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Standing Committee B
Thursday 13 February 2003
[Mr. Peter Pike in the Chair]
Clause 258 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown): I beg to move amendment No. 928, in
I welcome you to the Committee, Mr. Pike, as a cameo guest artiste.
The purpose of the amendment is simple: it is to ensure accordance with the principle enshrined in Lord Justice Auld's considerations on jury service that everyone, unless they are too old, too young or too mentally infirm, should have the privilege and duty of carrying out jury service when required.
If I may digress with your permission, Mr. Pike, I wish that I had added to the amendment, because the provisions refer to the prime qualification for jury service, which is that one should be registered as an elector. I remind my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General that Lord Justice Auld recommended that the basis be the entitlement to be registered as an elector, because one does not have to register on the electoral roll. If one does not want to do jury service and various other things, it is all too easy to opt out by simply not filling in the electoral registration form.
As it is, large numbers of people are allowed to claim the right not to serve on juries: peers, Members of Parliament, full-time members of the armed forces, priests, and medical and veterinary practitioners—a long list. The royal family is also exempt from jury service in practice, as are the royal family's retainers. The Royal Household is quite large. In fact, it probably represents as many people as are currently exempt from jury service because they are past or present members of the judiciary, for instance. I see no reason why Her Majesty's footmen or even the Prince's footmen or butler, should not be as liable to jury service as the rest of us. As a Member of Parliament, I do not wish to be exempt from my duty as a citizen. The notion that anyone, but anyone, is too grand or too clever to serve on a jury is archaic and not to be borne.
Lord Justice Auld spent a lot of time considering the potential role in juries of judges, barristers and everyone in the legal profession or in the police involved in administering criminal justice. His conclusion, with which I wholeheartedly concur, was that there was no reason why such people should not participate in a jury. Fears have previously been expressed that because of the special knowledge and
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status of such people, other members of the jury would be intimidated. Experience in the United States is that—
The Chairman: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but what he is saying is more to do with clause stand part than the amendment. The amendment is specific and I ask him to keep to the subject.
Dr. Turner: I apologise, Mr. Pike. I wondered how soon you would rein me in. I hoped not to speak on clause stand part, but the point is made, which is that everyone—unless there are compelling reasons why they should not serve, such as age or mental condition—should have the privilege and duty of serving on juries.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): Is there not a slight problem? If there was such a thing as a Dr. Turner court, would it be—
Dr. Turner rose—
The Chairman: Order. There should be only one Member on his feet.
Mr. Allen: Would it be appropriate for Dr. Turner to be a member of a jury serving on a Dr. Turner court? Is it not inappropriate for a member of the royal family to be a member of the jury in a Crown court?
Dr. Turner: My answer is that the crown is a symbol of the state. In practice they are the state's courts or the people's courts. Members of the royal family are as much citizens and servants of the state as anyone else.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South): I feel a sense of privilege in supporting the amendment. Our legal system is one that achieves the best. It is a balanced system. For people to feel that they should be excluded because they have special status is inappropriate. We are now in the 21st century, and I think that everyone should play a part—and, when they have the opportunity to do so, play it fully.
The amendment defines one of the duties of citizenship. I believe that the Royal Household, which is composed mostly of citizens, would feel that being able to play a part is long overdue. Other royals, except for Her Majesty and her consort, should be excluded; they are excluded anyway, on the basis of age. I am pleased to have the opportunity to support the amendment. It would give everyone the opportunity to be involved in a positive way to achieve and support the best. It is long overdue and I definitely support the amendment.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Pike. I apologise to the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) for missing his first few words. However, I had plenty of time to reflect on the amendment while coming down the track this morning.
It is a colourful amendment; perhaps it was tabled for that purpose. The hon. Gentleman was right to raise the issue, but the amendment could not be supported in its current form because it avoids some obvious implications. I have no problem with the
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Royal Household being jurors; they are not members of the management of Britain, like the monarch, Parliament and the judiciary. They are in an entirely different category; they are employees, and should be able to serve like anyone else. I entirely support the hon. Gentleman on that point. Members of the Royal Household might even sit as jurors on trials. They could bring an interesting insight into life below stairs—not that the Crown Prosecution Service is going to rush into more trials of royal butlers in the foreseeable future after the unhappy experience of the last escapade. However, there is a bigger problem—
Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West): On a point of order, Mr. Pike. Is it right that there is a member of the press in the Room, reporting the proceedings? I am trying to understand why some of this discussion is taking place.
The Chairman: My hon. Friend knows that it is absolutely in order for a member of the press to be here, but I understand why he is raising the point of order.
Simon Hughes rose—
Mr. Allen: In the old days, the royal family took a direct interest in the courts, such as the Star Chamber. The press were excluded and the ordinary citizen accordingly suffered grievously. I am pleased to see the press here and I hope that this is the beginning of a long—
The Chairman: Order. Interventions are getting a bit too long. Keep to the amendment.
Simon Hughes: The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) is the representative on earth of Robin Hood. We should welcome the intervention. I welcome the presence of the press—even more lowly representatives of the press than those who are present would be welcome. It is sad that they have not been here morning and afternoon, and reported on colleagues on the Conservative Benches and, occasionally—unhappily not often; we could have done with more from them—those on the Labour Back Benches, the sterling performances by the Under-Secretary and the excellent contributions of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). It would probably have increased the sales—
The Chairman: Order. The press read Hansard just as diligently as all Members of the House do. The hon. Gentleman should return to the amendment.
Simon Hughes: I was just about to do so. I have the very simple view that it is entirely proper that all the members of the extended royal family should do their civic duty like everyone else. However, there is a strong case against the monarch and the spouse of the monarch—
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): The monarch cannot.
Simon Hughes: Absolutely. If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, there is a strong case that the monarch, the spouse of the monarch—or, in modern days, who knows, the partner of the monarch—the
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children of the monarch and any other direct descendents, such as grandchildren, should be excluded for the simple reason that is touched on in amendment No. 926, tabled by the Conservatives. The phrase used there is entirely appropriate. It proposes that people should be excluded if, as a result of their inclusion,
''other jurors might give that person's views undue weight.''
There would be a triple difficulty if one of the children of the monarch were to serve on a jury. First, it would attract undue press attention, unfairly prejudicing other participants in the case. Secondly, it would distort the jury, because the jurors could not help but be distracted by the fact that a member of the immediate royal family was taking part in the process. Thirdly, other jurors would either give the royal person's views undue weight or unduly compensate for that. One could argue that if a major-general and a former permanent secretary and other members of such an unlikely motley crew collected together, that might happen too. People who are paid by the public purse are in a particularly delicate position.
There is a fourth concern that we cannot ignore. One of the great things about jury trial is that with no exception, as far as I am aware, the jury room has to be confidential. I am troubled by the prospect that if one of the Queen's children were serving on a jury, there would be people who would find the temptation to break that rule too great to resist. People sell stories of all sorts of relationships—professional, civic or personal. That is unsatisfactory and inappropriate. In recent years there have also been highly unsatisfactory occasions when people have suddenly spilled the beans in connection with former Members of this House.
The temptation for someone quite improperly to share the views expressed by a member of the royal family could prejudice a case and cause considerable difficulty. We should try to avoid that. I do not think that direct descendants should be included. First or second cousins, or third cousins once removed, who might technically count as the royal family, could be included. In my view the proper definition of the royal family should include only the limited group of the Queen's children and grandchildren.