Jury Trials (Fraud)

– in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 21st June 2005.

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Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department 3:30 pm, 21st June 2005

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement dealing with the Government's intention to implement section 43 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. This statement is also being made in the other place by the Attorney-General.

In order to ensure that people accused of serious frauds do not escape justice, we propose to implement this provision for trial without jury in serious and complex fraud cases. It would be subject to judicial safeguards. The Government have decided that in the autumn they will seek affirmative resolutions from both Houses of Parliament in order to implement section 43. Section 43 will enable serious and complex fraud trials to be conducted by a judge sitting without a jury. The provision can operate only where the judge is satisfied that the length or complexity of the trial is likely to make it so burdensome on the jury that the interests of justice require it—subject to the Lord Chief Justice's approval in each case.

The Government gave a commitment to consult further on these issues when the 2003 Act was passed. That commitment was made good at a seminar held in January of this year, at which Opposition spokesmen, the judiciary, prosecuting authorities and the legal profession were among those represented. I am placing a record of the seminar proceedings in the Library of the House.

A protocol for dealing with lengthy trials, which was issued by the Lord Chief Justice on 22 March 2005, emphasises the need for robust and well informed case management to enable the court to focus on the real issues, and it is hoped that that approach will contribute towards reducing the length of trials. The Government consider, however, that better case management will not of itself be sufficient to confine the duration of the most complex serious fraud trials within reasonable bounds, or prevent such trials from imposing an intolerable burden on the jury. Complex and serious fraud cases can last six months or in some cases a year.

This provision is not part of a general assault on jury trial. The Government are in favour of trial by jury in the vast majority of cases where it will remain appropriate. To put it into perspective, there are around 40,000 jury trials in England and Wales annually, and this provision will affect perhaps 10 to 20 of them. The Government therefore propose in the autumn to take the action necessary to obtain parliamentary approval for the implementation of section 43, with a view to bringing it into force in January 2006.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I am very sorry to hear the Solicitor-General's statement, which is flagrantly in breach of the assurances that the Government gave to the House as to how they would proceed on this matter. I note that a policy that I would usually expect to be run by the Home Office has been transferred to the Law Officers for implementation. One can assume only that the Government's knowledge of their own breach of faith has prompted them to use their lawyers to cover up for them I am sorry that, yet again, the Law Officers have been tainted by what I suspect is a machination coming straight from No. 10 Downing street.

At the end of the passage through the House of the Bill that became the Criminal Justice Act 2003, this issue was debated at length. On 20 November, the then Home Secretary told the House that the Government were

"prepared to agree that we will not implement the proposals set out in clause 42"— which is now section 43—

"as amended, while we seek an improved way forward that does not rely on a single judge sitting alone.

During the debate, proposals in relation to how specialist advice and support might be offered have been made, including measures drawing on a specialist range of expertise for a jury. On Second Reading and again on Report, I said that I was not against looking at such measures, so I find no difficulty tonight in offering the opportunity to the two main Opposition parties working with the Attorney-General, the Serious Fraud Office and the senior judiciary to take a further look at how that might be taken forward."

Later, Simon Hughes intervened to ask:

"Is it the implication of his remarks that, as a result of the Bill passing into law tonight, there will not be any serious fraud trial by a single judge in England and Wales?"

The Home Secretary replied:

"I am prepared to give that undertaking. It is part of the agreement that we retain the clause, but move forward towards looking at the alternative solutions that I have mentioned and that could be incorporated in one or other of the two measures that have either been consulted on or will come before the House in the Queen's Speech. That safeguard is appropriate. I give a binding undertaking that we will follow that agreement."—[Hansard, 20 November 2003; Vol. 413, c. 1027–28.]

We are now told that consultation has taken place and that the Government are set on implementing section 43 as it stands. However, there has been no proper consultation. The Solicitor-General mentioned that a seminar was held in late January. I could not attend it, but at no time was it suggested that that seminar was a formal consultation. My noble Friend Lord Kingsland was able to attend, but he was given no impression at the time of his attendance that the seminar was a formal consultation. If indeed it was a formal consultation, it departed from all established Government practice in the way that it was carried out.

