Criminal Justice Bill

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Mrs. Humble: I am still a justice of the peace. I am not an active magistrate. There is a difference between the two.

Simon Hughes: I absolutely understand. However, I think that the practice is that if someone has been elected to Parliament they are not subsequently appointed as a justice of the peace because it is regarded as a potentially conflicting role. Most Members who were justices of the peace prior to their election, as was the hon. Lady, do not then serve—or do not serve in their constituency.

Mr. Malins: May I confirm my view of the position to the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood via the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey? Someone in a judicial office—a magistrate or a district judge—should never, never sit in the area that they represent when wearing their political hat, although they can sit elsewhere. Anyone who sits in their own area is potentially making a grievous mistake.

Simon Hughes: I share that view. That leads me to the third category, the second in the list, which is those who have a part-time or full-time judicial appointment. There might be an argument that applies to Members of Parliament, which is that if they sat on a jury in their own constituency, they might be regarded as too influential. For instance, if the Solicitor-General were summoned to sit on a jury at Southwark Crown court, it would cause her and the community some difficulty. It would cause unfair—[Interruption.] There was speculation earlier that if Members of Parliament appeared, they would generally not be in the jury box. In fact, that was first said about people working at No. 10 Downing street, rather than Members of Parliament, although I pass that by.

However, there is a serious issue about disproportionate influence, which leads me to the issue of part-time or full-time judicial appointees. It would be a bad move to allow judges, who in my book would include district judges and sitting magistrates, to sit as jurors, for all sorts of obvious reasons, and I would apply the same principle to police officers. Even if such people tried to hide the fact that they had judicial or legal training, they would not be able to prevent themselves from revealing their authority, and the reality is that many people would be influenced. In many cases they would assert themselves through their knowledge of the job and perhaps say, ''Trust me, I've sat in court and I know what a guilty person looks like.'' That would thoroughly complicate matters and make the defendant feel that they were not getting a fair trial.

I subscribe entirely to the Government's view about starting from an inclusive principle and only then taking people out if there is a good case. There is a very good case for taking out part-time and full-time judicial appointees, there is a pretty good case for taking out elected Members of Parliament during term

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time, and there is a case for taking out ministers of religion, although it is a complicated case and I think that it is the weakest of the three.

3.30 pm

Dr. Turner: The problem is that by the time one finishes one's list of people to take out, one has practically negated the purpose of having an all-inclusive privilege and duty to serve on juries.

Simon Hughes: I think that it was Bardolph in ''Henry V'' who said that the first thing they would do when they came to power would be to kill all the lawyers. There might be too many lawyers. However, although I have not made a recent tally, lawyers are still a small minority in the population as a whole. If one took out all Members of the Houses of Parliament, including from the unreformed—or partially reformed—House of Lords, all the part-time or full-time judicial appointees in England and in Wales, and even all ministers of religion, one would still be taking out only few people.

The hon. and learned Member for Redcar made the point that at the moment all sorts of people are taken out because they write in and say, ''I'm sorry, I'm too busy.'' The Solicitor-General made that point well. We must stop people saying that they are too important or too busy, or that they cannot be spared. The presumption should be that everyone serves. I do not argue for special treatment for us. Personally, I would like to sit on a jury. I would find it interesting and revealing, but would hope that I would not be on a two-year fraud trial and be stuck in Southwark Crown court for that long, although I appreciate that other people might feel differently. However, there are some categories that we should seriously consider for exemption, even though the presumption should be the other way. If people thought that Members of Parliament generally should serve, not least for the experience, that would be reasonable if it could be arranged for cases during the recess or parliamentary holidays that finished in time.

Mr. Heath: I want to add a few words to what my hon. Friend said, especially on the empanelment of Members of Parliament, because I agree with him entirely. I do not think that as a matter of principle Members of Parliament should be excused from jury service. We should be included in that pool rather than excluded from it. There is an issue about the separation of the legislature from the judiciary. I do not like mixing them up too much, although it is not an impenetrable barrier.

There are issues about representation. I certainly take the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Redcar that, if one is empanelled on a jury where a conflict of interest is likely to arise, either in relation to the defendant or to witnesses involved in the case, it would be entirely proper to ask to be excused. I have a serious problem with the conflicting civic duties to which Members of Parliament would be exposed if they were required to attend for jury service when the House was sitting. We have a special responsibility to our constituents, who are entitled to be represented in Parliament when matters are being debated and voted on.

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Mr. Grieve: That is a very good point. If an MP had to do jury service when there was a minority Government, which there could well be, that MP would not be present to vote in the House as required, which might have serious consequences. There is a straightforward and major conflict. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the amendment calls into question whether it should be possible for MPs to be summoned for jury service while the House is sitting.

Mr. Heath: Setting aside party arithmetic, I think that it would be a problem at any time. My first duty as a Member of Parliament is to the people in Somerset and Frome who elected me. If there is a matter on which their views should be represented, by either my voice or my vote, then the House is where I should be, irrespective of any other duty that I may perceive or others may thrust on me. That applies to all hon. Members. MPs are different from the other categories, because it is not possible to have a locum MP. Another person cannot take on the job of representing a constituency. We have single-Member constituencies in this country, so it is not possible to deputise for another Member.

My hon. Friend is right. We probably do not need Members of Parliament to be excluded from being empanelled as jurors, but some provision should be made, and it would be underhand to do that in regulations or guidance. I prefer the more explicit method suggested in the Bill for serving members of the armed forces. It should be possible for Mr. Speaker to certify that the House is sitting and to ask for a deferment of empanelment as a juror. That would be a perfectly proper mechanism to ensure that Members of Parliament were not put in the position of having two important civic duties to perform at the same time. We know all about having several duties to perform at the same time since the new working arrangements for the House were introduced, but this is a more serious conflict of interest, in terms of use of our time. My argument should not be regarded as special pleading, but if it is, it should be regarded as special pleading not on behalf of MPs but on behalf of the constituents whom we represent.

Vera Baird: I have two short points to add. On clergy, I do not agree with the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) about the situation that most worried him. Clearly, the defendant would have the right to challenge the clergyman's appointment to the jury because of his special position. If the hon. Gentleman is worried about the implied disclosure of the content of a confession requiring the clergyman to withdraw, that situation could be handled so as to indicate that a duty of confidentiality applied because the juror in question was a clergyman. It need not imply that the defendant had confessed, so I cannot see that it would be a problem in practice, although I understand the worry.

I also oppose the amendment because the boundary between who is a minister of religion and who is not is not as clear as the amendment suggests. I suppose that deacons and deaconesses take much responsibility, and they might be in similar situations of confidence. However, the amendment would not exclude them, which seems slightly arbitrary. Other people, such as

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counsellors, would be in a similar position and have a similar a duty.

Mr. Malins: Divide.

Vera Baird: Whether it is defined or not, I would be very upset—

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Member for Woking said ''Divide''.

Vera Baird: I am so sorry.

The Chairman: Order. Could we have fewer sedentary interventions please?

Vera Baird: Obvious examples of others who deal with issues of confidence and have a duty to keep secrets include psychiatrists, social workers and counsellors. However, they would not be excluded, because they are not ministers of religion. I do not think, therefore, that there is a tidy category of people whom we can easily exclude. Indeed, for the reasons that I have given, I do not think that it is necessary to do so.

As for Members of Parliament, they could ask for their period of jury service to be deferred until the recess. I do not take the same elevated view of our work as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, who thinks that we are important to our electorate 24 hours a day, every day—even in the recess. I sometimes go on holiday in the recess, but I would be no more put out than anyone else should be if I had to sacrifice that.

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Prepared 13 February 2003