Criminal Justice Bill

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Dr. Turner: May I question the hon. Gentleman on the two points that he has made? Does he really think that a scion of the royal family is any more likely to influence the jury than a well-known and learned judge? Is not it true that any such scion of the royal family who did what he has suggested and divulged secrets of the jury room to the press would know that they were creating a scandalous situation and would have to suffer the consequences?

Simon Hughes: I am sorry. The hon. Gentleman has obviously misunderstood me. I do not suggest that the member of the royal family would divulge things to the press, but that someone else would. Someone who sat on a jury for three months with Princess Anne—[Interruption.]—or any of her brothers or their children might think at some later stage that it would be worth their while telling the ''intimate details'' of the jury room. It is not the royal family

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who would be the problem; they are quite used to keeping confidences.

The hon. Gentleman made a point against himself in his first comment. We shall debate other exclusions later. My view is that judges should not be included on juries either. They would have undue influence and authority, and their views would be disproportionately represented in the jury.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking): It is another amendment.

Simon Hughes: It is another amendment; exactly. The hon. Gentleman will perhaps agree with me that the appropriate response to the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown, when he says, ''Hang on a minute—what about people being influenced by judges?'' is, in the words of Edward Lear, that we are coming to that. There are other categories of people who would be unfortunately and disproportionately influential, including judges, in my view. That is a good reason not to include them.

I hope that, if the amendment is not accepted today and the hon. Gentleman decides to pursue the matter, he will, on reflection, try to persuade the Government that the Royal Household and members of the royal family not of direct lineage could be included, but that those in the direct line should be excluded in their interest and, more importantly, in the interest of justice.

Mr. Grieve: I apologise for being a couple of minutes late for the Committee. I was stuck on the tube, although I confess that having heard a bit of the debate I began to regret that I was not back on it.

We seem to be a bit off the point. If I understand schedule 22 correctly, it is meant to sweep away a group of archaic rules relating to people claiming as of right that they cannot sit on juries. In addition it is my understanding—and this may be what the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown is getting at—that a large number of people have been able, not as of right, but effectively, to get out of jury service, because of custom. That may well cover members of the royal household.

I am sure that there are all kinds of other categories of people who would similarly have benefited, perhaps because they would not want a public profile or to be involved in something that was perceived as in any way contentious. Those matters will still have to be taken into consideration. It is not fair to a defendant or to other jurors to have a situation in which the presence of an individual on the jury becomes the dominant feature rather than the fact that 12 men and women are considering a particular verdict. That was rightly picked up on. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister to what extent the manuals that deal with those who can claim exemption—not those who can claim exemption as of right, but those who can normally go to Crown court to seek exemption—may be altered in future. I always understood that, as a result of schedule 22 of the statute that we are passing, that very thing would happen. The matter will require some public discussion and public comment. I hope that the Solicitor-General will be able to enlighten us; I should be pleased to hear from her on that point.

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I understand what the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown is getting at, but what he seeks to do to paragraph 2 to schedule 22 is not right at all. According to the schedule, members of the Royal Household will already be eligible for jury service. For that matter, members of the royal family will be eligible. The Queen is not eligible because she cannot sit as a judge or juror in her own court. That is the end of that; we can forget about it. I hope that, on that note, we might hear from the Minister about the sort of revision that will be carried out—if one is carried out at all—of the discretionary criteria, once schedule 22 is up and running. That is an interesting subject.

Vera Baird (Redcar): Paragraph 3.24 of the Crown court manual says:

    ''If a member of the royal household is summoned for jury service and a responsible member of the royal household says that it would be 'inconvenient to her majesty' if he serve, he shall be excused.''

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) said, it is a privilege to speak to the amendment, but one is speaking about privilege, and one is speaking against privilege.

There is less need for an amendment to the Bill and greater need to ensure that the matter is aired so that any guidance on the schedule will allow for a change. If one considers for a minute the import of that, I dare say that there are several hundred members of the Royal Household—

Simon Hughes: It is even more, I should think.

