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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I understand the concern that the noble Lord has raised. That is precisely why the officer has discretion, if someone cannot make a particular date, to postpone it. It can be postponed for any time during a 12-month period. The noble Lord is quite right. Lord Justice Dyson had the delight of serving on a jury during the summer, at a time convenient to him.
Lord Renton: My Lords, bearing in mind that many jury cases these days occupy many weeks of government time, can the noble Baroness assure us that a person who has heavy responsibilities to bear, apart from sitting on a jury, would be exempt?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, no one save Her Majesty is exempt from jury service. However, I can certainly assure the noble Lord that if there is an exceptionally good reason why a person cannot serve within the 12 months, that will be considered and information provided about it will be taken into account before a date is fixed. I hope that your Lordships will be grateful no longer to be excluded from this wonderful opportunity, bearing in mind that we are no longer in the company of lunatics and others.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, will the noble Baroness take this opportunity to join me in recognising the tremendous service that is done for and on behalf of all of us in the community by those who put jury service before their own convenience? Does she recall from her experience at the Bar the tremendous inconvenience that some people gladly suffer? Perhaps in the future many noble Lords will gladly suffer that inconvenience too.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, is there not a risk that jury trial, which has been strongly emphasised in recent
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days, is, to some extent, eroded by the presence of a judge on the jury? When it comes to the jury deciding who should be the chairman, clearly there is an obligation upon, I should have thought, the judge to admit what his occupation is. If the other members of the jury then say to the judge, "You know all about this. You can preside", they will be directed by a professional for the second time. They cannot be told, "Members of the jury, it is entirely a matter for you", because the judge is one of them. Is this not an indication that at least the judge, for the benefit of the administration of justice, should not be put on a jury?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I hear what the noble and learned Lord is saying, but I regret to tell him that the esteem in which the profession was hitherto held is not quite what it was. The experience of our American brethren is that jurors are quite robust in exercising equality of arms on the jury and the judge does not necessarily have an undue influence. It has worked quite well.
Lord Tordoff: My Lords, is it not the case that, much as Members of your Lordship's House would wish to serve, many of us are over 70 and people are debarred from serving if they are over 70? May one hope that that will change?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, there is no indication at the moment that we are minded to change the rule in relation to 70. Some people think that after the age of 70 one should be given one's liberty.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, will the Minister further explain one of her supplementary answers? How can a hospital consultant with the inevitable waiting list of patients find a time within 12 months convenient to them to serve on a jury?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, if the name comes out of the hat it is possible for dates to be fixed that are convenient to that consultant. If we are told well in advance, most of us have one or two weeks when we can make ourselves available to discharge our public duty. However, if a person can genuinely show that there is no period within the next 12 months when they could reasonably be expected to attendfor good and exceptional reasonsthey can be excluded, but the presumption is that everyone, if called upon, should serve.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord how many are delayed for that reason. I do not know whether the noble Lord means delayed through lack of a jury. I have no knowledge of any trial being delayed because there are not sufficient jury members to attend. However, I will investigate the matter and see if there are any such figures.
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Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, although jury service is obviously an important duty for a citizen, are there not several types of people, some of whom have already been mentioned, who perform services for the community that outweigh the value of jury serviceperhaps, not to be controversial, the Prime Minister or distinguished consultants? The Minister pointed out that they can have their jury service postponed. Surely, the only consequence of that would be either that they do their jury service during their limited holiday or, at some stage, they are not available to do their operations. Should there not be some balancing when the other duties that they perform are of greater value to the community than jury service?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as I have tried to make clear, the summoning officer has the discretion. If the person summoned can demonstrate that there is some exceptional reason why they should not serve, albeit during their holiday, I am sure that that would be listened to. However, I can reassure the House that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is not exempt.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, would those exceptional circumstances include someone who is the sole carer for a sick, elderly or disabled person and who has neither option nor holiday most of the time?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I cannot specify, but I would have thought that all such considerations would be taken into account. That is why the summoning officer has been given a discretion. The provision has removed the bar that was absolute. It used to be said that the people not able to sit on the jury were those who were mad, bad or a Member of your Lordships' House.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there ought to be some sort of appeal? If the officer considering such a matter behaved aberrantly, should there not be a right of appeal?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord is saying, but to date there has been no indication that summoning officers have been so inhumane, unfeeling or lacking in discretion that they have inappropriately taken into account that which they should not have taken into account. So far, we think that it should be clear that everyoneother than Her Majestyhas a public duty which we will be called upon to exercise.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, does the Minister agree that comparing us with the United States in this area does not work? In the United States it is possible to challenge jurors. That is not possible here in the United Kingdom and certainly not in the jurisdiction of England and Wales. In the United States, challenges are made to those who come forward who are judges, especially in criminal trials.
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Therefore, does the Minister agree that to compare us with or borrow from the United States may lead to unfair comparisons?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I know that there is that distinction, but the noble Baroness will know that, on many occasions, a choice was made not to challenge a jury. We got rid of peremptory challenges quite a time ago. The noble Baroness will know that there was a big concern at the time that that would lead to injustice. We know that it has not. We are confident about those who are called. I have the utmost faith in the members of our judiciary that they will deport themselves appropriately. I do not think that the arrangement is likely to cause a great deal of difficulty. We have not seen any so far.
Lord McNally: My Lords, may I make it clear that if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor turns up on any jury on which I am serving, he will not have my vote for chairman? That apart, will the Government hold their nerve? Surely, the reason for these reforms was the skill of the professional classes in avoiding jury service which was doing great damage to the system.
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