|Criminal Justice Bill
Mr. Grieve: The Solicitor-General agreed that knowledge of the criminal justice system nowadays is quite widespread outside the legal profession. All sorts of people, journalists and others who will be eligible for jury service, will know intimately what is going on in the courtroom setting. There must have been trials where such people were present who could have advised and commented on what was going on if they chose to do so. The right hon. and learned Lady may agree that it will not be such a drastic change to import such individuals onto juries, nor will it necessarily lead to the jury suddenly having revelations to which previously they were not privy.
The Solicitor-General: I agree. Such people are either overbearing and too influential or too knowledgeable, but then, even under the current system, a member of the Home Office criminal policy team might one day be a juror, yet few people could know more about the intricacies of the criminal justice system. I have been to Judicial Studies Board courses where academic lawyers have given the judges lectures on the law, but they are not an excluded category.
Without labouring the point, I reassure the Committee that it will be all right, just as it was in America. Some states decided that everyone should be available to serve on juries, because it would make them more representative and give them more credibility. Judges, too, are included, and the evidence suggests that judges who have served on juries thought that the juries did a wonderful job. I reassure the Committee that there have been no problems.
The next point concerns Members of Parliament. The hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood said that they can sit as magistrates. There are two issues: the first is the possible conflicts of interests and the second is our higher duty of being available to represent our constituents in Parliament. The first point is dealt with by the fact that MPs can currently sit as recorders or magistrates but, as a matter of course, only outside their area.
Mrs. Humble: Just to clarify any confusion that may have arisen earlier, I was a magistrate in an area other than the one that I now represent in Parliament. I was advised by the Lord Chancellor's Department that I could still sit as a magistrate if I wished.
The Solicitor-General: That is a well-made point. As I said, recorders who are Members of Parliament sit in areas other than their constituencies.
The point was made that conflicts of interests could result from the different calls on one's time. If the House was sitting, a Member would say to the central jury summoning board that he was a member of the Committee considering the Criminal Justice Bill—indeed, he would not even have to say that; he would have to say only that the House was sitting and that he had to be available to vote. Hon. Members could also ask that their jury service be deferred to the recess.
Column Number: 1062If Parliament was recalled—it happens increasingly often—but a Member had agreed to do 10 days' jury service, he would simply say that he needed to be excused because Parliament had been recalled. He would return to Parliament, the jury number would drop, and the trial would carry on.
One can shrink away from those contingencies, or one can consider how they will work in practice. We may think that we are incredibly important to our constituents, 24/7, 52 weeks a year, even though when we go on holiday they manage to survive without us. I do not detract from the importance of Members of Parliament, but we should also recognise the importance of jury service; and Members of Parliament, along with everyone else, should be prepared to do it.
As for famous MPs in the jury box in their own constituency, they seem to want to say, ''I'm a celebrity—get me out of the jury box.'' Could David Beckham say, ''I cannot possibly be a juror—I am too famous''? Having asked that question, I realise that I do not have an answer for it, so I will move swiftly on. Unless any hon. Member can tell me that I have not answered their questions, I shall stop, for I have dealt with far too many already.
Mr. Malins: I thank the Solicitor-General for responding so thoroughly to the debate. I began the debate certain that I could not be wrong on any of the points. I am less certain at the end of it. Labour Back Benchers have contributed by interventions and speeches. The hon. Member for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford) intervened, and I apologise unreservedly to him if I seemed abrupt in my response. He asked whether any faith groups had raised the matter with me, and I was a little bit dismissive. I am sorry for that. I heard from the Minister later that some faith groups had said that they had no difficulty with the proposal. I acknowledge his point and apologise to him again.
The hon. and learned Member for Redcar drew an analogy between the clergyman who has heard confessions and others who are in important advisory positions. I do not accept the argument completely, although I accept the general thrust. The hon. Members for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood and for Brighton, Kemptown also made contributions. I have been impressed by what I have heard. I still have an instinct that I am right on many of the points, but perhaps not right enough. I thank the Minister for her response and others for their contributions, and I apologise for stimulating a debate that lasted so long. Every member of the Committee recognises that there is something to be said on both sides of the argument, although perhaps not enough on my side. Which is why I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 924, in
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
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No. 925, in
'(e) he does not fall within subsection (4) below.'.
No. 926, in
'(4) A person falls within this subsection if, in the opinion of the appropriate officer—
(a) that person has a close present or former connection with the administration of justice, and
(b) as a result other jurors might give that person's views undue weight.'.
No. 927, in
'6A After section 9(3) (discretionary excusal) there is inserted—
''(3A) Crown Court rules shall provide for questions arising in relation to the application of section 1(1)(e) to any person to be resolved by the court.'' '.
Mr. Grieve: We have already rehearsed most of the arguments for these amendments. The key one is amendment No. 926. It does not seek a blanket exemption for those connected with the administration of justice; rather it seeks to exempt them if, in the opinion of the appropriate officer, other jurors might give their views undue weight. What would a jury think if the Lord Chief Justice was among them? It would certainly be an unusual and interesting situation. High-profile members of the judiciary who have publicly expressed their opinions on the law or on the acquittal rate for particular crimes or on whether the law should be changed may find themselves called for jury service.
Should there be safeguards on that in the Bill or should we leave it for the guidelines? It is a simple issue. The Solicitor-General may feel that she has already answered it, but I feel that it calls for a brief supplementary answer.
The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman anticipates correctly that I will say that most of the arguments have been dealt with in depth. I reassure him that if the Lord Chief Justice were called for jury service, the other jurors would not recognise him without his wig. I urge that the amendment be resisted for the reasons that I gave in relation to amendment No. 737.
Mr. Grieve: I am fascinated by the Solicitor-General's argument. She has advanced one of the most coherent arguments that I have heard for a long time for the retention of judicial wigs, whereas the Lord Chief Justice is well known for wanting to get rid of them. Perhaps she could pass back to him that argument, which he might care to weigh in the balance. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedule 22 agreed to.
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