr. Garnier: Yes I have, which is precisely why I oppose the Bill.

Which are the most notable organisations that support new Labour's policy? The Crown Prosecution Service, the Association of Chief Police Officers, Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, Warwickshire trading standards department, the joint office of the Department of Social Security and the Department of Health solicitor, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, to which the Home Secretary referred.

The Home Secretary also places great reliance on the views of the Lord Chief Justice. When he speaks in court as a judge his view, subject to appeal, is paramount. When he speaks in the other place as a legislator his views command respect, but are not to be granted any more respect than those of the Home Secretary.

What arguments do the Government put up for this silly and unnecessary Bill, which was not even mentioned in their election manifesto? First, they say that the accused does not have the right of election in Scotland so why

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should he have it here. After the mess that Labour has made of the party in Wales and the race for mayor of London, we could be forgiven for thinking not only that in Scotland there is no right of election, but that the Home Secretary's comparison is false for precisely the reasons advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Medway. The prosecutor chooses venue in Scotland, but the sheriff who tries the summary case is the equivalent of a stipendiary magistrate or a circuit judge in this jurisdiction, not a bench of lay magistrates.

Moreover, the maximum sentence available on summary trial in Scotland is three months, not six, and unlike in this country, the summary court has no power to commit a convicted defendant to a higher court for a more severe sentence if it feels that its powers are insufficient.

Mr. Hogg: Although I have a great respect for the stipendiary magistracy, is it not worth reminding the House that a stipendiary magistrate sits in a magistrates court as one judge--the judge of fact? We must consider whether one judge--namely, the stipendiary magistrate--should be the judge of fact in, for example, cases involving dishonesty.

Mr. Garnier: That is a perfectly good point and I hope that we shall be able to discuss it further in Committee.

Another point was mentioned by the Minister of State on the Radio 4 "Today" programme in support of the Bill: Britain is the only country in Europe, and possibly elsewhere, that allows the defendant the right to choose his place of trial. So what? Britain is the only country that does a great many things that do not need to be changed or done away with on that account. Many European countries do not have trial by jury at all.

Mr. Grieve: Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that a particularly chilling feature of the Bill is that the Government who introduced the Human Rights Act 1998 want to ratchet down to a common mean every single right that defendants have in the courts that are well over and above that Act?

Mr. Garnier: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I often wonder why the Government allow themselves to rubber-stamp their Bills with the declaration under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act without having thought what they are doing.

Mr. Straw: Challenge the Bill.

Mr. Garnier: The Bill is not yet an Act of Parliament.

Many European countries do not have trial by jury at all. If new Labour stands for drab, dull, monotonous uniformity--or what the Home Secretary calls modernisation--we have further cause for concern.

In another context, but equally to do with human rights, the Government support those who dare to be different. For once, why do not they stand up for the distinctiveness that is Britain and have the courage and the pride to do so?

The Government's next point is that the Bill will save money. The figure has gone up in the past few days from £105 million to £128 million a year, but that is still less than they spent on General Pinochet. It is a misleading statistic anyway, as more than £80 million of the alleged

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savings will not come from reduced fees for lawyers or court costs. They will, so the Government say, come from the shorter prison sentences imposed by magistrates. They will be savings for the Prison Service. At least two points concern me about that. Why should a defendant receive a different and lesser sentence in another court for the same offence on the same evidence after a contested trial? Why are the Government, who said that they would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, using the Bill to be weak on crime and weak on the causes of crime?

The Government say that efficiency savings in the courts will follow the passage of the Bill, claiming £12.5 million on committals and £41.5 million on Crown court trials that would no longer take place, but the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), who is no longer in his place, has already shot that fox. He said:

He did not, of course, thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe--the Home Secretary who introduced the provision to make that sensible change to criminal procedure--even though the number of cases going to the Crown court has almost halved, from more than 30,000 to about 18,000, as a direct result.

As Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws admitted in the other place on 20 January, making the simple administrative change of asking the defendant for his plea before asking where he wants to be tried has achieved an extraordinary reduction in Crown court cases. Like her, I have absolutely no doubt that it is not beyond the wit, even of this Government, to introduce proposals as useful as that in respect of the 1996 Act rather than bashing on with the Bill.

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