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The Solicitor-General: I fear that the hon. Gentleman doth protest a little too much. First, he and his party were represented at the seminar. He talked about the constitutional proprietyas he uncharacteristically and a little pompously put itof the Law Officers bringing the matter forward. The legislation was passed by Parliament and the House will have an opportunity in the autumn to debate the resolutions properly. I am happy to offer any hon. Members who wish to attend a briefing about the implications of all this. [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order. Hon. Members should not interrupt these proceedings. Members of the Liberal Democrats and Her Majesty's official Opposition often ask Ministers to come before the House, so they should not be interrupted in such a way. Has the Solicitor-General finished?
Mr. Speaker: Order. I have just given an instruction. The hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) had better behave himself. He has been like this all dayit must be something he took for his breakfast this morning.
The Government want the vast majority of cases, including the vast majority of fraud cases, to be tried by jury, so that will continue to happen. We are considering only the most complex cases and have put in place a whole series of important safeguards following the debate in Parliament. First, the prosecution will have to make an application to the trial judge. That judge will have to be satisfied under the legislation that the case is so complex and serious that the interests of justice would be satisfied only by a proper trial. The trial judge will examine the circumstances of the case after the initial application and take a view, but onlythis will apply in each and every caseafter consultation with the Lord Chief Justice or such other judge as is designated by him.
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One of Lord Roskill's recommendations was that the most complex fraud cases should be tried without a jury. The Government examined the matter again in 1998, carried out an exercise and reached the same conclusion, as did Sir Robin Auld's review of the criminal courts in 2001, which referred to the
I also note that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) commented during the debate that he, too, was concerned about the nature of complex jury trials. Although he wanted to see a way of keeping juries, he recognised that some change needed to be made to the whole process. Judges will have a power to examine particular cases. It is a power that will be used in only a few cases.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I understand my hon. and learned Friend's frustration at the length of trials, but is it right that a fundamental principle of justice should be removed because of the proceedings at a seminar? Is it right that the process should have proceeded in such a way without even more detailed consultation? My hon. and learned Friend mentioned the Lord Chief Justice's protocol of 22 March; is he telling the House that the Lord Chief Justice has given his consent to these proposals? If he has not done so, what consultation has taken place outside the confines of the seminar with the senior judiciary about this important change? It seems that this is yet another victory for the Home Office over the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Law Officers.
We are not changing things as a result of a seminar. The seminar was as a result of a full debate in Parliament, which resulted in legislation being passed. There is an Act that contains section 43. It was with the agreement of the Government that we would have a resolution of both Houses to bring that legislation into force. There will be a proper debate about these resolutions. It is the case that Parliament has made a decision that the legislation should be on the statute book. It will be Parliament, if it decides to do so, which will implement it in due course.
The Solicitor-General: It is a matter for Parliament to decide what this legislation is. Parliament has passed legislation. I am not sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman is really suggesting that he wants the Lord Chief Justice to engage in a debate on whether Parliament has the right to pass legislation.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that I, too, stood on the Labour party manifesto, when there was nothing at all in that manifesto about doing away with jury trials in any particular or for any category of case. Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that it is not necessary to be a lawyer or a white-collar criminal, or even both, to be concerned about taking away the right to jury trial, even in a fraction of cases? While my hon. and learned Friend's argument about the length of cases may have some merit, his further argument that cases are too complex and that juries are too stupid is a dangerous precedent to state. It is the poorest in our society and black ethnic communities who place most value on the right to trial by jury. Even though it is a handful of cases, a dubious precedent may well be set.
The Solicitor-General: I am not asking the hon. and learned Gentleman to do so. The Lord Chief Justice will make a decision on how he makes it publicly clear that he gives his approval in individual cases.
As for the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), I am not suggestingat no stage would I suggestthat juries are unable to deal with very complex cases. They often deal with complex cases, and will continue to do so. It will be in the case of only very lengthy and extremely complex casesthe most complex cases, a small handful or just more than that; we estimate up to 20 a year, and it probably will be well under that numberwhere there will be some difficulties. The types of problems that arise are not those that my hon. Friend suggests. Sometimes, to enable jury trials to take place and to put the issues properly to the jury, prosecutors have had to split cases and have two trials instead of one. There is also a temptation for prosecutors to undercharge to ensure that the case does not become too complex. To avoid such problems, to ensure that the full criminality of the issue is examined, and to ensure that justice is done we have introduced the proposals.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Many of us who have been involved in long fraud cases believe that it is possible to address the question of length and complexity by even better case management and by ensuring that the counts on the indictment are limited in number, that the evidence is confined to the central issues, and that a general charge of conspiracy is avoided.
In many instances, it will be possible by means of case management to deal with relatively complex cases. On 22 March, new proposals
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were introduced by the Lord Chief Justice to see whether we could use case management techniques to deal with some of these cases. However, the Government believe that the most complex cases need to be dealt with differently and that better case management alone will not suffice. The right hon. and learned Gentleman identified the problem in his question. He said that we should limit the counts on the indictment, which would prevent the full criminality of the issue from being exposed before a jury. The seeds of the problem are evident in his question, as he is asking prosecutors to limit the extent of criminality so that it can be put before a jury. We want the full criminality to be exposed and justice to be properly done.
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