Vera Baird: Well, I have no idea. There are lots and lots of members of the royal family, apart from lots and lots of members of Royal Household. There are dressers, butlers, maids and footpersons—

Simon Hughes: Footmen.

Vera Baird: Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is much closer to the seat of power than I am. I do not even know what they are called, and they seem to dress peculiarly. That is fine. However, we cannot have, in a democratic age, a sort of renaissance court, or a Louis XIV court, that is full of courtiers. It is a little reserve with barbed wire around it—a Bantustan of privilege from which people cannot be brought out to do their democratic duty. They cannot be empowered to fulfil their rights as citizens. The reason why they cannot be brought out is because of royal decree or a suggestion that it is inconvenient. That is outrageous privilege in a democratic age, and it is an anachronism that that privilege has endured. It is only one of many examples of how the royal family remain privileged.

Mr. Grieve: I was about to make the point to the hon. and learned Lady that if one looks in the rules, which she has done, there are a range of matters set out there that deal with more than the Royal Household.

Vera Baird: Of course, this amendment focuses on the Royal Household and on the issue of privilege.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I am very concerned that the hon. and learned Lady is not being sufficiently assiduous to her duties as a Queen's

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Counsel. She should have pointed out to the royal person that the rules are invidious.

Vera Baird: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I did my level best to be called people's counsel. When I wrote letters of gratitude to people—mostly judges—who had written to congratulate me, I crossed QC off and wrote ''people's counsel'', just to make them understand what they were congratulating me on. However, what's in a name?

I return to something slightly more serious, but for about half a minute only. Recently, the intrusions of the royal family into the workings of the criminal justice system have been appalling, and are leftovers of privilege. The normal way to give evidence as to the state of mind of someone who is charged with dishonesty is to give the evidence to the police when being interviewed about the matter, or, if one becomes aware that one has that information, to pass it on. It is not normal to remember later and have the information passed on through a conversation with the Attorney-General to someone at the central criminal court, who for some reason drops the charge. Nor, in the second case, is it acceptable that a range of people—not only the royal family, but headed up by them—who allow their staff to sell on gifts such as jewelled ships from emirs—

The Chairman: Order. I remind the hon. and learned Lady that we must keep to the amendment. ''Erskine May'' lays down clearly what references we may make to the royal family. The amendment is quite narrow.

Vera Baird: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Pike, and the rest of the Committee will be grateful that I have been prevented from going on for two hours about other appalling exhibitions of privilege that the royal family have perpetrated recently. I dare say that I have made my point. It is not just in the way I described that the royal family continue to exercise privilege, but that is the matter with which we are heavily concerned. It is not right that in a democratic society people should be prohibited, arguably against their will on occasion, from embarking on the performance of their duty. It is not right that if such people do not want to do such things, they should be protected from that for no other reason than that it pleases an arbitrary monarch to say that that will be so. That is an anachronism. Whatever the fate of the amendment, I hope that the Minister can assure the Committee that any future guidance will exclude the privilege for the Queen to deny members of the Royal Household the privilege of being jurors.

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Pike. I am standing in for the Under-Secretary, who is at a Prison Service conference. I hope that I shall not trespass too much on clause stand part, but the Government's attitude to the amendments depends on an overarching view of what we are trying to achieve with the schedule. The amendment is inclusionary: it tries to bring people into the responsibility and the privilege of doing jury service. A number of the subsequent amendments seek

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to take people out of jury service. The principles that apply are the same.

In 1965 the Morris committee looked at who should serve on juries, and made the then radical point that the range should not be narrowed and restricted to householders—that is, that one should not have to have a property qualification to serve on a jury. The committee made that bold move, but the rest of what it said was all about excluding people. Who was too influential to be on a jury? Who was not good enough to be on a jury? It was almost as though people were being held at bay to protect the jury from them. In the intervening years two things have happened. First, our attitudes have changed, and secondly, we have drifted into a situation whereby of all those summonsed to a jury—many are not eligible—some 60 per cent. do not serve. We want everyone to go on a jury, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown said, they should do so unless they are too old, too young, too mentally infirm or too criminal.

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Prepared 13 February 2003