Criminal Justice Bill

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Mr. Malins: That is a very fair question and I think that the answer is yes, I would. My first and third arguments apply to ministers of other religions, while my second, the confessional point, applies particularly to clergy of the Catholic Church and the Church of England. The point about other denominations and faiths may accord well with my first argument, about the need for the clergy, so to speak, to be above the fray.

Mr. Heath: I wonder how the Bill would affect monks or nuns in a closed order, who would not be defined as ministers of religion, in that they are not ordained.

Mr. Malins: That is an interesting point. My snap reaction would be that a nun or monk would not be in the same category. I hope that I am right in saying that one can be a monk or nun without being ordained into the Church. However, I understand the point and it may be a proper one to consider.

My third and final reason for wanting to exempt ministers of religion—this is crucial—is that there can be no other job, vocation or occupation in life more

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important to the people of the parish in question than the position of the vicar, who needs to be on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to give comfort to the sick and spiritual guidance to those who need it. Let no one tell me that it is proper to summon a vicar to go on a jury trial that may take months and thus to render the parish in question unable to turn at immediate notice to the person who has the duty to give religious succour, comfort and help to those who may need it instantly.

Stephen Hesford: I do not accept any of the points that the hon. Gentleman has made, but, on a point of information, has he received any representation from any faith organisation in support of what he says?

Mr. Malins: None whatsoever, but I have had representations from clergy whom I know and with whom I have discussed the matter. The fact that I have not received representations from a faith organisation may well mean that faith organisations do not get to read amendments because they are often printed only 24 hours before we deal with them. As for the hon. Gentleman not accepting any of my arguments—well, surprise, surprise. I do not suppose that he has taken any of them on board. He has made up his mind beforehand.

Dr. Turner: The hon. Gentleman has passionately made the point about how essential a minister of religion is to his parish. However, others might make the point that doctors would be equally bound to do jury service, but a doctor would, if called upon, turn to another doctor to deal with his patients. Cannot the church make the same arrangement?

Mr. Malins: The point that the hon. Gentleman makes would be a good one but for the unique relationship that may exist between an ordained person and a member of his or her flock, which is perhaps not quite the same as that between a doctor and a patient. Otherwise the hon. Gentleman's point would have some merit.

Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is on weaker ground there.

Mr. Malins: The hon. Gentleman says that I am on weaker ground. I do not think that I am. There is something special—I have not put it properly into words—about an ordained person.

Simon Hughes: I agree. However, there is some merit in the comparison with the GP in the sense that a parish can have a locum when a priest is on maternity leave or on sabbatical. The issue is not dissimilar, although I accept the burden of the argument and the premise of the amendment.

Mr. Malins: I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that my strongest point was the second one, about the special relationship that exists in the confessional.

Vera Baird: If I have understood the hon. Gentleman properly, he is concerned about the sacred relationship between a confessor and the person who receives the confession. Clearly, a clergyman who had heard the confession of a defendant whom he was called to jury service to try

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would withdraw from jury service and explain why. It would never occur as a problem in practical life.

Mr. Malins: I dare say that that would happen in practice. However, the hon. and learned Lady must take on board my allied point that the person who makes the confession makes it in the absolute certainty that it can never be revealed and that the person who is revealing it can never sit in judgment upon him. I am focusing on the motivation of the person making the confession, who is thereby absolved.

The other two points are about full-time or part-time judicial appointments and Members of the Houses of Parliament. The point was made strongly by the Bar Council in its briefing to us that those who are involved in the judicial system as judges or ex-judges might have too great an influence and know too much about the system to sit upon juries, and I wonder about the practicalities of Members of Parliament being called away for trials of up to 12 months in relation to complex fraud matters. I suppose that the Minister will say—it is the catch-all position—that there will be a manual of guidance and the position will not change in practice. The Lord Chancellor will issue guidance, which will mean that in 100 cases out of 100 a Member of Parliament will be excused jury service. Does the Minister think that that is likely? The alternative is a potential long absence. If I feel strongly about any of these arguments, it is about the one concerning the minister of religion.

Simon Hughes: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about the minister of religion. There is an argument for exemption, but the better course would be to start from the presumption advocated by the hon. and learned Member for Redcar: that people could seek to be exempted. There is a difficulty, however, in that it is not just the person in the dock who might be a parishioner. Witnesses or others involved in giving evidence could be parishioners, or the minister might try someone who later became a parishioner. It is a sensitive issue.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood): The issue has been addressed by magistrates courts for many years. When I sat as a magistrate and I was a local county councillor, I was always aware that an individual coming in front of me might be one of those whom I was representing in my county division. If that was the case, and if I knew the individual, I withdrew so that there could be no challenge to the decision made by the court. Surely the same principle can apply here. Neither prosecution nor defence would want proceedings to be challenged because an individual was known to a juror.

Simon Hughes: I understand. That is why, of the three, that argument is the most finely balanced. There are ways in which people can exempt themselves. It is not just a matter of whether the juror, who might be a priest, a minister or a pastor, has had previous dealings with the person in the dock. We should think it through further in the round. Others might be or have been involved.

Mr. Cameron: I thought that the intervention of the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), about being both a county councillor

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and a magistrate, was interesting. Does the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey agree that it is different for Members of Parliament, in that although the person being tried may not previously have made representations to his MP, he may do so subsequently? That is a reason to treat the judiciary and legislature separately, and a reason for Members of Parliament not to sit as jurors.

Simon Hughes: Let me take the Member of Parliament point next. There are three options. The first is that Members of Parliament should be entirely excluded. Secondly, Members of the House of Commons, who are elected, should be excluded for the reason given by the hon. Gentleman; our job is to represent people at all stages, and we will not be seen to be doing that independently if we have previously sat in judgment on someone—and we would never know when that might happen. The third is that MPs should be exempted at least when Parliament is sitting—

Mrs. Humble rose—

Simon Hughes: I will give way in a moment. Those who participate in our election, or at least have the chance to do so, then pay for us out of their money to do a job on their behalf. They would certainly not expect us to disappear for three months to be a juror while the House was considering controversial business that might concern them. They might accept that during the recesses, but I would be nervous about doing so.

I shall deal with one more point before giving way to the hon. Lady. I have never served on a jury; I have not give much thought to the reason why, although I guess that I was ineligible either as a member of the Bar or as a Member of Parliament. However, I remember giving evidence for the prosecution in a trial in which the defendants were constituents of mine. Although I had no problem about being able to represent them fairly on any other occasion, they might not have thought that about me. There I was, in the Old Bailey, seeking to have them convicted for a serious crime, and I could hear them thinking, ''Hang on, this guy is never going to be on our side whatever we do.'' I went out of my way to make it clear that that was not how my mind was working, but it poses difficulties.

Mrs. Humble: I just want to follow up on the point that the hon. Gentleman made about Members of Parliament representing people at different stages. I no longer sit as a magistrate, but I could; I am not excluded from so doing. However, if I sat as a magistrate, I know that a constituent could come to me after I had made a judicial decision against him. I think that the hon. Gentleman needs to think carefully about whether to restrict Members of Parliament, because MPs may have been involved in the judicial process wearing other hats.

Simon Hughes: I understand that, but slightly different issues arise. First, magistrates undertake it as an add-on job, which they do not have to do if they become MPs. As the hon. Lady knows, some stay as justices of the peace and some stand down. I am not

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aware of anyone becoming a justice of the peace while a Member of Parliament.

 
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Prepared 13 February 2003