I saw the minutes from that seminar for the first time this morning. If the Government thought that the seminar had discharged their undertaking in full, why were all interested parties not provided with copies of the minutes, or invited to submit further comments? Furthermore, the Home Secretary gave the assurance that the matter would be dealt with, if at all, by primary legislation, as that offered this House the opportunity to improve and amend any proposals put forward. Why has that been abandoned?

The Fraud Bill introduced in the other place would provide a perfect vehicle for this matter. Why has it not been used? The proposed changes to the fraud law, and the changes in respect of multiple offences introduced since the Criminal Justice Act 2003 came into being, have a direct bearing on the ability to shorten fraud trials. What is the basis for ignoring those changes and for trying to prevent the detailed debate that they require?

The SFO's record of conviction was extremely high until last year, with an overall average of just under 80 per cent. Will the Solicitor-General confirm that many recent acquittals have had nothing to do with juries but have been on the direction of judges? Earlier this year, the Government expressed concern at the collapse of the Jubilee line fraud trial. An inquiry was ordered to ascertain the causes of that collapse. I understand that that inquiry is still continuing. Indeed, it is suggested that the basic cause of the collapse was prosecution mismanagement of the trial process. Why have the Government elected to proceed when we do not have the benefit of that inquiry report into the trial's collapse?

The Opposition are always prepared to consider improvements to the criminal justice system. I made that point during the consideration of jury trial in the criminal justice debate in 2003, but we also believe that jury trial is a great asset and a safeguard, which ensures that it is the independent representatives of the community who find guilt or acquit in serious criminal cases, not the state. As the Government's approach is currently without any justification whatever and in breach of their undertakings to the House, I can tell the Solicitor-General that we will oppose these measures both here and in another place.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

I note that, during the hon. Gentleman's questions, he spent a lot of time talking about the process and did not really address the substance of what we propose to do.

On the process, it is complete nonsense to suggest that there is a breach of any undertaking. It is the case that my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary made a commitment, and if the hon. Gentleman looks at the wording of that commitment, he will see that he said that we would look at these issues. It is the case that a letter sent to the hon. Gentleman and others about the seminar held on 24 January 2005 clearly stated:

"The seminar pursues that undertaking"— the undertaking given by the Home Secretary. So it is very clear from the substance of the letter that that was what that seminar was about.

It is the case that the shadow Lord Chancellor, the noble Lord Kingsland, the noble Lord Thomas of Gresford on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, and representatives of the Bar, the Law Society, Justice, the Serious Fraud Office and Customs, as well as Lord Justice Thomas, Lord Justice Judge and Mr. Justice Field all attended the seminar. The hon. Gentleman indicated that he was unable to attend. He accepted initially, but tendered his apologises later.

It is also the case that that seminar included a full and robust discussion of the issues and that everyone at that seminar accepted that there were issues with serious fraud trials and that a way had to be found to resolve them. Those issues are, indeed, quite serious. They apply to a very small number of cases—10 to 20 a year, out of 40,000—so it is simply hyperbole for anyone to suggest that this proposal is somehow an attack on juries. It is the outcome of two decades of debate since Roskill suggested in 1986 that we should move to such a position.

The key problems are very clear. Serious and complex trials can last six months or a year. They are an intrusion into the private and working lives of jurors. They can cause great hardship and economic loss—many jurors seek, and are granted, excusal—and they lead to concerns about the representative nature of juries in some cases. Juries are faced with the quite extraordinary physical and mental tasks of listening to often complex and obtuse evidence. Some fraud trials involve the explanation of interlinking transactions, involving complex financial instruments and often occurring over a number of years, and detailed cross-examination, requiring constant cross-references to documents and records. That is tough on any juror.

