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I was disappointed at the manner in which the Solicitor-General advanced his case. Some years ago, I listened with great interest to the late Lord Williams, speaking in the other place on the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Billthe first of two such Bills, I believe. It was a fine speech in support of an argument that he knew he was going to lose. At his fingertips were all the factual and legal arguments required to convince a sceptical House of Lords. He failed, but he did so with good grace and with a flourish. Tonight we have heard arguments that were confusing, confused,
ahistorical and based not on fact, but on the Governments prejudice against the jury system as a whole. Although they try to argue that this is just a narrow piece of legislation, it is but the sharp end of a very big wedge.
The Government have used arguments based on efficiency, based on the need to deal with delay, based on the need to deal with expense and based on the need to make cases explicable to a jury. The Solicitor-General said that his arguments were not about what I characterise, perhaps unfairly to him, as the stupid jury argument. He said that that was not the case, but he then went on to explain how these serious and lengthy fraud cases were incapable of being understood by a jury and how they needed to be removed from juries so that lawyers and a judge could deal with them and produce the convictions that the Government think appropriate. That is in line, of course, with the Prime Ministers argument that the current criminal justice system is outmoded and requires, as the Government constantly tell us, modernisation.
We have it in our power to defeat the Government tonightif not by votes, at least by argument. My hon. Friends have demonstrated that, as have the two Liberal Democrat spokesmen today. I suggest that we not only convert our arguments into votes, but convert our votes into a majority against the Bill. Believe you me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, even if we do not win here tonight, we will not have lost the argument and there is another place that forms an equal part of our parliamentary system, which will check, advise and warn the Government that they are making a mistakenot just some ordinary and easily remediable mistake, but a fundamental and very dangerous one.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General opened the debate, saying that fraud does enormous damage to our national economy and that the Government are determined to modernise our criminal justice system to tackle it. That is indeed our starting point and the outcome of the Bill, if enacted, will be precisely that.
Before going any further, I would like to say on the record that we are talking about a change that will affect 0.02 per cent. of fraud trials, leaving 99.9 per cent. of the 28,000 jury trials held each year unchanged. I say that for the sake of context and perspective.
The Government have no doubt at all that trial by jury is not the best way of dealing with the most serious and complex fraud cases. They are supported in that view by a long line of distinguished authorities, going back to Lord Roskills committee in 1986, the establishment of the Serious Fraud Office and Lord Justice Aulds independent reviewall were attempts to address the difficulties clearly evident over the past few decades, particularly the difficulty of conducting a trial by jury in a small number of fraud and other financial cases.
It is vital that we have a system that is able to deal effectively with all kinds of crime. Trial without jury in serious and complex fraud cases will redress the
existing imbalance between everyday frauds, which are readily brought to justice, and a few spectacular white-collar cases, in which the full criminality alleged against the defendant cannot always be exposed. Justice is not done when jurors have to reach verdicts on truncated versions of the facts in severed cases, when the totality of offending is not exposed. Certainly, that is not justice for the victims. Trial without jury will also spare those citizens who are selected to serve in such cases the intolerable burden of hearing a case that lasts for many months, or even a year or more. It will avoid trials collapsing as jurors become ill, refuse to continue, despair, or drop out for numerous other genuine reasons.
The case for change has commanded general support. In 2003, the former Master of the Rolls, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, who I understand always commanded the strong support of Conservative Ministers, supported the Governments proposals. The Government are very supportive of trial by jury, but would agree strongly with Baroness Scotland, who said, when speaking on these matters in another place:
The threshold for non-jury trial is a high one, and deliberately so. Where it is necessary in the interests of justice looked at in the round for a case to be conducted without a jury we would ask, what possible case can there be for doing anything else?[ Official Report, House of Lords, 19 November 2003; Vol. 654, c. 1943.]
Lord Justice Auld said that he was
firmly of the view that we should wait no longer before introducing a more just and efficient form of trial in serious and complex fraud cases.
If Opposition Members will not listen to any of the lords justices and other people I have mentioned, they will surely take note of a certain Polly Toynbee, who wrote in The Guardian last November:
There are only a handful of major cases a yearbut they are extremely serious. Big-time fraudsters are getting off very lightly compared with the pathetic trail of inept small frauds by clumsy, often desperate amateurs who are easily caught and sentenced. So if you want to cheat, do it big enough and you will probably escape with your millions.
The Government proposes that any non-jury case would need agreement from the Lord Chief Justice...Consider that no jury hears the 90 per cent. of cases dealt with by magistrates, where the humbler folk can get a one-year sentence. But the lure of grandstanding over the sanctity of jury trials may be irresistible for the opposition.
Mr. Hogg: The hon. Lady has been relying on Lord Roskill and Lord Justice Auld, but perhaps she should remind the House that the Bill goes far beyond what they recommended. Both of them recommended that there should be a panel to sit with the single judge, unless the defendant chose otherwise.
Joan Ryan: My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General set out in his speech what they recommended. They both recommended that we should dispense with jury trial in these cases.
Mr. Garnier: I would not like the Minister unwittingly to mislead herself, let alone anybody else. The jurisdiction of the magistrates courts to pass sentences of one year is not yet in force. It is one of the many aspects of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that the Government have yet to implement.
Joan Ryan: The hon. and learned Gentleman is correct.
