– in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 9th July 1986.
(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he would make a statement about the Government's response to the recommendation in the Roskill report that random jury challenges be abolished.
In the White Paper on plans for criminal justice legislation, we invited comments on concern which had been expressed about the right of the defence to challenge up to three jurors without giving cause. The White Paper set out several options for change, including abolition of peremptory challenge, as had been recommended by the Roskill committee on fraud trials. We have been reflecting on these options in the light of the response to the White Paper.
Whatever its justification in earlier days, peremptory challenge is now widely criticised as a distortion of the jury system, which should be based on the principle of random selection. The removal of peremptory challenge would help to maintain the effectiveness and integrity of the system. It seems wrong in principle that jurors should be removed without reasons being given. It is also unsatisfactory that, in cases with large numbers of defendants, the composition of the jury should be capable of being influenced so substantially.
We have therefore decided that it would be desirable to abolish peremptory challenge, and shall be including proposals with that effect in legislation which I hope to introduce next Session. Challenge for cause—that is the right of either party to seek the removal of a juror for stated reasons—would remain.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for enabling the House to extract from the Home Secretary today what he communicated to the press yesterday. It is becoming more and more offensive that Government decisions are being communicated to everyone but those in the House, and that when they are communicated to the House they are communicated only grudgingly when we attempt to obtain answers through you, Mr. Speaker.
Is it true that on abolition of jury trial fraud cases the Government have decided to accept the advice of the Opposition, of many Conservative Members and of many outside observers? The right hon. Gentleman quoted from the White Paper on criminal justice, but curiously his eye did not stray to paragraph 38, which reads:
As a first step towards assisting Parliament to resolve the issues, the Director of Public Prosecutions is now monitoring the use of peremptory challenge and prosecution stand-by in cases presented by him. From I April, this survey will be extended to all cases tried in the Crown Court in those areas … in which the Crown Prosecution Service is in operation.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the paragraph continues:
The figures thus gathered will be available to inform debate when the Criminal Justice Bill is before Parliament.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the outcome of the survey is available and whether it was available to the Cabinet Committee which decided to abolish the right of peremptory jury challenge, bearing in mind that he made it clear that the outcome of the survey was crucial to a decision upon it? What are the conclusions of the survey, and when will the survey and the findings be made available to the House?
The right hon. Gentleman has said that the Government intend to retain the right of challenge for cause. Is he not aware—this has been said by a number of Members, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) — that the abolition of peremptory challenge will turn challenge for cause into a growth industry in the courts? Will he bear in mind that the abolition of this right will cause minorities especially to feel that they have been deprived of an important part of their armoury of defence?
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is right to get into a froth about procedure. We told the House that we were considering the matter, and we set out the options in the White Paper. Yesterday the press began to get hold of some partly inaccurate accounts of our conclusions, and I agree that it is better to set the record straight. These are proposals that will come before the House and they will need to be debated at some length. There are a number of outstanding issues arising from the Roskill report, including the suggestion of a fraud trial tribunal, on which we are reaching or have just reached conclusions. I shall arrange for the House to be informed of our conclusions when they are ready.
The right hon. Gentleman quite fairly drew attention to the monitoring exercise, and the first results are available. The monitoring is continuing, and the results will be available for informed debate when the House considers the proposals that we set before it.
The right hon. Gentleman expressed a view about challenge for cause. I know of that opinion, as it has been expressed before in the House. I do not share it, but that theoretical supposition will no doubt be advanced when the House debates the proposals.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that, although many of us strongly support the maintenance of the jury system as embodying the right to trial by 12 of one's fellow citizens, we do not necessarily believe that the defendant should have the right to decide who those 12 should be? I have defended a fair number of people in the criminal courts, and would ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees that it is possible to manipulate the system by attempting to obtain a jury that the defendant believes is favourable to his case. There is much argument in favour of what my right hon. Friend proposes.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his remarks. In the White Paper, we quote a famous sentence from Blackstone, who defended the principle of peremptory challenge and who pointed out how necessary it was that
a prisoner (when put to defend his life) should have a good opinion of his jury".
That shows how things have moved on. No defendant is now put to defend his life.
Does not the Home Secretary accept that the right to peremptory challenge allows a fair and equal chance to both the prosecution and the defence? In those cases where jury vetting will be allowed, will the right to peremptory challenge be closed to the defence? Do the Government intend to introduce this provision north of the border, where there is a distinct and separate code of criminal law?
The hon. Gentleman has legitimately drawn attention to the prosecution's right of stand-by. We shall have to look at that, and limit it in the light of the proposal that I have announced. However, the hon. Gentleman will realise that questions of national security can be at stake, and I am discussing them with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. I had better let the hon. Gentleman know about Scotland.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the vast majority of sensible people will warmly welcome the Government's decision?. Peremptory challenges have been increasingly and systematically used to obtain a jury that is biased towards acquittal. That handicaps the police and is unfair to the public, who want to be protected from violent crime.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I think that he was perhaps the first to draw this subject to the attention of the House. Incidentally, in response to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), I should say that this proposal does not cover Scotland.