Judges can read much of the background material and agreed evidence much more quickly, so some of those trials can be properly shortened without compromising justice—indeed, possibly leading to a higher level of justice because the complexity of some of those cases can be considered. Prosecutors sometimes have to split trials into two or more separate trials to make them manageable and comprehensible to juries. Thus the full criminality of such fraud is not always exposed. There is also the risk that, to reduce complexity, prosecutors are sometimes tempted to reduce the number of charges to make it easier for jury trials to take place. That itself is unsatisfactory because it does not enable the full complexity of the criminality to be exposed. Judges can deal with such cases more quickly. The hon. Gentleman's objections are not accepted by the Government. He said that the House has not had the opportunity to debate the issues, but resolutions will be put before both Houses and there will be full opportunity for debate at that stage.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to confirm that acquittals were often at the direction of the judge. Yes, that certainly is the case. However, I disagree with his figure for the past five years; the Serious Fraud Office's conviction record was about 70 per cent. Stephen Wooler is indeed looking into the background of the Jubilee line trial and will no doubt make his report in due course, but the House needs to know when the Government have made a clear decision. The Government have made a decision, and I remind the House that this is a power for the courts, not a requirement. As I made clear throughout my statement, the Government want jury trials to continue in the vast majority of cases. The provision will apply only to a very small number of serious and complex fraud trials.

Photo of Robert Marshall-Andrews Robert Marshall-Andrews Labour, Medway

The Minister implies by his opening remarks that as a result of jury trial people are being acquitted who would otherwise be convicted, which runs wholly contrary to the statistics, as he knows. Will he amplify that point and let us know which trials he has in mind—he need not identify them by name—where that occurred?

Will the Minister tell the House how far in advance of the collapse of the Jubilee line trial were his office and the office of the Attorney-General informed of the serious and unique difficulties that had occurred, and what did he or the Attorney-General do about it?

In respect of the seminar about which we have been told during this debate, many Labour Members in both the House and the other place spoke against the measure and voted against it or abstained because they were gravely concerned about it. How many of them were invited to the seminar, and who were they?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

I have set out the reasoning behind the decision. Contrary to my hon. and learned Friend's suggestion, I did not base my argument on the rate of acquittal. I was careful not to do that; I actually based it on the length, complexity, costs, dangers and risks—for example, that a juror or jurors can become ill during a trial and proceedings can be frustrated. There is a series of reasons why trials last longer because they are conducted before jurors. All the background information must be carefully set out—issues that could be dealt with and resolved much more quickly by judges at a substantial saving to the taxpayer but, more than that, with an increase in the justice that is done because the complexity of the crime can be revealed.

My hon. and learned Friend asked when the Law Officers were informed of certain matters relating to the Jubilee line case. He will be aware that I was not a Law Officer at the time that some of those matters were dealt with, so I will check and write to him on that matter.

When my hon. and learned Friend reads the report that I have placed in the Library, he will be aware that a substantial number of Labour Members attended the seminar. Yes, they were Ministers, but the views of the Labour party were represented.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Will the Solicitor-General comment on the constitutional propriety of Law Officers bringing forward an order of such contention, especially given the fact that the Government were defeated on the matter in the last Parliament? Is it appropriate for Law Officers who have control of the prosecuting authorities to determine how a prosecution is to be heard in court?

On the so-called inter-party discussions, I note the fact that several Ministers were present, but I can assure the Solicitor-General that there were no Conservative or Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesmen on home affairs or constitutional affairs, so they were not inter-party discussions but a discussion between the Attorney-General and some chums from the Lords. Can we therefore assume that we cannot rely on a solemn and binding undertaking given both privately and in the Chamber by a Cabinet Minister—in this case a former Home Secretary?

Baroness Scotland gave the further undertaking that there would be linkage with the Law Commission's recommendations on multiple offending and further work on corruption, so what has happened to that linkage? What consideration has the hon. and learned Gentleman given to the Criminal Bar Association's 10-point plan to reduce the length of trials, which builds on the work already undertaken by the Lord Chief Justice?

The Jubilee line case has been mentioned. Is it not true that a juror interviewed after the collapse of that trial said:

"It wasn't too complex at all. We understood every single thing"?

Is it also not the case that Chris Newell, the casework director for the Crown Prosecution Service, in defending jury trials in complex cases, said that it was clearly in the public interest to bring such cases before a court and jury? Are we to take it that the Law Officers do not agree with the CPS in this respect?

