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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the point that one sought to make was that one had to look at the circumstances of each individual. I do not subscribe to the view that someone who is of perfectly clean character has precisely the same reputation as someone with eight previous convictions.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful for that useful clarification. The point of reputation is one of the worrying matters on which other noble Lords have touched. Obviously, a man without a reputation is as likely--one may say more likely--to be wrongly accused as anybody else. The fact that people with good reputations have a form of trial with a more substantial chance of acquittal than those who do not is in terms of both class and race patently discriminatory. I shall not develop the point about race because my noble friend Lord Dholakia intends to deal with it at some length. I have heard a lot of the evidence on which he intends to rely and I find it quite painfully persuasive.
I am not a human rights law specialist. I do not know what line the ECHR will take about the Bill. But were it to find it to be unjustified, I suspect that it is precisely that point of discrimination on which it would find.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, suggested that there was no danger here because other restrictions of trial by jury have not met challenge. But they did not have this clearly discriminatory element. That perturbs me considerably. However, much more important is the significance for the concept of the active citizen of the concept of having a jury. The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, talked slightly dismissively about people having to give up their valuable time in order to take part in the criminal justice system. But of course it is precisely by giving up one's valuable time that one feels a sense of ownership in one's own criminal justice system.
The two peculiarities of England over the centuries were, first, a very early centralised monarchy; and, secondly, an exceptionally strong tradition of local self government--as F W Maitland felicitously put it: self government at the king's command. It is the marriage of those two traditions which has made our government capable of working. It is in that system of self government by the king's command that the jury system has a particular importance.
I have heard noble and learned Lords in this Chamber complaining about the need to protect the reputation of the courts, most particularly from the interventions of tabloid newspapers. You do not know anything about a court case if you have merely read the press reports. But if you have sat through the whole trial as a jury member then you do know something about it. It means that members of the public have ownership of the verdict. And, what is more, because they are anonymous no tabloid can effectively attack
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, answered a question last week about public participation in the electoral system. The problem of dwindling public participation stretches wider than just the issue of criminal justice or voting. In other issues, such as Neighbourhood Watch, the Government have been particularly concerned to get people back into the process of being involved in, and feeling a sense of ownership of, their own political and judicial process. The jury is one part of that process which is working. It would be a shame to diminish that; to let people think that the criminal justice system is "them" when they could be thinking that it is "us".
I shall not follow the example of a former Archbishop of Canterbury speaking in this House in 1610 who moved that the Bill be committed to the pit of hell. I am a great deal more charitable than that. But were the Bill to be committed to the waters of Lethe, I should be very much relieved.
Lord Warner: My Lords, I support the changes in the Bill. I listened with some fascination to the confessions of my noble friend Lady Kennedy about her close relationship with the Home Secretary. I, too, must confess that I have known the Home Secretary for 25 years and have worked as his policy adviser. So I may well be described as one of these trimmers and bad company that the Home Secretary has fallen into. However, the Home Secretary is a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and he has this extraordinarily dangerous trait among politicians of being data rational. Part of the difficulties may be that we are introducing a few facts. I know that it is rather boring and mundane, and has little to do with the romantic sweep of some of the speeches made today. But it is an uncomfortable fact that we have to look at a few of the facts.
In the past Session we debated the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill, another part of the rebalancing of the criminal justice system of which the current Bill is a part. There were speeches from many Members of this House who had spent their lives working in the criminal justice system. The feature of many of those speeches was the number of extremely elegant and splendid arguments advanced for doing absolutely nothing to the processes and procedures of that system.
I always listen with great interest to noble and learned Lords with their extensive experience of the criminal justice system and the way they love to debate the detail of that system. But the argument usually ends up at the same place: that we should reject change and maintain the status quo. Somehow experienced practitioners often convey the sense that they are the custodians of some secret garden into which the laity--
I note that in many of our debates on criminal justice legislation there is much preoccupation with the rights of defendants; and today is no exception. I suggest that equal weight is too rarely given to the position of victims, witnesses and the public. If defendants continue with their present rights to choose the court in which they are tried, they can continue to opt for a court where the time it takes to bring a case to court means more delay and waiting for victims and witnesses, and higher costs to the public purse.
All that may well be justified when the charge faced by the defendant is a very serious one. However, those traditional arguments about being able to elect for jury trial seem to me far weaker when the charge could be, and currently usually is, tried now in magistrates' courts.
Much rhetoric has been deployed in the debate about fundamental liberties being eroded, reductions in fundamental rights, and so on. The reality of what we are discussing is far more mundane than some of its critics would have us believe. I shall not go into the fact that until 1855 defendants had no ability to choose to be tried by jury. Since then we have seen many reclassifications of offences.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way, defendants had the right and had to be tried by jury until 1855. An Act was passed allowing trial by magistrates' courts. It is that way round, not the way the noble Lord put it.
Lord Warner: My Lords, in my hurry I misrepresented the position. Perhaps I may continue. Since then there have been many reclassifications of offences which have restricted the area of choice to elect for venue and trial by jury. We have already heard about Scotland. The facts of life are that in Scotland the accused has never had the right to choose the court where the case is tried. Today the reality is that 97 per cent of all the 1.8 million criminal cases dealt with each year are tried in magistrates' courts.
We are not debating some great fundamental centuries-old right today. As far as I can judge, we are discussing whether there should be a further adjustment to the position of the 18,000 or so people each year charged with either-way offences who elect for trial by jury.
I suggest that the Government's proposal is modest. A great deal of sport has been had at the expense of the Attorney-General about so-called changes of position. I believe that the Attorney-General has been extraordinarily consistent. I have heard my noble and learned friend argue consistently within government
I want briefly to reiterate some of the fact about the 18,000-odd cases a year in which the accused elects for jury trial in either-way cases. A large sample of 1998 cases strongly suggests that in about 60 per cent the accused pleads guilty before the case comes to trial--
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. More often than not, the accused pleads guilty to a lesser offence. It is wrong to suggest that he pleads guilty to the offence for which he was committed.
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