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Lord Bach: My Lords, I hope the House will forgive me. We are debating a very serious matter but perhaps it is apposite at this stage to remind noble Lords that the Companion states that,

such as this one--

    "Lords opening or winding up, from either side, are expected to keep within 20 minutes. Other speakers are expected to keep within 15 minutes. These are only guidelines and, on occasion, a speech of outstanding importance, or a Ministerial speech winding up an exceptionally long debate, may exceed the limit".

I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for reminding the House of that, but it is important for all Members of the House.

7.7 p.m.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, it is with some hesitation that I speak this evening but I think the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General needs all the help that he can get. I have been attacked twice already and I have not yet spoken. I am therefore speaking with even more trepidation. But I accept the challenge and I am happy to continue. It is an important topic.

I do not speak as a member of the Bar or as a member of the Law Society. I speak with some experience of the law as a former police officer. I was a detective constable, a detective sergeant, a detective inspector and a detective superintendent, so I do have some practical knowledge of what goes on in the criminal justice process.

I should remind your Lordships that you do not have a monopoly in expecting and demanding justice. Many people in society and many police officers--there has been some criticism of the police in the debate--work very hard to achieve justice, often at great risk to themselves. I say no more than that.

It is a truism running through the criminal justice process that justice delayed is justice denied. There is no doubt about that. It follows that anything that

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speeds up the process will normally be welcomed, provided such expedition is achieved in accordance with due process and fairness. It is my submission that the Bill achieves both objectives.

I believe, with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in upholding the value of the jury. I do not demur one little bit. But it saddened me to hear him launch such a vicious attack on magistrates, who deal with 95 per cent of all cases. I believe it is unfortunate that when people read Hansard that will appear as a criticism of the quality of justice in magistrates' courts. Magistrates do a difficult job under difficult circumstances and they are, of course, lay people, as, indeed, are members of juries. I was surprised at the impugning of the value of magistrates.

In my view, the new procedures are in line with just and proper legal principles. As I mentioned, about 95 per cent of all trials now go through the lower courts without any major outcry about faulty or unjust procedures. Indeed, many of the complaints that I hear from colleagues or former colleagues are about perverse jury decisions in the higher courts. I found it rather interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, prayed in aid the case of the detective superintendent whom he represented, who was clearly wrongfully acquitted by a jury. Somehow the noble Lord seemed to know that the jury really believed that the superintendent was guilty but, nonetheless, he was acquitted. The noble Lord used that as an argument in favour of jury trial. I believe that it was a perverse argument.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. With his very distinguished service in the police and his very distinguished representation of senior police officers, would he agree that the occasional rogue police officer (there are some) who seeks to obtain a wrongful conviction by telling lies would far rather tell those lies to a magistrates' court than to a jury?

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I find that question difficult to answer because I find it difficult to put myself in the position of a police officer who is prepared to tell lies in either tribunal. Of course, if noble Lords wish, I shall go on to talk about rogue lawyers in a moment. There are some of those about, too, as I am sure your Lordships are aware.

Many of the cases now dealt with in magistrates' courts are identical to those dealt with by the Bill. I mention cases such as theft, burglary and going equipped to steal. With the agreement of the accused, those are dealt with in magistrates' courts. As the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General has mentioned, also covered are offences involving violence against the person, some assaults and some woundings. But he also mentioned other offences, such as taking vehicles without consent, which presumably involves some dishonesty, and criminal damage under £5,000, which clearly affects reputation. He also mentioned, in detail which I shall not repeat, the case of the drunk driver who in the past used to abuse--there is no doubt about that--the jury system.

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I notice that the noble Lord opposite nods. We all accept that from time to time there are abuses. But we are looking for a more expeditious way of dealing with such matters.

So what is the outcry about from those opponents who speak of breaches of fundamental rights and Magna Carta and so forth? Again, I was proposing to talk on that matter but I believe it has been well answered by the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, the Lord Chief Justice, has been mentioned this evening. Perhaps I may quote something which he said recently:

    "It would be absurd to grant a jury trial in all cases, however trivial, and those who drafted the terms of the Magna Carta would be surprised to find that intention attributed to them".

I agree, my Lords. Serious cases will continue to be sent by magistrates to the Crown Court for trial. Under the Bill, defendants will have a right of appeal to a Crown Court judge against the decision of the magistrates. In any event, almost 75 per cent of either way cases currently tried at Crown Courts are sent there at the behest of magistrates. I agree with my noble friend Lord Borrie that a spotlight should be placed not just on magistrates but on juries. The police service has argued for some time that perverse jury verdicts do occur. There is a dearth of research into what goes on in the jury room. Such research could be carried out in a confidential manner and I believe that there is some merit in that suggestion.

It may also be of interest that England and Wales is the only jurisdiction in the world--I repeat, in the world--which still allows defendants in some cases to choose the venue of their trial. In Scotland, our near devolved neighbour, the decision is made not even by the court; it is made by the prosecution.

I submit that the new process in this Bill is fair and just to the defendant, and it is supported, as I mentioned, by the Lord Chief Justice. It is also supported by the Magistrates' Association, HM Customs and Excise, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the police and some judges. We are talking about some 18,500 out of the 1.8 million cases where defendants are prosecuted each year in the courts. In any case, many of those plead guilty.

What about the £85 million wasted by aborted trials, needless adjournments and delays, defendants not turning up and lawyers' mistakes? Those are not my figures but those of the National Audit Office, as reported in The Times only yesterday. I know from personal experience of defendants who elect trial, not for better justice or a fairer trial, but simply because they know that they are guilty and that they will be found guilty. They elect trial because either they want to spend more time on bail with their families, if they are lucky, and that is perfectly understandable, or, if they go to prison, the time spent on remand will be far more agreeable than that spent as a sentenced prisoner. Of course, the time spent on remand comes off the prison sentence. Therefore, in my experience the process is abused by defendants.

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I also know of solicitors who used to elect trial on behalf of their clients--it may be that some still do-- again, simply to prolong the process and in order to maximise legal aid payments. Those are the realities. It is no good for your Lordships to put your heads in the sand and pretend that those things do not happen. Some members of the public see this place as a House full of lawyers, representing the interests of lawyers, passing laws and the like. I have to say that I do not agree with that view, but I can well understand that that is the perception of people outside this House.

We have a public duty to reduce the costs of justice to the public purse. Some of the funds may then be applied to provide the additional police officers noble Lords opposite are always so keen to appoint. The provisions in the Bill would save more than £100 million--a not insignificant sum. Although we cannot put a price on justice, it is a saving which must be made provided that justice is not diminished. That is the issue which perhaps divides us. I respect the arguments put forward by noble Lords who express an opposing view. However, I believe that the measures in the Bill, with the necessary procedure and appeal mechanism built in, meet the demands of justice.

Why on earth should we be out of step with the rest of the world on this matter? As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, said:

    "It is wrong for the defendant, on whose list of priorities the reaching of a just and expeditious decision may not rank very highly, to have the ability to choose the mode of trial".

Neither can it be right to call upon 12 members of the public to give up their valuable time to serve as jurors to try extremely petty cases; for example, the theft of a can of lemonade by a man with 20 previous convictions who clearly is abusing the system. Even then the decision is subject to a right of appeal to a Crown Court judge. Not only do such cases cause disenchantment among jurors; they also undermine the whole system of jury trial itself.

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