Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill [HL]
Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Conservative)
My Lords, I am always sad to disappoint the Minister; naturally, nothing could be further from my objective.
However, I also do not want to disappoint those who seek to maintain a fair judicial system. I know that the Minister's objective is to ensure that there is a fair judicial system, but where we part company is on the question of whether a satisfactory case has yet been made as regards Clause 18. I should add that I am not addressing Clauses 19 and 20; my fire is directed towards Clause 18.
The Minister says that this will "streamline" the process for vulnerable people. There is also an argument that streamlining processes may prove to be a disadvantage in some circumstances. I hear what the noble Baroness says about the fact that a judge will be able to give reasons whereas a jury would not, but one could cite other circumstances where a jury trial might be thought inappropriate because reasons are not given. While I know that that is not what the Minister intends to imply, one has to consider the whole of the judicial system when seeking to assault one part of it.
As she did at the previous stage, the noble Baroness said that the jury might not be best placed properly to be able to deal with the evidence that might be adduced from medical reports. However, the great strength of a jury is that it is able to bring to its adjudication an understanding of what is right and wrong, and whether what it has been told is the truth. Members of juries are able to come to their decisions in such cases.
The noble Baroness also referred to the fact that this provision might have been included in the mental health Bill. As soon as we had sight of the first amendments tabled by the Government on this proposal, I took every opportunity to contact organisations that one would expect to have a direct interest in it. I know that the Minister has observed in the past that silence is consent, but I am not persuaded of that. I like to be sure that when serious changes are made, people are content. Despite my best efforts, I have still not heard whether people are content with the proposals. Since, despite repeated efforts, I have not directly received that response—it would have to come to me as the mover of the amendment—I am not in a position to agree that this particular clause should be put on the face of the Bill. As it stands today, therefore, I am not able to say whether Clause 18 should be included in the Bill.
If the House agrees that Clause 18 should not be added to the Bill and it is further discussed in another place, it may well be that further evidence comes to light. But I have to say that the scepticism I expressed when we considered this on Report has since hardened. Therefore, I seek to test the opinion of the House.