Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill
Lord Williams of Mostyn (Attorney General, Law Officers' Department; Labour)
My Lords, attacks from behind are always the most agreeable, particularly from my noble friend Lord Mishcon. I do not agree. The overwhelming majority of criminal cases in this country--about 1.8 million (more than 95 per cent)--are tried by the magistrates. There is a school of thought, with which I do not agree, that magistrates are not capable of providing justice for their fellow citizens. If that is the thrust of the argument, let us do away with the lay magistracy. If anyone behind me or opposite me asks me how I should like to be tried if my case was coming up, my response would be that if I was run over on the pavement I should much prefer my civil case to be tried by a judge and jury, but that is not allowed. I might prefer it, but not necessarily for entirely legitimate purposes.
I put this point to your Lordships. If the resource is scarce, how do we prudently manage it? The prudent management with a fair balance of interest is to say to the defendant, "Of course you may make your choice, but your choice will not be determinative. The case will go to the magistrates and there will be an automatic right of appeal on the merits to the Crown Court". In exactly the same way--I put this point to your Lordships in the same general context--if I apply for bail, the magistrate may refuse me and I can go immediately to the Crown Court. The decision on bail, which is not to be entrusted to the magistrates, is far more fundamental in many instances than the decision on where the case should be tried. After all, if I am refused bail, I may lose my livelihood; I may lose my family or my home. One of the pollutants of our criminal justice system--I have no doubt in saying it and I do not exaggerate for a second--is delay.