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6.35 pm

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

I declare an interest in the debate. I have been a member of the Bar for 33 years and recorder of the Crown court with full powers of a Crown court judge for 18 years. In that time I have presided over many criminal trials, sitting together with magistrates in appeals from magistrates and committals for sentence. I have represented many defendants. I have represented the police, serious crime squads and regional crime squads. I have met a lot of coppers, a lot of victims and a lot of witnesses.

I have one abiding and passionate interest in the Bill: that it should preserve the integrity, reputation and fairness of the system in which I have served. With that experience and interest, I have no hesitation in saying that this is one of the worst Bills to come before the House

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for many years. It will cause real and perceived injustice; it will cause immense delay and anxiety to victims, defendants and witnesses and their families; and it will create vast expense. I hold that view in common with every institution and organisation that is concerned with civil liberties.

I have three preliminary points, the first of which has already been made several times. The Bill is a total volte-face for the Home Secretary. I shall not repeat again the quotation that has been given several times, when he asked whether any Member of Parliament, if charged with an offence that would have a serious effect on their well-being if convicted, would not choose trial by jury. That rhetorical question is as relevant today as it was then. I have heard nothing from him to explain that apostasy. I am not against apostasy. St. Paul had his change of mind on the road to Damascus, where he was going to carry out a bit of public prosecution on behalf of the Romans without a jury. I commend to my right hon. Friend the fact that that example of apostasy was in favour of civil liberty and religious tolerance.

My second preliminary point is that this is not a manifesto commitment of the Labour party or any other party. It has never received careful consideration and control through conference or any forum--policy or otherwise--in my party. It has never been placed before the electorate. The proposal has been brought from its huts in the Home Office, where it has been lingering for the past 25 years, rejected repeatedly by respective Home Secretaries and Home Office Ministers, among whom it is not possible to find a single Hampstead liberal.

It is surely wrong that the Government should use their massive and quiescent majority without the issue ever being put before the electorate, particularly as a review commission is sitting and will report by the end of the year. Its finding may then be properly considered by the electorate.

My third preliminary point is that much use has been made of statistics that were described in the House of Lords as a heap of guesses. That was charitable. Many of the statistics that have been used to reinforce the Bill turn out on close examination to be misleading to the point of deceit. I shall give one example. The number of appeals likely to be generated as a result of magistrates in 14,000 cases denying to people who have pleaded not guilty the right to go to trial by jury has been arbitrarily calculated by the Government at 25 per cent. There is no reason to suppose that that is an accurate assessment. Anyone who practises in the courts will know that there is likely to be a much more significant number of appeals--let us say 10,000. How many days do the Government say will be lost on these appeals? The answer is 148. If 10,000 appeals are to be heard in 148 days in the Crown court, that allows four minutes and eight seconds for each appeal.

Some in the Home Office may think that such a decision can be taken in the time that it takes to boil an egg, but that will not appeal to Crown court judges. If judges hear 10 or 12 of these cases a day, 1,000 days of Crown court time will be lost. The answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston) is that if hon. Members want to clog up the Crown court system, pass this Bill.

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Mr. Hogg: Is not another vice of the appeal system as prescribed in the Bill that it is not a real appeal system? Has the hon. and learned Gentleman seen the written answer on 2 February, in which the Home Secretary makes it plain that, in the great majority of cases, the appeal will be a paper appeal, not involving representation?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. This is a wish and a prayer. The idea is that it should start off as a paper appeal. The appropriate judge will consider it, and then decide whether there should be representation. In the vast majority of cases, the judge will allow representation. The average price of an appeal to the Crown court is £679. If there are 10,000 of these cases, more than £6.7 million of public money will be wasted on the system. There is no mention of that in the Government's statistics.

The point of principle is that jury trial is fundamental to our system of criminal justice. The reason--which the Government seek to avoid--is simply this: our system is adversarial. We do not inquire after the truth; we are interested in proof. The state brings the case against its own citizen, and must prove it. It is an axiom of our law that the state does not prove it in front of its own appointees. If cases are serious, they must be proved in front of your fellow citizens. That is the right that you have. That is not an aspersion on magistrates. It is simply a matter of saying that justice must be seen to be done.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): I thought that my hon. and learned Friend was on the point of suggesting that the members of the magistrates bench--of which I am one in north-west Leicestershire, although I am not sitting currently--were somehow placemen and appointees at the whim of the Government in the decisions at which they will arrive. Surely my hon. and learned Friend is not suggesting that.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Of course I am not. My hon. Friend, with great respect to him, confuses what I said. If we have a system such as this, it is implicit that justice is seen to be done--not only that it is done. If the state brings a case, it must be judged by one's fellow citizens, because the perception of justice matters more than anything else. I have enormous respect for magistrates, to whom I shall refer in a moment.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North): I have been following my hon. and learned Friend's argument closely, and his logic seems to suggest that he would have to argue for the right of election to jury trial in every case. As I understand it, that is not what he is arguing.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Certainly not, but I am grateful for the intervention. With great respect to my hon. Friend, I am either not articulating or she is not understanding what I mean. I said, in terms, that in any case where there is the risk of serious punishment--whether by sentence or by loss of reputation--the right to jury trial must be maintained. However, that right need not be exercised and, in the vast majority of cases, it is not.

Mr. Straw: My hon. and learned Friend knows that a serious loss of reputation and employment can follow

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from convictions for drink-driving, indecent exposure, assaulting a police officer or taking a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner--each of which are summary only, with no right to jury trial whatever. Is he proposing that those charges should now become either way?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Certainly not. [Interruption.] I will tell you--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman must remember to use the correct parliamentary language. He should not use the word "you".

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

If I may enlist what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said himself, in making such a decision there must be areas on the margins. For me, the margins are about right. I would not object to the margins being extended in some way, but there must be margins.

I refer my right hon. Friend to a short passage from one of our greatest judges, who explained the issue far better than I could. He said:

This is a good quote.

    The first object of any tyrant in Whitehall would be to make Parliament utterly subservient to his will, and the next to overthrow or diminish trial by jury, for no tyrant can afford to leave a subject's freedom in the hands of 12 of his countrymen.

That principle underpins the whole of our judicial system. It is a fundamental principle in all cases where serious punishment may apply, either by sentence or by loss of reputation.

In this respect, I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) that the Government have performed an impossible volte-face. To overcome the initial difficulty--which everybody understood--that the gross loss of reputation is very often a far greater penalty than the sentence in not very serious cases, the Government put in the reputation clause. Of course, the reputation clause is repellant because it creates a two-tier system. We have all argued against that, and everyone on the Government Back Benches would make common cause on that.

The Government replied not only by abolishing the safeguard, but by making the position infinitely worse, so that now magistrates cannot take these matters into account in deciding on the right to criminal trial.

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