Criminal Justice Bill

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Mr. David Cameron (Witney): I listened carefully to the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), but if the guidance is to be fair to both parts of the Executive, it should deal clearly with not only members of the Royal Household, but staff at No. 10 Downing street. If Alastair Campbell, Jonathan Powell or another of our president's dignitaries is called to do jury service, he should not be able to use his position as an excuse to get out of it.

3 pm

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is going wide of the amendment. I understand why the Solicitor-General has dealt with subsequent issues, but the amendment relates to the royal family and the Royal Household.

The Solicitor-General: The underlying reason for the amendment seems to be the Crown court manual, which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar read out. Currently, some people may say, when summonsed, ''I'm ineligible for jury service.'' Others are statutorily excused as of right. Still others are neither ineligible nor statutorily excused as of right, but the Crown court manual says that they need not serve, and members of the Royal Household may be excused if Her Majesty would be inconvenienced.

I should tell my hon. Friends that their amendment anticipates the whole thrust of the schedule, as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said. When asked to go on a jury, people will not be able to say, ''I'm too important,'' ''I'm too grand,'' or ''My work is too essential''—whether they work in Downing street or anywhere else. Going on a jury is a great civic duty and civic obligation. Participating in the administration of justice in the jury box is very important, so everyone will have to do it.

I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown to consider withdrawing the amendment on the basis of my assurance that the Bill applies to everyone, including members of the Royal Household. The Bill will supersede the Crown court manual. The Lord Chancellor will bring in guidance on how the central jury summoning bureau will operate applications for excusal in individual cases.

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Dr. Turner: My right hon. and learned Friend has been quite clear about the Royal Household. Could she be equally clear about members of the royal family?

The Solicitor-General: The Juries Act 1974 does not purport to bind the Crown, and the Bill does not disturb that arrangement. The direct impact of the provisions on the Queen herself is therefore limited. In any case, she is over 70 and would not be eligible. Other members of the royal family who are on the electoral register will be eligible to be summoned like everyone else in the country.

Simon Hughes: I am no great expert on the issue, but I think that Prince Philip and Prince Charles are not on the electoral register because they are Members of the House of Lords. They are therefore ineligible, and that may be the case for the monarch's children, too. Does the Solicitor-General's objection as regards the Crown, which we understand, apply to other members of the royal family, or would they be eligible?

The Solicitor-General: I cannot add to what I have said about members of the royal family. If they have registered to vote, they can be summonsed like everyone else—that is the inclusionary principle. However, the Bill does not bind the Crown. In any case, the Queen herself is over 70 and would not qualify. I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw the amendment, given my assurance that the Crown court manual will be superseded by this Act. There will be guidance from the Lord Chancellor on how applications for excusal will be considered. The Lord Chancellor will consult widely on the guidance before issuing it, and it will be laid before both Houses. At present, 4 million people are ineligible for jury service, excused as of right or by the Crown court manual. That will all be swept away.

Mr. Malins: On that last point, who would issue guidance to the Lord Chancellor on how he could excuse himself if he were summoned for jury service?

The Solicitor-General: I believe that he would be dealt with according to the guidance, but if I discover that that is the wrong answer, I will inform the hon. Gentleman of the right one. The point about the Royal Household is symbolic but interesting. It shows that the old view that most people would not be caught dead on a jury and would find thousands of good reasons to be considered ineligible or excused, that only a mug would serve on a jury, is changing. We are telling people that we want them to carry out their duties and responsibilities on juries—and that applies to everybody. We no longer hold with the idea that some people are simply too important to do their civic duty. We are modernising jury service, as it has not moved on since 1965. We are taking an inclusive approach: everybody should be eligible for jury service unless they have a very good reason for not sitting on a jury on that particular case.

I hope that, subject to my assurances, my hon. Friend will withdraw the amendment, as it is not necessary.

Dr. Turner: I listened with interest to my right hon. and learned Friend, and her words fully justified the purpose of moving an amendment that has drawn

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attention to the nub of schedule 22. I wish to say to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that members of the royal family are no more likely to sway a jury than a barrister, a judge or anybody else. Indeed, in some cases—I will not mention any names—I suspect that their effect would be rather less. I am not particularly worried about that. As for jurors who breach confidentiality, there are plenty of provisions on the statute book that would bite them and that would charge the organs of the media with contempt if they published. That is not a serious issue.

In response to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar, even those members of the Royal Household who turn up every year dressed as playing cards should have to do jury service.

Mr. Grieve: I must say to the hon. Gentleman that those who dress up as playing cards are not members of the Royal Household at all, so they do not come under the 1965 provisions. I am sure that a herald would be as eligible to serve on a jury as anybody else.

Mr. Allen: To save any further hot water, I should remind the hon. Gentleman that I was a Vice Chamberlain to Her Majesty's Household, and if he wishes me to speak at length on the topic, I shall be glad to do so.

Dr. Turner: My hon. Friend did not dress as a playing card; he only carried a wand.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield is probably right. The serious point has been made, however, and I am grateful to the Solicitor-General for giving us those assurances, in the light of which I am happy to withdraw the amendment. I would just remind her that when we reach the stand part debate, we should remember the important distinction between entitlement to register and being registered. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 737, in

    schedule 22, page 266, line 27, after 'person', insert—

    (ca) he is not a minister of religion;

    (cb) he does not hold a part-time or a full-time judicial appointment;

    (cc) he is not a member of either House of Parliament'.

Welcome to the Chair, Mr. Pike. The amendment would exempt from jury service people in three categories, the first and most important of which is ministers of religion. I hope that the Committee will agree that it is entirely inappropriate for a minister of religion to serve on a jury, for three separate but brief reasons. First, a vicar should be, and is, above the fray—a holy person ordained, above and beyond all matters relating to judgment in the criminal justice system. The separation of functions between the ordained and the non-ordained, the Church and the state, the secular and non-secular, is clearly established throughout the Bible. I do not need to repeat the quotations in support of that because they are well known to everyone present.

Secondly, the presence of a clergyman on a jury might interfere dramatically with the principle of clergy-parishioner privilege. In the context of

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confession, the vicar who hears a confession—this applies in the Catholic Church and in the Church of England—hears it on the basis of absolute confidentiality and does not know by looking from whom the confession comes. Imagine the disaster if, having heard the confession of a sin, a vicar found himself or herself summoned to the jury where the sinner was on trial. That is a very serious point, which is all the more serious because no one makes a confession to a priest other than in the certain knowledge that it cannot be revealed and that it will not be possible for the priest to sit in judgment on them. Take that away and the situation regarding confession will be a sad and sorry one.

Simon Hughes: This is a minor point. My hon. Friend and I have conferred and we believe, from our detailed knowledge of the Church of England, that even the highest of Anglican churches do not have confessional boxes, so the vicar would know who was making the confession, unlike in the Catholic Church, where, at least in theory, he does not.

Mr. Malins: The hon. Gentleman is right. When Church of England vicars hear confessions, there is no confessional box, but it is not uncommon for a Church of England vicar to hear a confession from behind a curtain. It is simply that Church of England churches in this country do not traditionally contain confessional boxes. The prospect of visual anonymity remains invalid. I ask hon. Members to understand something about the need to confess—and I do not want their eyes to glaze over at this point, although I see them doing just that.

Dr. Turner: Would the hon. Gentleman's argument extend to other denominations of Christian Church that do not practice confession, or to other faiths such as Islam or Buddhism? Would he exempt all priestly people?

3.15 pm

 
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