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Mr. Clappison: I have heard that argument, but I am not impressed by it. Let the individual choose. Let us not take away the right to choose. The Bill would do so in an unfair way, as I hope to show. Before I do, I shall deal with another argument advanced by the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) and by the Home Secretary: that the existing jurisdiction of the magistrates court justifies extending jurisdiction to whole new and different categories.

As the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) said, there must be margins. Especially in respect of offences such as those of dishonesty, it is important for people to have the right to a trial by jury, because dishonesty carries a certain stigma. It is important that people, especially those of humble origin and perhaps with low incomes, should have the opportunity of a trial by jury when reputation and dishonesty are at issue.

Mr. Straw: Is the hon. Gentleman therefore saying that taking a car without the consent of the owner involves no dishonesty on any occasion? Is he also saying that indecent exposure does not carry any consequences for the reputation of the defendant? Is he suggesting that we should not have summary-only cases at all?

Mr. Clappison: The Home Secretary is again advancing an extremely unattractive line of argument, by extrapolating justification from the lesser to the greater. There must be margins, especially in cases involving dishonesty that go to the Crown court for trial by jury, such as shoplifting and burglary. For offences where people's reputation and way of life may be at stake, they should have the right to trial by jury.

We can consider the classifications and the margins, but individuals whose reputations are at stake through dishonesty should have that right. [Interruption.] I am sorry that the Home Secretary does not take the matter more seriously. It is serious, not least because the measure will prove to be discriminatory.

The lorry driver, about whom we heard, the council employee charged with stealing from the council, the shop assistant alleged to be stealing from her employer, the confused old lady charged with shoplifting, a coal miner charged with stealing coal--I have defended many humble people like that in the course of my career as a member of the Bar, and in each case I think that the person concerned should have had the right to a trial by jury.

These are the sorts of people most likely to lose the right to a trial by jury. The famous broadcaster, businessman or politician, the Member of Parliament and certainly the Secretary of State, perhaps also the rich man who arrives at the magistrates court with eminent counsel--all those people will get the right to a trial by jury. But the man in the street, who comes from humble origins, has a lower income and perhaps cannot afford counsel at all--certainly not eminent counsel--will not. It is inevitable that, under the proposals, ordinary men and

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women will lose the right to trial by jury--trial by their peers. They want to exercise that right when something greatly important to them--their reputation for honesty, their livelihood--may be at stake.

The Bill is a bad measure, and it can only be bad for the man in the street. Without indulging in the high-flown rhetoric against which the Home Secretary warned us, we should use our consciences and consider whether we are justified in removing a right that has been exercised for a long time by many ordinary people--not the rich, the powerful or the famous, but the humble, the man in the street, the ordinary employee and the ordinary chap. Under the Bill, they will lose a right that has hitherto been theirs.

The other place was right to throw out the Government's first version of the Bill.

Ms Blears: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clappison: No.

The Bill is a worse version of the previous draft. Hon. Members should not lightly remove such a right from the ordinary man in the street.

8.11 pm

Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West): I have sat through the debate from the start, and I have been intrigued by the complex and difficult arguments that have been presented by what could be described as counsel for both sides.

I am not an expert in the law. I made my living as an electrician, not a lawyer. However, I have taken a lifetime's interest in the notions of justice available in the society in which I live. I was at school during the second world war and the period immediately afterwards, when public debates were commonly held about that society's values for which it was worth fighting and dying.

One value that was repeatedly brought to my attention was the wonderful right to a trial by jury. That made sense to me. It was represented to me very simply. Our teacher never described it as "trial by your peers," because he probably believed that I would not understand that; he was probably right. He presented it as being "tried by your fellow citizens," who had some understanding of the offence with which someone might be charged and the effect that that might have on a person's life and the lives of those close to him.

Trial by jury holds a place in the public's mind that is special, if not unique, among the elements of the British constitutional structure. If we face the likelihood of being charged fairly and properly, or unfairly and improperly, the notion that we can get a hearing before our peers comforts us. Trial by jury represents a commonly held sense of justice. It is common-sense justice, which people understand. Anyone who interferes with access to that sort of justice walks into a difficult area, where people have been before, but which has led to serious civil rights difficulties.

Mr. David Taylor: I have the greatest respect for my hon. Friend's views on almost every subject. However, is he aware that miscarriages of justice are far more frequent in the Crown court and the jury trials that underpin it? For example, I am not sure that the Birmingham six were

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reassured by the verdict that was reached by the 12 people who were drawn from the society in which they had lived and worked for many years. Trial by jury did not do them much good.

Mr. Best: I am, to say the least, acutely aware of that. Anyone who has been involved in politics in the past 20 years will also be acutely aware of it. However, my memory of the case suggests that the problem was that the evidence in the trial was rigged, and that that caused the jury to reach the wrong conclusion. I am surprised that my hon. Friend, with whom I normally agree, should make such a point.

We are not considering whether the jury system is infinitely superior to magistrates courts and the role that they play. No one who has made the case against the proposed diminution of the right to jury trial has attacked magistrates. I cannot understand magistrates' hyper- sensitivity to the debates that have taken place in the Chamber on the subject. I would be grateful if someone could remind me of any attack on magistrates courts in our system.

I am also acutely aware that, in any justice system, we get it wrong. My closest friend is a judge--perhaps it is one of my life's disbenefits. However, he is a fine fellow and his wife is a magistrate. They do not spend their time falling out. There is remarkable agreement about the jury system. Other friends who are magistrates spend a remarkable amount of time agreeing about the justice that derives from the jury system, of which we should be proud.

A lawyer, who is a Member of Parliament, said that we were considering a matter of justice for the offender. When I heard those words, I nearly fell off my seat. That was a prejudicial judgment if ever I heard one. The phrase "justice for an offender" implies that the judgment has already been made that we are considering an offender, who has to be treated differently. That emphasises my worries about professionalism in the judicial system.

In the 1960s, I had the pleasure of listening to a barrister whose name was Freddy Beeton. It is possible that one other hon. Member who is present might have heard of him. He was a well-known barrister in Leeds and he spoke to the Leeds trades council, a body of trade unionists. I was a shop steward and I went to listen to him. He spoke about the proposed move to introduce majority verdicts in the jury trial system. He was vehemently opposed to that. When he had finished speaking, the Leeds trades council decided to write to the Home Secretary of the day to say that we would not support such a move.

Freddy Beeton made another comment that I found interesting and have not forgotten. He said that the professional prejudices in the jurisprudence system would return because an anxiety for costs drove the system, especially when increasing numbers of ordinary people opted for trial by jury because they believed that they might get a better deal. He warned us by saying that, in 20 years, proposals to cut down the number of options for the right to trial by jury would be introduced. He was wrong about the time scale; it is now 40 years later, but the proposals are before us. Another pound of flesh is being requested from the judicial system. That disturbs me enormously.

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If we concentrate exclusively on the justice system, I cannot imagine how anyone could present an argument that would be detrimental to people's rights to exercise a wider choice for trial by jury. Rather than make observations against the diminution of the right to trial by jury, I would much rather make a case for its expansion. Perhaps the Home Secretary should consider that.

Despite all the attacks on the moves to reduce people's rights and the jury system, I notice that crime rates continue to rise and that the effectiveness of crime prevention seems not to be enhanced by further diminutions of the rights of people in the judicial system. The case that has been made against the Home Secretary's proposals is of such quality that, if tonight's decision were based on the evidence and made openly by a jury, its members would walk into the Lobby to support the amendment tabled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). That is where I shall stand. I thank the House for listening to my remarks.

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