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Mr. Hogg: I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but on jury tampering, if there is a retrial or further trial after the discharge of the jury, does he agree that the second judgea judge of fact in a judge-only trialmust be different from the judge in the first trial, because otherwise there is a danger that the judge in the second trial will have heard evidence not adduced in that trial.
In a matter of hours, the President of the United States will make a state visit to this country. The constitutional settlement of the United States of America includes many good things. In the Declaration of Independence, one of the objections to the King concerned the fact that he was
The right to jury trial is precious, and it works well. Parliament will not give up without a fight the right for it to be used as the usual and regular course of action for most defendants. If we have to fight the Government, we will.
Vera Baird: Many speeches have been made during the passage of the Bill about the importance of jury trial as a principle. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has always said that he values jury trial in principle. It is hugely important in a democracy that the fresh air of public scrutiny is applied to decisions about the guilt or innocence of our fellow citizens.
My concern is primarily about clause 41, which may result in the end of jury trial as we know it. If my right hon. Friend does value that precious right, as he says, will he think further about that provision, which may undermine it? It could also be undermined by people who do not value it as he does or by sheer force of circumstance if clause 41 is brought into force. The new right for the defendant to opt for trial either by jury or by judge will inevitably be abused. For instance, in the north-east, it is well known that some judges are liberal and soft and that others are harsh. I have said so many times before, but if anybody asked me whether I would be tried by judge alone, I would say, "Which judge?" There will be forum shopping by defendants of the worst imaginable kind. Local witnesses waiting to go to court to give evidence will know that a defendant has opted at the last minute for judge X because he is soft, or has opted for a jury trial because judge Y, who is on the list of judges, is hard. That will rightly scandalise the public, victims and witnesses.
The Bill includes a provision specifying that there must be early exercise of the option, but it is unenforceable. Common sense dictates that if someone says that they want a jury trial, but the case comes to court and he decides that he is fine without a jury trial, nobody is going to compel him to go through the lengthier, more complicated and expensive process of empanelling a jury just because he asked for that at an earlier stage.
Mr. Blunkett: I am very sympathetic to my hon. and learned Friend. I understand from the previous contribution that she rightly made in the House, how strongly she feels. However, is it her proposition now that that is not possible when people are faced with a magistrates court or being able to opt for jury trialthat at that point that option is fixed and is the one that prevails, whether they want to go back to a magistrates court or not?
Vera Baird: It is very difficult to envisage a situation such as the one that I set out. The defendant may say, "All right, six months ago, I thought I needed a jury to try my case. I now realise that the judges here are all absolutely fine and fair and I do not need to put you through the extra expense, the extra complexity and a lengthier trial, so I do not want a jury trial." Is it seriously suggested that the judge should force him against his will to have a jury trial, when it will take a good deal longer and cost a good deal more? Of course not. The judge will say, "All right, if no one wants a jury trial here, no one need have one here."
In practice, therefore, the right will be capable of being exercised at the end. Of course, if it is going to be exercised that way at the end, it is going to be exercised the other way at the end, if it is wanted, as well. There will be no possibility of excluding forum shopping. It is an appalling prospect and will bring the criminal justice system into disrepute. The jury system will be a tool to be used by clever criminals. Very soon, not only the Home Secretary but I and many others will say, "This has to stop. The system cannot be abused like that."
What will happen then? Will we go back to everyone having a compulsory jury trial? Of course not. By then, it will be clear that trial by judge alone can be quicker, slicker, more efficient and cheaper, so why wipe out the right to trial by judge alone? What will happen is that the right to decide whether a trial is by judge alone or by jury will be moved to the judge, and that will be a nail in the coffin of the right to jury trial. It will be at the judge's discretion.
Of course, the point I have just madethat non-jury trial is bound to be cheaper, quicker and more efficient than jury trial will in itself be a nail in the coffin of jury trial. A robbery trial in court one at the Old Bailey will be carried out in two weeks by a judge, whereas, a robbery trial involving a very similar case in court two at the Old Bailey will be carried out over six weeks by a jury. Perhaps the man who had the two-week jury trial will be acquitted. The argument will be obvious. Why on earth should we allow defendants to have six weeks' worth of legal aid for these dreadful lawyers when they could perfectly fairly be tried in two weeks by a judge? Again, that argument will start to militate against jury trial.
Mr. Garnier: May I reinforce the hon. and learned Lady's point about judicial pressure in due course to encourage judge-alone criminal trials? In the civil field in which I work, defamation, there is still a right to jury trial, but the judge is given discretion to take it out of the hands of the jury and to try it himself, if he thinksthe wording almost reflects the wording in the Billthat the case is going to be very complicated or take too long. However, increasingly, judges will begin proceedings by saying, "Do you not think that it would be better for all concerned if we just dispensed with the jury?" That is before we have even got into deciding whether it will be a complicated trial. The pressure will be on the parties to the trial to accede to the judicial request, because the judge will be under pressure from the managementthat is to say, the Lord Chancellor's Departmentto keep the through-put of trials going at a speedy rate. The Treasury pressure on the judge will be to keep the process going as quickly as possible. That is why the hon. and learned Lady is right to highlight that point.
Vera Baird: I am grateful for that intervention. If somebody is acquitted in a couple of weeks, instead of being convicted after spending six weeks in front of a jury, people will start to say, "What's good enough for defendant Xbeing tried and acquitted by a judgemust be good enough for defendant Y. Why should we allow them that option?" As has just been said, judges are under pressure in terms of turnover and disposal
And what about the little casesthose that are just a few pounds' worththat find their way to the Crown court, in which the defendant wants to opt for trial by jury? They will[Interruption.] Does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary want to intervene, or just get in the way? [Interruption.] He is muttering into his beardhe does so, I am sure, with great charmabout district judges already trying without juries, but there is a principle in this country that serious cases go before juries. Although I am talking about the less serious cases that a judge will consider as not meriting jury trial, it is obvious that they constitute the bottom end of the serious stuff that the Crown court deals with. There will be pressure for smaller cases at the bottom end of the Crown court's tariff to be tried by judge alone, and for the option of trial by jury not to exist.
I foresee that, for those two reasons, we shall soon have the forum shopping and abuse that none of us wants, and the obvious cheapness, slickness and efficiency of trial by judge alone. The defendant's right to opt for trial by judge alone will go and will be passed into the hands of the judge, which will be the end of any kind of right to trial by jury. Here, I am expressing a very real fear. I do not intend that my comments should have a querulous sound; rather, they are expressing a serious concern. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary says that he, too, is concerned about safeguarding the principle of jury trial, but if he wants to do so, he cannot allow it to become optional. Once it becomes optional, the reasons why the option is exercised will bring the principle into disrepute. That is the slippery slope on which we are starting today with clause 41.