I turn to several of the comments made by hon. Members during the debate. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) made a number of serious and important points and I have no doubt that they will be returned to in Committee. However, his assertion that the Government do not like juries is clearly not the case. It has been pointed out that it is likely that we will be increasing the number of jury trials that take place. Additionally, several measures introduced under Conservative Governments decreased the number of jury trials. However, this is not just a matter of liking juries; we also have to love justice.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) talked about trial without a jury as though that was totally unheard of, ignoring the notion of civil courts. He also referred to civil liberties and the European Court of Human Rights and jury trials. I remind him that other European countries do not rely on jury trials. Holland relies on professional judges and Italy puts its trust in a tribunal of three judges. Germany, Austria, France, Finland and Sweden prefer to try criminal cases with mixed tribunals that comprise a professional judge and several laymen. Even in England and Wales, only about 1 per cent. of criminal cases culminate in trial by jury.
Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Will my hon. Friend set out the elementary checks and balances that exist in inquisitorial systems in European jurisdictions that do not exist in our system? If she could give us just two or three examples, it would help.
Joan Ryan: My point was about the European Court of Human Rights. My hon. and learned Friend will have to go away and do his own research on the point that he raises.
I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) outline all the measures that the Government have implemented to improve judicial procedures in criminal trials. However, although those improvements were clearly necessary and important, they have not dealt with the difficulties that the Bill will addressI shall come to them in a moment. He also talked about the quality of verdicts. I think that it was pointed out earlier that section 43 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 offers an all-important advantage to defendants in the form of a reasoned verdict. Defendants who are convicted by a jury are not entitled to know the reasons for the verdict, so that is an important point.
Simon Hughes: Apart from the Jubilee line case, which collapsed for reasons that were nothing to do with the jury, what other cases would the hon. Lady cite as examples to support the Polly Toynbee argument that all these people are getting away with things? Alternatively, is the hon. Lady saying that the verdicts of the juries have been wrong?
Joan Ryan: My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General listed the casesI am sure that the hon. Gentleman was listening. I will refer back to some of those cases in a moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford) was quite right to talk about the will of the House. When we had this debate before, the House supported these measures. My hon. Friend brought a breath of fresh air and reality to the debate, which had been lost during the previous three speeches. He talked about case management and I saw no reason why he should not have done so. He is right that the Bill does not introduce an automatic procedure; a decision will have to be made by the Lord Chief Justice. He made a good point about the possible deterrent effect of such a way of proceeding and gave relevant examples of the type of fraud cases in which these measures will assist greatly.
Several hon. Members made the point that the Government were about to force through their will on a three-line Whip. They seem to forget that they will try to force the measure to fail, as their Whip confirmed to me, despite its having the support of this, the elected House. I do not know whether Opposition Members have been given a free vote tonight, but if they have
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that the vote takes place after the debate, not before?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that that is self-evident.
Joan Ryan: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I can have a discussion after the vote, when we have had the outcome. I do not think that I will have to withdraw anything that I have said.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) pointed out in his contribution that he was not a lawyer, and I am sure that I do not need to point outI think that all Members knowthat I am not a lawyer either. Like him, however, I was interested to hear the many contributions from Members who have legal experience; indeed, many of them are hon. and learned Friends and Members. The hon. Gentleman said that today he had been proud to listen to the lawyers. I just want to say that it is not lawyers to whom I thought I was listeningthey may well bring experience to the debate, but we speak in this House as Members of Parliament on behalf of our constituents whom we represent, and that needs to be borne in mind.
The law does not exist for lawyers or to occupy lawyers; it exists to deliver justice, and that is our aim here today. A number of Members commented on how many speeches had been made today on each side of the debate, and we are getting quite exercised about the mathematics of the issue. Of course, what really matters is the strength of argumentquality as opposed to quantity. I think that quality rested very firmly on this side of the House.
We wish the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes), my neighbour, well in his role as a juror. Knowing him, I have no doubt that he will undertake that role with commitment and integrity. However, he talked about a price worth paying in these long trials that are so burdensome for juries. Knowing that he is a dedicated family man who puts time into doing his job locally, I would be very surprised if he was willing to serve a year or more on such a trial.
A number of Members asked why fraud cases are so different from lengthy drugs and terrorism cases. That seemed to be the crux of the argument for many Members. The first thing that makes them different is the combination of great length and a failure to bring defendants to justice on the full range of allegations. There are also the recommendations of judges who have produced serious reports, such as Roskill and Auld, to whom I have referred. They have identified serious and complex fraud cases as a particular problem. [Interruption.]
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Conversations appear to be breaking out throughout the House. These are extremely serious matters, and the House should listen to the Minister who is addressing them.
Joan Ryan: A series of high-profile casesMaxwell, Blue Arrow, da Costa, the Talbot village trust case in 2004, Cushnie and others in 2004, and the Jubilee line case and the Global Wildlife Trust case in 2005have raised concerns. There is a long track record of fraud case problems. That is why we have decided to deal with fraud in particular, and it is why we have no plans to extend this provision to a wider range of cases. The proposal has had a long gestation, and no other area of law can claim that. The Government are disappointed that no agreement with the main Opposition parties has been forthcoming, in spite of our best efforts. We take the view that the time has come to give effect to the provision that Parliament passed in 2003. We remain certain of the importance of the measure, and we are confident that our arguments will be convincing.
I commend the Bill to the House and ask hon. Friends and hon. Members to support its Second Reading.
Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:
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