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8 Dec 2003 : Column 354W—continued


Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs what steps his Department is taking to ensure the impartiality of juries. [142085]

Mr. Leslie: Juries play a vital role in the criminal justice system. The Government are committed to ensuring that jurors are impartial; that the risk of jury tampering is minimised; and that jury panels are representative of their community.

There are a variety of safeguards in place to ensure that juries try cases fairly, impartially and in accordance with the evidence presented at trial (and only in accordance with that evidence). For example, jurors are randomly selected; they are told (in jury leaflets and videos shown on arrival at court) that they must disclose any connection with the people involved in the trial and tell court officials if anyone tries to influence them in their decision. This last point is being reinforced by the introduction of posters in all Crown Courts advising jurors they are to report any attempts made on them to influence their decisions.

Jurors are also required to swear an oath, the message of which is reinforced by directions from the trial judge at the end of the trial. It is also common practice for the judge, at the outset of the trial, to inform jurors that they can at any time, including during deliberations, raise questions or concerns with him or her.

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 contains measures which will provide for a trial to be conducted without a jury where there is evidence of a real and present danger of jury tampering, or continued without a jury where the jury has been discharged because of jury tampering.