Criminal Justice Bill

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Mr. Grieve: But there is a danger of it.

The Solicitor-General: That is the challenge. Time will tell, but the intention is that things will change, this will make a difference, and we shall have a much broader cross-section of people on our juries, which is very important. As somebody who has always regarded herself as a supporter of the jury system, I want to see it strengthened by being more representative. If people consider themselves to be supporters of the jury system, they should want to see more people serving on it.

The figures are quite striking. We shall have, to begin with, 4 million people who, for one reason or another, are ineligible or are excluded as of right. That immediately reduces the chance of there being a cross-section of people on our juries. Moreover, there are people who will give excuses in individual cases.

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Simon Hughes: Is the Solicitor-General saying that, under the present system, a total of 4 million people will be ineligible? Is that the justification for moving to the new system?

The Solicitor-General: At the moment, those who are excused as of right and those who are ineligible total 4 million. However, when jury service starts to become a minority activity, we shall have a culture of jury service being something that one does not do. We are trying to shift the other way. The words ''culture change'', ''radical'' and ''reform'' are overused, but we are trying to effect a shift so that people realise that jury service is something that all people do unless they feel that they cannot sit on a jury for a particular case.

I have a great deal of sympathy with many of the points that have been made; they are very good points, and I do not detract from them. I can see the intellectual point of the argument but, philosophically, we have a different starting point. I hope that we shall prove the hon. Member for Beaconsfield wrong and find that our starting point has made a real difference. The jury service system will be bolstered by ensuring that people from all walks of life are represented, which is not the case at present. That is my overview of my reasons for asking the Committee to resist the amendment.

I shall now deal with the points that the hon. Member for Woking made about individual categories. Some of my arguments against them are better than others. Even if they are not very good, I shall return to my baseline position.

First, I inform the Committee that the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility indicated that the Church's main committee, which represents Christian denominations, is no longer pressing for the clergy to be classified as ineligible. I accept that that does not entirely deal with the hon. Gentleman's point.

It is interesting that in the Morris report there is a long discussion about the clergy, nuns and monks. The report said that it might be a bad idea for clergy to sit on juries because they would be too forgiving, too compassionate and too likely to let people off. The report also said that the police would be too hard and too likely to convict people. After reading that section one is left to think that police and clergy on a jury might cancel one another out. I know that the hon. Member for Woking did not argue that the clergy should be excluded because they would be too compassionate, but that was the Morris report's approach. Incidentally, the report said that it would be a good idea to exclude nuns because they would be too innocent and they would have no experience of fights in pubs.

The hon. Gentleman made the point about the confessional. If I were a priest and, even halfway through a case, the penny dropped and I recognised a voice—it had been troubling me and I realised that it belonged to someone who had confessed to me—I could ask to be excused; it would be right for that to happen. The guidance notes to jurors stress that if anyone known to them turns up as a witness at any time, or if something happens that makes them realise

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that they have prior knowledge of the case, they must ask to be excused and they will be excused and the trial will carry on.

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That is the first point: someone who has heard a confession and does not even realise it to begin with, but does so halfway through, should be able to exclude himself. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar mentioned psychiatrists. Of course, other professionals hear things in confidence and they are in a similar position. Without having a spiritual role, other people are in an analogous situation and a way has to be found through that.

The hon. Gentleman's second point about the clergy was that they have to be above the fray. A lot of people, in many walks of life, have to be above the fray. However, that does not mean that they cannot be called on to join with fellow citizens to make a judgment about facts. Being on a jury is an above-the-fray matter. It is a grave responsibility and not incompatible with the serious role of a minister of the Church.

Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman said that no one is more important, 24/7, to his parishioners than a minister of religion, and he must be there to deal with them. Obviously, that relationship is important, but so would be that of an oncologist dealing with a patient who had suddenly hit a crisis in his illness and who had a one-to-one relationship with that medical practitioner. In that situation, one would expect the doctor to ask to defer his jury service, just as the clergyman would if a parishioner whom he had christened and married was terminally ill and he wanted to be there for him. That would be an argument for deferral. Similarly, if there was a court in a small area, and the person really did know everybody who knew everybody who knew everybody else, he could ask to serve in another area.

The arguments that have been made in respect of clergymen are valid. However, we must gird ourselves up to overcome them, and be confident that we can, not throwing the baby out with the bathwater and returning to the status quo. Some clergy will be eager to serve on juries. They will make responsible members and will be happy to do it. It will soon seem so normal that we shall look back on this debate and recognise that it has not been that traumatic, and that there should not be a blanket exemption.

The next point is about full-time and part-time members of the judiciary, all of whom the amendment would seek to exclude. The appropriateness of a blanket exclusion was punctured by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar when she asked about the civil judiciary. The civil judiciary do not have a clue about criminal matters; we could safely let them loose in a jury box. I see her confirming that that is what she meant. They could sit outside their own areas. She had a problem with their speculating about what had happened in the absence of the jury. I would hope that members of the judiciary would know that they were not supposed to do that. I would hope that

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they would have listened to the judge's direction not to speculate on anything that they had not heard anything about, but just to decide the case on the evidence. Probably the best thing that a criminal judge could do if they were in the jury room and there was speculation would be to say, ''Why don't we just do what the judge has said and actually decide the case on the basis of the evidence that has been in front of us?'' The jury would then be in a good position and know not to speculate but to consider the evidence in front of them.

Simon Hughes: Does the Solicitor-General not think that there is still an argument that the rest of the jurors might be excessively influenced by the fact that somebody is a judge, will behave as a judge and will seek to command authority, and that, to the extent to which that is true, the jury will be weighted?

The Solicitor-General: That is a different argument, which is partly to do with whether some people are too influential. Are we as society so deferential that some people are too authoritative to be part of the general throng? Such matters in 1965 exercised those compiling the Morris report. There are some overbearing, arrogant people around who think that they know everything. A bank manager, for example, might think that he knows everything, be overbearing and try to dominate things. There might also be a considerate, modest, thoughtful person sitting on a jury. One cannot stereotype people and say, ''This lot are not to be on a jury for this reason.'' The philosophy behind the provisions is to consider each case individually.

Let me give another example. Suppose that there is a case about a fight outside a football match—for example, at Millwall—and that somebody in the jury room holds a season ticket for Crystal Palace, knows what it is to be at a football match and knows the circumstances of the sort that are the context for the offence in question. The judge sitting on that jury might well never have been to a football match and not know the goings on. There are different areas of expertise. Legal expertise is just one area.

Mr. Heath: But the fact remains that if somebody is sitting on that jury who is an expert in a broad field and the rest of the jurors are not, there is at least a danger that they will defer to his or her experience. If somebody collapsed in the street and some members of the public surrounded that person, only one of whom was regius professor of medicine, the rest being lay people, they would defer to the regius professor over what should be done even if that professor had in fact never done any first aid in his life.

The Solicitor-General: The point that I was trying to get to—but not succeeding—in relation to the football example is that there are many areas of expertise that might be in issue in a particular case, and that the law might not be one of them. The important thing is how one judges facts and evidence. One might, for example, have a case of child homicide in which there is a critical question about expert medical evidence. One of the jurors might well be an academic pathologist and therefore more influential than the other jurors. However, the point is to put everybody into the jury pot, and they should all serve unless there is a specific

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reason for their not doing so in particular cases. We should not shy away from that. We should not lie awake at night worrying about it and then retreat, because the result will be that the jury box is empty and the jury system discredited.

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