Criminal Justice Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Heath: That is what I said.

Vera Baird: Yes—the deferring power is fine, so we do not need to exclude Members of Parliament.

I am slightly worried, however, about Members of Parliament sitting on juries in their constituencies or somewhere geographically contiguous. If that happened during the trial of an elector, and people knew that one was the local MP, it would be difficult. Again, however, it is a matter for guidance.

Most MPs have a home in London, and I hope that they have one in their constituencies, too. However, they do not necessarily register to vote in their constituencies—that might depend on where their votes would be more valuable. There would be nothing to prevent me from being called to do jury service in my area of London, unless some sort of fame was a bar. It is not that I am particularly famous in London, but some people are.

Clearly, it would be quite wrong to exclude MPs totally, and it would be very practical for them to serve on juries in areas away from their constituencies. I hope that the guidance will allow judges carefully to consider the pressure of parliamentary duties and the dangers of a conflict of interest where MPs are called to do jury service in their constituencies or nearby.

The right policy under both the headings that I have mentioned, therefore, is inclusion, with careful guidance on how to deal with the particular situations that might arise with such categories of person.

As for barristers, judges and people involved in the criminal justice system, there are an awful lot of part-

Column Number: 1055

time and full-time people who have nothing to do with the criminal law. They might be chairs of lands tribunals or planning inquiries, or involved in planning tribunals and civil cases. In contrast to criminal practitioners, they are unlikely to have particular influence on a jury, to be tainted by a greater knowledge of procedure or to know the real story behind what is going on in court. Again, it is not right to exclude the whole category absolutely, although guidance on members of the criminal judiciary who are called to do jury service in a criminal court should be very particular and helpful, because that is a difficult issue. If jurors knew the identity of such people, they would be certain to look for extra tips about what was really going on behind the scenes.

Those who did not understand the procedure very well—why should they?—might, for example, run away with the idea that a particular step had been taken because the defendant had previous convictions, although they had not been brought out. A criminal judge would know that that was not the case and that that step had been taken for a completely different reason. One would not know whether to intervene to stop that illusion, but at the same time to give away special knowledge that would be bound to result in the jury's asking for more special knowledge about what was really going on. The guidance should be very careful.

Simon Hughes: I am trying to follow the hon. and learned Lady to her conclusion. Is she content that members of the judiciary should serve on juries but with careful guidance, or does she not regard as a stronger point the constitutional division between the judiciary and the rest? That strikes me as a boundary that we should not cross—if people are there to judge, they should not also be the jurors.

3.45 pm

Vera Baird: I intended to say that it was my position that judges should be included precisely because there are many kinds of judge, many species who would not, by virtue of their appointment, be in the slightest bit compromised from doing the job of a juror; but that guidance given to the court on how to deal with criminal judiciary should be very carefully phrased. I would suggest that, on most occasions, there should be a presumption that criminal judiciary would not sit. However, there could be situations in which there was no difficulty. For instance, there are specialist fraud judges, who would not have been involved with other types of crime, so could safely sit, and if asked about their special knowledge by other jurors, which is my fear, say that they do not have any because they deal in a different kind of crime. There could, therefore, be exceptions. The Government's principle of inclusion is right, but the guidance must be carefully framed.

Mr. Grieve: This is an interesting debate on an important topic. Going back to the point that was made on the earlier amendment about the Royal Household, the Committee agrees that it is desirable to include as many people as possible to serve on juries. The intervention of the hon. and learned Lady

Column Number: 1056

highlighted the fact that within the guidelines, when they come to be drawn up by the Lord Chancellor, there will be certain categories of individual who are most unlikely ever to be called up for jury service. If that is the case, are we ducking the issue by not specifying that they should be excluded? To what extent are we hoodwinking the public into believing that this is a major, significant change, which will ensure that a wide range of people who have hitherto never appeared on juries will suddenly appear although, in fact, they will never appear in future?

I hoped that the amendment might prompt some debate, and it certainly has. It is not a question of the convenience of Members of Parliament. There is an issue about an hon. Member sitting on a jury in or close to his constituency; I can see serious obstacles in that, but—as the hon. and learned Lady said—he could sit somewhere else.

If I were to be summoned for jury service on a London jury, it would pose me no problem. It would doubtless cause no problem for my fellow jurors, who would be wholly ignorant of where I represent, or even, as we know from experience, that I am a Member of Parliament. A tiny percentage of hon. Members have a sufficiently high public profile to be known outside their constituencies. Even within them, a large number of our constituents do not know who we are, although they might look at us in the street and think vaguely that they have seen our photograph somewhere. It is not much of a problem.

On the other hand, it would pose a significant problem if there were to be a conflict between hon. Members performing their duties in the House and their being required to attend for jury service. If an hon. Member were to be called up for jury service during a period when Parliament was sitting—say I had been called up in the last two months when I have been one of the Opposition spokesmen on the Criminal Justice Bill—it would create a serious problem, and one that could be resolved only by exempting me from jury service, because service here would take priority. Such things will happen all the time, and we are right to be aware of that. It might be possible to do two weeks' jury service during parliamentary recess, but what would happen if Parliament were suddenly recalled?

The reason so many people escaped jury service in the past was that they had good excuses for not serving on juries. Many others have cottoned on to the numerous excuses for getting oneself off jury service and by exploiting them have succeeded in keeping themselves off juries when their real reasons would not have exempted them. That will continue. We have a duty to consider whether some exceptions should be specified in the Bill.

I do have some anxieties about judicial appointees serving on juries, because of the nature of their work and their profile. There is a danger that the presence of people with a very high public profile would hamper a jury's proceedings. That, too, will have to be considered.

I fully accept that some ministers of religion would have no difficulty serving on juries and ruling on

Column Number: 1057

temporal matters. I remember that the chaplain at my school had no difficulty in making temporal judgments on the pupils while ministering to us spiritually. On the other hand, monks or nuns in enclosed orders might have important and legitimate objections to serving on a jury. We must be careful, as some of the comments worried me. In 1915 and 1916, the determining factor of whether one was considered a participating male citizen was one's willingness to be conscripted. Those who were unwilling were treated as a lower form of animal life, appearing before a conscientious objectors board where they were given a very unpleasant time.

We should be careful not to replicate that by saying, ''The test of citizenship in the 21st century is your absolute obligation to serve on a jury; if you refuse to serve, we will make life very unpleasant and difficult for you.'' There will always be people who will have legitimate objections to serving on juries, and such objections should be respected in a pluralist and diverse society. I look forward to the Minister's response.

The Solicitor-General: The debate has raised some extremely interesting issues. All the points made by hon. Members about the difficulties that various categories of people might have in serving on a jury are good ones. However, they could name any category of person and I would find equally good reasons for exempting that person from jury service. If all those categories were exempted, juries would not be a cross-section of society, and that is what they should be. The arguments for groups to be exempted were made cogently, but if they were accepted, juries would cease to represent a cross-section of society.

The reform attempts to do away with all those good arguments and say, ''Everybody is on it—there are no excluded categories.'' There may be times when it would be quite wrong for a particular clergyman to serve in a particular case. In another case, a clergyman may be very eager to serve, so let us not have blanket exclusions and blanket exemptions. Let us look at the situation case by case, but let us presume that everybody is included.

I thought that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield was a bit cynical when he said, ''Instead of having categories, everybody will be included, but nothing will actually change.''

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 13 February 2003