Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): Adhering to jury trials is an extremely lofty principle for the Minister, but does he agree that the vast majority of City fraud is perpetrated by the very rich robbing the filthy rich, then pursuing justice at the taxpayer's expense? Does he share my experience of many council estates where robberies, I am afraid, are commonplace? When people lose their tellies and their cars the police come along and give them a crime number, which they are supposed to take to their insurance company. Most of my constituents on those estates, however, do not even have an insurance company. I suggest to the Minister that the way to get rid of these cases is to give people a crime number and let them get on with it.
The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend has identified a problem, as all too often blue collar crime is prosecuted because it is straightforward. The full criminality of white collar crime, however, may not be exposed because of its sheer complexity and the use of complex financial instruments. Split trials and a particular charging technique may be required, with the result that the whole issue is not properly exposed. It is a matter of justice, and of ensuring that white collar crime is dealt with as well as blue collar crime.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The Solicitor-General was careful in an earlier answer to say that the proposal does not have anything to do with conviction rates. Why, then, did he begin his statement with the words:
He says that the Government are in favour of trial by jury in the vast majority of cases, where it will remain appropriate. Should that not be in all present cases where it remains appropriate? Some of us believe that this is the opening shot in a great assault on the time-honoured principle of trial by jury.
The House has already agreed that in cases where jury nobbling is an issue it may be appropriate that juries do not continue to be used. That was dealt with in the 2003 legislation, so the issue has already been looked at by the House. As for my suggesting that it is not about conviction rates, I said that it is about the complexity of the cases. I am concerned that the full complexity of cases is not always
21 Jun 2005 : Column 664
exposed to the eyes of the public because of the need, as the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said, to limit the number of counts in a case. To ensure complete examination of all the issues, we must ensure that the full raft of criminality and its complexity is subject to a single trial so that justice can be done. The criminality must be considered in all its complexity, and should not be simplified with split trials so that it can be more easily managed by juries.
Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): I thank my hon. and learned Friend for the statement today and the promise of a debate in the near future. I shall not speak on behalf of lawyers. I am not one, and there are enough Members present with that interest in mind. With regard to juries and the people whom I represent, does my hon. and learned Friend understand thatand when we have the debate, will he take cognisance of the effect that it would have on a small companyif one person were taken out of the company for 12 months, or if the person ran the company himself, that would have a bad effect over those 12 months? Would all jurors have the right to decline jury service if it would have an effect on their living? If they did that, would not juries then be self-selecting, and would not that undermine the very essence of a jury trial?
The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend identifies a key problem with some serious and complex fraud trials. If they are likely to last six months or a year, many people will suffer enormous economic and personal injury if they have to serve on a jury throughout that period. Most juries are in panel for a two-week period. In serious fraud trials the period can be much, much longer and the economic damage that that can cause to companies and individuals is serious.
It is important that we ensure that these cases are dealt with in a way that leads to proper justice being done. I am satisfied that the proposals that will be put forward by the Government will ensure that. There are safeguards and limits to undue use of the power. It will be for the judges and the Lord Chief Justice to look at each individual case and to be satisfied that it is necessary to try it without a jury.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con):
I do not know what it is about the Government and jury trialsthey seem to get so angry about the idea that ordinary people can make a decision about the future of somebody defending a case. Will the Minister deal with the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) about the problems of case management? The Minister implied in his response that it was a quantity issue, rather than a quality issue. He said that if we got rid of juries, prosecutors would no longer under-charge. Presumably he means they will over-chargethey will put more and more into the indictment, making the case even more complex and leading to a longer trial with less likelihood of prosecution leading to a fruitful result. Why, when the Minister has a problem with complexity, does he focus on the jury, not on those who brought the case in the first place?
21 Jun 2005 : Column 665
The Solicitor-General: The right hon. Gentleman's hyperbole about jury trials ignores the fact that out of 40,000, we are dealing with up to about 20 a year. It is utter hyperbole to suggest that this is a general attack on juries. In many serious fraud cases, case management will be of assistance. We warmly welcome the proposals by the Lord Chief Justice on 22 March this year to help with that process, but in a small number of cases it is necessary to look at the quality of the trial and the issue of
The Solicitor-General: I hear the right hon. Gentleman shouting from a sedentary position. Perhaps he could keep himself under control. We are not moving towards a position of over-charging. We are recognising the serious criminality that some white collar crimes expose. Up to now we have not been entirely successful in ensuring that the full complexity is recognised and dealt with by courts. There will be no over-charging. There will be proper charging. The right hon. Gentleman ought to be in favour of that and in favour of catching the criminals.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): This is a very bad day for the liberties of the subject and for the reputation of British justice. I fear that the fact that the Minister has already sought to defend his proposal on the grounds that some inroads have already been made into the right to jury trial in the context of jury nobbling means that it is true that the proposal is part of a teleological, deliberate and conscious decision steadily to erode the right to jury trial. The Government have condemned themselves by trying to force through the proposals before Parliament has seen the results of the inquiry into the Jubilee line fiasco, which might well show that the judge failed to manage the case in a timely and businesslike fashion, or that the prosecuting counsel failed to master the brief and present it sufficiently succinctly. We are being asked to take a view before the evidence is available, which is scandalous in itself. Is the Minister not aware that the Americans
Mr. Speaker: Order. I am going to stop the hon. Gentleman, who has not asked a question. [Interruption.] Maybe he is getting round to itI will call him the next time the Solicitor-General makes a statement.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Will the Solicitor-General re-examine the clear undertaking given by the previous Home Secretary to me in the debate on 20 November 2003, when he said that a way could be found by agreement to bring back powers in principal legislation after serious discussion across the parties? Will he say that it is unacceptable to take these powers by affirmative resolution? One seminar for a couple of hours in the House of Lords does not count as consultation across the parties in Parliament. The situation is unacceptable, and I formally ask the Solicitor-General to look again.
I will not "look again" in the sense suggested by the hon. Gentleman. Opposition spokespersons were invited to attend that particular
21 Jun 2005 : Column 666
seminar to discuss their proposals, and my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary said that we would examine the issues, which we have done. The affirmative procedure is not unacceptable, because, following discussions, the House decided that the matter would be brought forward by the affirmative resolutions of both Houses. The matter will be properly debated in the House in the way understood at the timeI, too, have read the hon. Gentleman's speech in Hansard, and we disagree on its interpretation. We have delivered on the then Home Secretary's proposalI am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied, but we have done it. The reality of the situation is that we are hearing a lot of hyperbole about 0.05 per cent. of jury trials.