In a sense, the Home Secretary has just answered my question. Is it not absurd that this change should be made in one part of the United Kingdom but not in another? How can it be justified in England? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the position in Scotland dates only from 1980 and from legislation introduced by the present Government which was defended by Scottish Office Ministers at the time? There has been no complaint in Scotland about the situation, so why should this right be removed from England?
The answer is that Scottish Members in all parts of the House constantly remind me that the Scots have a different legal system of which they are proud.
We often hear phrases salt as "I believe", "It is my belief" or "It is my opinion", but what research or hard evidence is there to justify altering a system that has been in existence for centuries? We want to know: we need evidence. What evidence has my right hon. Friend got?
The system that my hon. Friend says has been in existence for centuries has also been progressively reduced during. That time, for the reasons that I have already outlined Lord Roskill's report makes a powerful and conclusive argument against the principle of the system. The results of the monitoring will be available when the House discusses the issue. But, on grounds of principle I believe that in 1986 the proposal that we are making will restore the effectiveness and integrity of the jury system.
Will the Home Secretary now answer his hon. Friend's question? There is no published material. What evidence does the Home Secretary have that the right of peremptory challenge has been abused or has led to wrong decisions, especially when one bears in mind that more than 50 per cent. of acquittals in the Crown court are made on the direction of the judge? Would not the Home Secretary be bette advised to imporve resources so that we have quicker trials rather than set about eroding the rights of defendants?
I do not see how the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr.Kilroy-Silk) can say that there is no published material when we have the critique, the Roskill report, and the White Paper. Issues are powerfully discussed there in terms of principle. I have answered twice questions about the monitoring exercise. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about delays in trials. He will know about the steps—perhaps overdue— that we are taking, to improve the speed of justice.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that most people do not have much faith in the present jury system? The acquittal rate is far too high. At Snaresbrook it is 58—2 per cent. and at Leicester it is 50—5 per cent. Does my right hon. Friend accept that something had to be done to get more properly representative juries? His announcement will be welcome and will reinforce the view that a jury can work properly if the right kind of people are on it.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend that there is widespread distrust of the jury system, if that was the phrase he used. On the whole, people are deeply and rightly attached to the jury system, but they are worried about what they increasingly see as a distortion of the type that he spoke about. I agree with him that we ought to remove the distortion.
I recommend to the Home Secretary that he read the reports of the debates leading to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980. The arguments that the Home Secretary is adducing now are precisely the arguments that his colleagues who are now responsible for legal matters in Scotland were rejecting at that time. Is he not aware, has nobody told him, that in 1980 his Government sought to reduce the number of challenges in Scotland from five to one? In Committee on the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, Government Back Benchers tabled and carried an amendment to increase the number of challenges from one to three. The arguments that the Home Secretary is advancing about peremptory challenges are valid in any part of the United Kingdom. A jury is a jury and a challenge is a challenge.
The hon. Member simply underlines one of the points that I made—that this procedure has been steadily and progressively reduced on both sides of the border. He gave an illustration from Scotland, and the time has come to move a further step down that road.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of us who work in the criminal justice system welcome his announcement, especially as it applies to multi-handed trials? It is all too evident that in such trials it is possible to engineer distortions. Does he also agree that, while it is one thing to make the system work more effectively, it is something else fundamentally to alter the system by withdrawing the right to jury trial from some defendants in certain circumstances?
I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend's second point. I am grateful for his observations on it. Both Houses of Parliament will take and indeed seek a long time to discuss this proposal and the other proposals that will be put forward in the Criminal Justice Bill.
Will the Home Secretary return to the question put to him by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Ashby) who asked why this proposal was being made now? In part, may it not be because of ministerial chagrin and sour grapes over Brian Raymond's successful challenge to three jury persons during the trial of Clive Ponting? Would it not be a good thing for the Home Office to turn its attention to the Director of Public Prosecutions whose record on official secrets, with Bothwell and the Cyprus spy trial, is about equal to that of the England cricket team?
I am not aware of the challenge in the case mentioned by the hon. Member. The proposal that we are putting forward is the result of a good deal of thought and study and a good deal of public discussion. That discussion has to go forward to its focus from the stage that it has now reached following the publication of the White Paper. That focus will be discussed in both Houses.
