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"Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003In section 9(4), the words "section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 or"."
Page 392, line 17, column 2, leave out from "it" to end of line 18.

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Page 393, column 2, leave out line 14 and insert—
"In section 234— (a) in subsection (1), the words after paragraph (b), (b) in subsection (3), the words from "or to vary" to "one hundred", and (c) subsection (11)."
Page 393, leave out line 21.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Archer of Sandwell moved Amendment No. 247:

    Page 404, line 13, column 2, leave out "Section 42"

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I had not previously participated in the debates on the Bill for reasons with which I will not weary your Lordships. Now I venture to intervene on what may appear a small point but it is a matter of principle and it can occasion real distress.

I should apologise for not having raised this issue earlier in the Bill's proceedings but I was not able to attend at the relevant time. I hope your Lordships will forgive me.

Most citizens are under an obligation to serve on a jury if required. A failure to respond without reasonable cause to a summons is an offence under Section 20 of the Juries Act 1974, punishable by a fine of 100 or, alternatively, as a criminal contempt. However, some citizens are ineligible. Some are disqualified from jury service and the categories are listed in Schedule 1 to the Juries Act 1974. Other categories are excusable as of right, if they so wish, and they, too, are listed in the schedule.

A person who does not fall within those categories may apply for excusal for good reason, and the court may, in its discretion, excuse him under Section 9 of that Act.

I was approached some years ago by members of the Exclusive Brethren, who believe that they are precluded by spiritual authority from serving on juries. They are not alone in that belief; other Christian groups share it. My noble friend Lord Brennan has asked me to say that he has been approached by members of certain contemplative orders who have a similar difficulty. Unhappily, he cannot be present, but had he been he tells me that he would have intervened.

I should make it clear that I do not share that view, but that is not the issue. In this country, we recognise a right to abstain on grounds of conscience from what would otherwise be a duty, not because we agree with the objector, but because we respect a genuinely held belief. I would not argue that the right was absolute in all circumstances. We would need to take account of the mischief that would result from recognising the right. If recognition of abstention from jury service were likely to bring our criminal process to a standstill, that would have to be taken into account.

However, numbers likely to claim exemption would be very small in proportion to the numbers eligible for jury service. Nor would there be a difficulty in testing

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whether someone were eligible. It is a simple matter to show whether an applicant for exemption is a sincere practitioner of the faith in question, and whether abstention from jury service is a doctrine held by that faith.

It may assist my noble friend if I explain that the Exclusive Brethren are in a special position. Their objection to serving is based on the injunction against taking counsel with unbelievers, so a member who was compelled to serve on a jury would feel unable to discuss the case with the other jurors.

Prior to 1994, those in question applied for discretionary excusal under Section 9 of the Act. On the rare occasions when the appropriate officer refused the application, an appeal to the judge usually secured the exemption. Not only do we pride ourselves as a nation on our tolerance and common sense—and perhaps, in these more enlightened days, on our respect for our human rights obligations—but every experienced criminal judge appreciates that a juror who is reluctant to serve, and who believes that he is precluded by his faith from discussing the case with other jurors, will not be conducive to the course of justice.

However, there were rare occasions when an excusal was refused, and they gave rise to real distress. Whether they also gave rise to injustices, we will never know. The Minister may wish in an idle moment—if she is ever blessed with one—to read the report of ex parte Siderfin in volume two of the Queen's Bench reports for 1990 at page 683. The judge had refused an application for excusal and, in proceedings for judicial review, the court laid down two principles. One was that applications based on conscientious belief were serious matters and should be considered with great care. The other was that, although a religious objection should not be conclusive, the test was whether the belief would be likely to stand in the way of a juror's faithfully and properly performing the duties of a juror. If the Bill reaches the statute book in its present form, I assume that that will again be the position in law.

The Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, chaired by Lord Runciman in 1993, made a clear recommendation in chapter 8, paragraph 57, that,

    "where practising members of a religious sect or order find jury service to be incompatible with their tenets or beliefs, that should entitle them to be excused jury service".

I am aware that Lord Justice Auld more recently took a different view, apparently, as I read him, in the interests of neatness. However, when the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 reached the statute book, Section 42 amended Schedule 1 to the Juries Act by including in the schedule, among those entitled to excusal as of right, a practising member of a religious society or order the tenets or beliefs of which are incompatible with jury service.

It seemed that the problem was resolved. If the provision has given rise to any difficulties, I have not heard of them. I have discussed the question with successive Ministers and with members of the legal profession. None of them has informed me of a single instance where the provision has been abused.

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However, it seems that the Government wish to simplify the provisions and to emphasise the inclusivity of juries. That is rather curious when, in the very same Bill, they propose to curtail the right to jury trial. Compassion is the price to be expended in return for neatness.

Schedule 33 to the Bill, which lists the provisions to be repealed, includes the words: "Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, Section 42". My amendment would remove that section from Schedule 33 and retain it on the statute book, thereby preserving tolerance, compassion and common sense.

There was a moment when my right honourable friend the Home Secretary agreed that Section 42 should be saved, but even he has been subjected to a change of mind, by what process I know not. My noble friend the Minister has been good enough to write to me that there may be some crumb of comfort in store. I appreciate that she wrote to me so fully and carefully with so many demands crowding upon her—we have heard today of a number of letters that she has written in connection with the Bill. I await her reply, but I would do so with a lighter heart if my noble friend were not simply the messenger. Sadly, she does not rule the world. We can only hope that the Leviathans who bestride our world can stop to care about individual conscience and individual liberty. I beg to move.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the pleasure of my noble and learned friend's company is such that no apology is ever needed for his participation in any debate. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, for his amendment, because it gives me an opportunity to make absolutely plain the Government's position on the matter and to reassure my noble and learned friend that compassion for and sensitivity to religious beliefs are not only present, but are truly respected.

We would fail in that duty if there were any suggestion that we were requiring people to undertake jury service against their beliefs. That is not the case. We have listened to the concerns that have been expressed. The approach that we are proposing provides safeguards which will ensure that, in terms of outcome, the new approach will achieve what we all agree is appropriate. That makes unnecessary any form of statutory exemption.

I shall briefly set out the terms of those safeguards. During the debate on another aspect of the jury service provisions in Committee, I referred to the guidance which the Bill requires the Lord Chancellor to lay before Parliament on the jury central summoning bureau's exercise of its functions in relation to discretionary deferral and excusal. The guidance will give consistency, transparency and a structural underpinning to the discretionary system. As I explained to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in the course of that debate, the guidance is not yet ready. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer is planning to issue a draft for consultation before the end of the year on which both he and I would warmly welcome your

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Lordships' views. We are agreed that it should state that an application for excusal from jury service on grounds of incompatibility with religious belief should always be granted. In other words, a person with theologically founded objections to jury service will never be forced to undertake it. I should make clear that this will include vowed members of religious orders who are currently ineligible for jury service as well as groups such as the Plymouth Brethren. I also assure noble Lords that the summoning bureau will aim to process any request for excusal on these grounds with the minimum of disruption to the applicant.

I hesitate to say so, but that may be even better than that which went before. I hope therefore that I give not only little pleasure and comfort to my noble and learned friend but considerable satisfaction.

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