Clause 11. — (Disqualification of Ex-Prisoners from Serving on Juries in Criminal Proceedings.)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th April 1967.

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Photo of Mr Dick Taverne Mr Dick Taverne , Lincoln 12:00 am, 27th April 1967

I beg to move Amendment No. 27, in page 9, line 32, to leave out 'five', and to insert 'ten'.

We now come to Clause 11 and the question of disqualifications from juries. In Committee, the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) said, at col. 411, that if the sentence of imprisonment permanently disqualifying persons from jury service under subsection (1,b) of the Clause were to be retained at five years or more, the period of temporary disqualification under subsection (1,a) following a sentence of three months in prison or more should be raised to 10 years.

The Government agreed that the two questions were interrelated, and we undertook to reconsider this for the Report stage. We have done that, and we have fallen in with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion.

The effect of this Amendment is to extend from five to 10 years the period of disqualification for jury service which would be the lot of anyone who has served at least three months in prison. Apart from meeting views expressed by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, this period of disqualification dovetails neatly with the period of exemption in the Amendment accepted earlier that persons concerned with the enforcement of law shall not serve on juries for 10 years after they have ceased that occupation.

Photo of Sir John Hobson Sir John Hobson , Warwick and Leamington

All I desire to say is that I am grateful to the Government that they have found it possible to adopt the suggestion.

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn

Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I ask whether it is in order for me to say something on Amendment No. 76, which stands in my name and has been selected?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I do not think that it would be in order. I think that it is better to deal with Amendment No. 27, and then I would ask the hon. Gentleman to move his Amendment No. 76.

Amendment agreed to.

7.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn

I beg to move Amendment No. 76, in page 9, line 38, at the end to insert: 'or who having at any time served a sentence of imprisonment or detention of three months or more, has been convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment during the said period of ten years'. Let me say at once that I do not propose to invite anyone to divide on the Amendment. It is a small point with regard to the disqualification of people for jury service, which was again raised in Committee.

The point which I wish to put to the hon. and learned Gentleman is this: is he satisfied that it is rational to exclude someone from jury service for 10 years who has been in prison for three months, but to ignore people who may have other convictions which have not carried prison sentences?

I appreciate that there are difficulties. One does not want to find among those who are excluded the person who has one conviction for dangerous driving or something of that nature. If the object is to exclude from a jury people who may be unfairly biased against the prosecution because they have this sort of sentence of imprisonment, it may not be nearly as important as the fact that, in the last year or two, they may have had further appearances before courts on charges of dishonesty. It is important that those who may be seriously biased against the prosecution should not go on juries any more than those who may be seriously biased against the accused.

Perhaps this provision could be considered again, to see whether it is adequate as it stands.

Photo of Mr Dick Taverne Mr Dick Taverne , Lincoln

I appreciate the point made by the hon. Gentleman, but as he will understand, it is a difficult one to meet. In fact, we have found it impossible to meet.

If his Amendment were passed, it would mean, to take this as an illustration, that someone who was convicted of a motoring offence which carried imprisonment could be disqualified for a period of up to 20 years if it came at the end of the 10-year disqualification. One has to achieve a balance, as the Morris Committee on Juries pointed out, between securing the absence of undesirable people on a jury and not imposing a stigma on a man who has tried to right himself and become a responsible member of society.

It is true that someone who has a number of convictions which have not been sufficiently serious to carry terms of imprisonment will not be disqualified from serving on a jury. But, without redressing the balance too much the other way, and saying that someone should not have this stigma on him and should be available to perform one of the duties and rights of citizenship, I do not see a way of doing it without disqualifying someone who ought to be eligible.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will not close his mind on this issue. I appreciate what he said, but as the majority verdicts Clause has been kept in the Bill it becomes ever more necessary to strengthen the Clause which we are now discussing.

The need to strengthen it will become even greater when the qualification for service on juries becomes as widely extended as the franchise. We may find, especially in parts of London, and some of our large cities—I think particularly of Liverpool, for example—that there will be a large number of people who have criminal records who will be eligible for jury service. I am not sure that subsection (1,a) will have the desired result of ensuring that we do not have too many people with criminal experience on juries. We need to be very careful about this, and, therefore, I reinforce what my hon. Friend said, and express the hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will keep an open mind about it.

Mr. Tavente:

This question of qualification for jury service will have to be very carefully watched. We will continue to watch it, but I feel that subsection (1,a) is now drawn as restrictively against people with criminal records as one could hope to draw it, because it means that someone who has served three months in prison will be disqualified from jury service for 10 years. This is the effect of the Amendment which I moved earlier. In these circumstances, I would have thought that we had taken as many precautions as we could against undesirable jurors; but this is something which will have to continue to be watched, and this we shall do.

Amendment negatived.