Does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary accept that the majority of those who practise in the criminal courts think that the practice of peremptory challenge has given rise to wide abuse? Does he also accept that it cannot be right to adjust the composition of a jury because a defendant—or more than one defendant—does not like red-headed men, or people with black faces, or people who read the Daily Telegraph? To adjust juries on that kind of ground is simply nonsense.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The point of the jury system and the reason why it retains public confidence is that it is based on random selection. Juries are not tailored for a particular trial or for a particular defendant. The institution of peremptory challenge was deliberately introduced to weight the system at a time when, in other respects, the jury system seemed to be weighted against the defendant — when, for example a defendant who might have been very poorly educated was on trial for his life. That was the basic thinking behind peremptory challenge, but it no longer applies.
Will the Home Secretary tell the House what hard evidence was available to the Government when they took this decision? How does he reconcile extolling the virtues of monitoring what is happening with paragraph 38 of the White Paper? I understand that monitoring is to continue. How could the Government reach a decision when evidence was not available to them upon which to reach that decision?
Secondly, how does the Home Secretary reconcile the different system that is now proposed for England and Wales with the Scottish system? There was a Government proposal in 1980 to reduce peremptory challenge in Scotland to one. However, an amendment was moved by the present Solicitor-General for Scotland to increase that number to three, and it was accepted by the then Solicitor-General for Scotland.
The question, to my mind, is to a large extent one of principle, and it is so argued in the White Paper to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred. When the House debates the matter, it will have before it not only the arguments of principle, which I have used today and which Lord Roskill uses in his report, but the results of the monitoring exercise that is mentioned in the White Paper. That is a perfectly fair balance. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and his Scottish colleagues will be able to advance their arguments about Scotland. We believe that in England and Wales the time has come to carry to a logical conclusion what has been a gradual process—the progressive reduction of this technique.
Order. This is a private notice question, but I shall allow two more questions.
When my right hon. Friend is considering the composition of juries in England and Wales — he will have noted the comments about Scotland — will he bear in mind the substantial differences between English and Scottish law, not the least of which is the matter of corroboration?
I am always very careful not to trespass upon Scottish law, precisely because I find that one subject leads to another. I find that the kind of simple comparisons that are advanced by the other side fall to pieces when the connecting circumstances are analysed.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the system of peremptory challenge was first introduced the structure of juries was very different, in that to be eligible for jury service one had to be a householder or landowner? That system has now been completely changed, and the composition of juries is much fairer. Apart from certain restrictions relating to age, every adult elector is eligible to serve on a jury. Therefore, the randomness of choice for jury service is much, much wider and fairer.
Does my right hon. Friend not think it strange that those who quite rightly espouse the jury system should seek to defend the continuation of the right to peremptory challenge which on occasion can only call into doubt the integrity of the jury system, to the detriment of everyone, not least defendants?
I agree. When a countryman living in Oxfordshire went to Oxford to stand trial for stealing a lamb, for which he might have been hanged or transported, there would have been a case for the kind of system that we now have; but for the reason that my hon. Friend gave, and others, I do not think that such a case exists now.
Order. I remind those hon Members whom I have been unable to call today that if they put down questions to the Home Office tomorrow they will come up on 24 July, which is just before the recess.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether through you, Mr. Speaker, I can get some clarification about the Scottish position. As I understand it, the Home Secretary has said that the removal of the right to peremptory challenge by the defence will not apply in Scotland. I am anxious to establish the position, because I understand from responsible members of the press that the Scottish Office, at a briefing this morning, said that it would apply. I have been unable to get any satisfactory reply from the Scottish Office, despite several telephone calls in the past hour or so. If the Home Secretary is clear that the new procedure will not apply to Scotland, it would be helpful to get it clearly and firmly on the record.
I do not wish to compound the confusion, but I shall readily let the hon. Member know about this as soon as possible.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As we have had three earlier answers—yes, no, and I do not know—which of them has the right hon. Gentleman corrected?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Attorney-General is giving the Home Secretary different advice.
Order. I cannot help that. None of this is a matter for me. I do not know either.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I accept your rulings, as I always do, but I should like to raise a matter that is a proper point of order —
—which is a nice change.
This afternoon, you restricted questions on a matter that affects the inalienable right of an Englishman to a proper jury trial. I can understand your irritation with some of the views expressed by some of my hon. Friends, who seem to think that a jury trial involves them in deciding what the verdict should be. Those of us who scratch a part-time precarious living in the law know rather more about it than others and might make some more sensible comments than have been made. If this topic arises again, could you extend the time to include those who have some knowledge, so that they might give their views?
Order. Let me take one point of order at a time. It is always difficult for the Chair to decide who to call on any question. As for curtailing the question, it was a private notice question and I allowed it to run for more than 20 minutes, which is longer than I would allow for any normal question. I have already hinted to the hon. Gentleman that if he tables a question tomorrow it will come up during Home Office questions on 24 July, and I wish him good luck.