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Mr. Denham: I agree that every effort must be made to protect a jury from intimidation, but my hon. Friend puts forward another example of the argument that says, "If only we did something else, we would not have to tackle this problem." I believe that changes are needed throughout the criminal justice system. Now, having taken more interventions than I ever did when I was a Minister, I shall sit down.
Simon Hughes: This is a really important debate, and we are not going to have enough time for it today, so I shall try to describe briefly why the Liberal Democrats seek to uphold what the House of Lords did in relation to clauses 41, 42, 43 and 45, albeit for different reasons, but while following the same basic principle. I want to reinforce a point that has been raised on both sides of the House, including by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). I would say to the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) that we are talking about an element of the criminal justice system that commands great respect and has been seen to do a very good job for 800 years. We are talking about a mini-democracy, a mini-Parliament. The fact that the public come into the criminal justice system as lay magistrates and jurors from all walks of life means that their decisions about guilt and innocence are taken far more representatively than they would ever be by a single judge. That is the fundamental principle.
As the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) intimated, a second principle is that, while we should of course look at the criminal justice process and at whether the courts do their job properly, there is no significant evidence that the element of the system that fails mostor even comes close to doing sois trial
Having made the general proposition, I appreciate that there are four different proposals before us that we have to consider separately. First, should we allow people the right to choose to do without juries? Secondly, should we do away with juries in long and complex fraud cases? Thirdly, should a person be deprived of the right to a jury trial halfway through a case in which there has been jury tampering, or, fourthly, in a prospective case, where there is a prospect of jury tampering? I am not naive about the fact that there are different cases, and we must examine each of them on its merits.
Mr. Grieve: We know, do we notthe hon. Gentleman might agreethe statistic that upwards of 90 per cent. of all recorded crime is never prosecuted in any court of law? If he is looking for a solution to the problems of crime and criminality, that is the first aspect to which we need to address our attention.
May I deal with a second set of paradoxes about the Government's position that I find confusing? I do not blame the Home Secretary for the first of them. In the first term of the Labour Government, there were proposals, as he has referred to them, to restrict people's right to choose jury trial. They were put forward twice and defeated twice. Now we are being presented with the tempting proposition that we should allow people to choose to do away with jury trial. Although that is superficially appealing, may I put one argument as to why it would be a dangerous road to go down?
The argument was most effectively put by the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird)I pay tribute to herwhen she said, "Take a white defendant on a racial attack charge. Would he not find it a better prospect to appear before a white judge than a mixed jury? Take a male defendant on a sexual assault charge. Would he not perhaps choose to appear before a male judge rather than a mixed male and female jury?" Juries do not have reputationsthey cannot, by definitionbut judges do. If we go down this road, the choice of whether to elect for a judge will often be made by someone saying, "I'm going for the judge because they are thought to be soft and lenient." Those things cannot be predicted in a jury. Juries are much more uncertain.
Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman has given examples of individuals who might wish to be tried before a judge rather than by a jury, but classes of case are also relevant here. For example, one can imagine that when railway crashes are dealt with under health and safety legislation, the defendantsdirectors of a large companymight prefer to be tried by a judge alone, not by a jury. Is that in the public interest?
Simon Hughes: That is one of the strongest arguments against giving serious fraud cases to the judge alone. It would look much more often as though the white-collar defendant was getting the white-collar judgethe single judgewhereas the blue-collar defendant, who represents the much more common non-fraud case defendant, would get the jury. These are really important matters.
I get confused about another thing. In the Bill, the Home Secretary is saying, "Trust the judges," but I have heard him sayor I and a lot of other people think that we have heard him say in other casesthat we should not give such great trust to judges. If there is a choice, although I trust them both, I believe that juries receive more trust from the public than judges do. Juries are not paid by the state. Even though they are independent, they are not seen to be part of the establishment. They are real people doing a voluntary service as part of their civic duty, and they do it very honourably.
Furthermore, the Government appear to be a bit confused because later in the Bill, in relation to previous bad character, they say, "Trust the jury. Put the evidence before them, and they can decide." We say in this context, "Put the evidence before the jurythey are well equipped to decide." I also wonder whether we are considering these proposals because juries are more unpredictable than judges and more out of the Government's control.
Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Gentleman is moving on to pastures new, but is he seriously suggesting that any Government, not just this Government, or any Executive, not just this Cabinet, control judges and their decision making in court?
Simon Hughes: Of course not, which is why I have never taken the view that the Home Secretary appears sometimes to have taken, which is that the judges should not be allowed to get on with their job and be properly independent. I have always taken the view that they should be allowed to do that. The great thing about juries is that they are far less predictable and manageable because they are far more independent. They are 12 people who have come together to form a collective view. That is bound to be more persuasive than any other method of deciding right and wrong, and guilt and innocence.
If something works, we should not try to replace it unless there is an overwhelming argument for doing so. Secondly, the public are involved to an extent that we reduce at our peril. Thirdly, a jury contains people who do not arrive with a reputation and can therefore be entirely impartial. Fourthly, the jury system requires cases to be outlined in language that the public understand. There is no elite performance by lawyers for lawyers; this is publicly accessible justice, and we really ought to defend it.
In the other place, my noble Friend Lord Dholakia pointed out that minority communities in particularblack and Asian communitieshave great confidence in the jury system. They believe, as all the research and other evidence shows, that they will be given a much fairer trial by a mixed-race jury than by a single, normally white, judge. The Commission for Racial Equality has advanced strong arguments in favour of the jury system, on the grounds that it is race-proof and much more equitable.
Many others argued points of principle in the House of Lords. Probably the strongest speech was made by a Government supporter, although she did not support the Government in this instance. On 15 July, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws presented the central arguments in favour of jury trial.
Let me deal with the four propositions in turn. The first I have already dealt with: although, superficially, the amendment constitutes an appeal for people to be allowed the right to opt out of jury trial, it is likely to give the impression of creating a two-tier system, and a system in which people tend to use their own judge. A case in which a terrible sex offender, for instance, ought to be tried by his or hernormally hispeers might turn out to be the case that cannot be considered by a jury.
Secondly, there is the issue of serious fraud cases and very lengthy cases. I accept that the Home Secretary has made a concession in limiting his proposals to fraud cases, but my colleagues and I have not remained static. We have suggested an arrangement that would allow juries to be representative, but to be selected in a way that would make it practical to ensure that their members could remain on duty for a year, or for nine or six months. The Government rejected our suggestion.
Finally, there is the question of jury tampering. I understand the arguments, and the most appealing are those in favour of a system allowing the courts, if necessary, to take steps to deal with such tampering. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) said that we must not allow that part of the system to be put at risk. The hon. Member for Coventry, North-West referred to all the other measures that must be taken to show that we will not allow people to interfere with the criminal justice system, and that those who do so will experience the most extreme punishment.
My colleagues and I prefer to take the road embarked on by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield and his hon. Friends. We are willing to work with the Government to ensure that we do not have half a trial with a jury and half a trial without, as that is a ludicrous proposition. We are also, in serious cases of jury tampering, in which the defendant could not have a fair trial in any circumstances, willing to look at alternatives, but only if there is a high threshold. However, we are not considering that this afternoon. If we have time in the following days and weeks, we may reach an agreement. We are willing in the next 48 hours to work to come to an agreement, but we are not willing to compromise on the principle, against a guillotine and a deadline in the House that are not of our making.