Many Opposition and Labour Members believe that a jury is the best way of determining the honesty or dishonesty of the accused, and many will agree with the Labour party's former Attorney-General, Lord Morris of Aberavon, when he said:

"I am fundamentally opposed to tampering with the right to trial by jury—either at the instigation of the prosecution or the defence."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 19 November 2003; Vol. 654, c. 1948.]

Liberal Democrats will resist the loss and erosion of jury trial, whether that is done by primary or secondary legislation.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

I fear that the hon. Gentleman doth protest a little too much. First, he and his party were represented at the seminar. He talked about the constitutional propriety—as he uncharacteristically and a little pompously put it—of the Law Officers bringing the matter forward. The legislation was passed by Parliament and the House will have an opportunity in the autumn to debate the resolutions properly. I am happy to offer any hon. Members who wish to attend a briefing about the implications of all this. [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. Hon. Members should not interrupt these proceedings. Members of the Liberal Democrats and Her Majesty's official Opposition often ask Ministers to come before the House, so they should not be interrupted in such a way. Has the Solicitor-General finished?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

Not quite, I am afraid, Mr. Speaker. I was asked quite a lot of questions and I am attempting to do the House the service of answering them. [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I have just given an instruction. John Bercow had better behave himself. He has been like this all day—it must be something he took for his breakfast this morning.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As long as it was for breakfast and not for lunch.

The Government want the vast majority of cases, including the vast majority of fraud cases, to be tried by jury, so that will continue to happen. We are considering only the most complex cases and have put in place a whole series of important safeguards following the debate in Parliament. First, the prosecution will have to make an application to the trial judge. That judge will have to be satisfied under the legislation that the case is so complex and serious that the interests of justice would be satisfied only by a proper trial. The trial judge will examine the circumstances of the case after the initial application and take a view, but only—this will apply in each and every case—after consultation with the Lord Chief Justice or such other judge as is designated by him.

This debate has been going on for some time because 20 years ago Lord Roskill's fraud trials committee commented:

"While petty frauds, clumsily committed, are likely to be detected and punished, it is all too likely that the largest and most cleverly executed crimes escape unpunished."

One of Lord Roskill's recommendations was that the most complex fraud cases should be tried without a jury. The Government examined the matter again in 1998, carried out an exercise and reached the same conclusion, as did Sir Robin Auld's review of the criminal courts in 2001, which referred to the

"burdensome length and increasing speciality and complexity of these cases" that puts

"justice at risk".

I also note that Simon Hughes commented during the debate that he, too, was concerned about the nature of complex jury trials. Although he wanted to see a way of keeping juries, he recognised that some change needed to be made to the whole process. Judges will have a power to examine particular cases. It is a power that will be used in only a few cases.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

I understand my hon. and learned Friend's frustration at the length of trials, but is it right that a fundamental principle of justice should be removed because of the proceedings at a seminar? Is it right that the process should have proceeded in such a way without even more detailed consultation? My hon. and learned Friend mentioned the Lord Chief Justice's protocol of 22 March; is he telling the House that the Lord Chief Justice has given his consent to these proposals? If he has not done so, what consultation has taken place outside the confines of the seminar with the senior judiciary about this important change? It seems that this is yet another victory for the Home Office over the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Law Officers.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

We have a manifesto commitment that states:

"We will overhaul laws on fraud and the way that fraud trials are conducted to update them for the 21st century and make them quicker and more effective."

We are implementing part of that manifesto commitment, on which my hon. Friend, too, stood.

We are not changing things as a result of a seminar. The seminar was as a result of a full debate in Parliament, which resulted in legislation being passed. There is an Act that contains section 43. It was with the agreement of the Government that we would have a resolution of both Houses to bring that legislation into force. There will be a proper debate about these resolutions. It is the case that Parliament has made a decision that the legislation should be on the statute book. It will be Parliament, if it decides to do so, which will implement it in due course.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

It is a matter for Parliament to decide what this legislation is. Parliament has passed legislation. I am not sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman is really suggesting that he wants the Lord Chief Justice to engage in a debate on whether Parliament has the right to pass legislation.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that I, too, stood on the Labour party manifesto, when there was nothing at all in that manifesto about doing away with jury trials in any particular or for any category of case. Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that it is not necessary to be a lawyer or a white-collar criminal, or even both, to be concerned about taking away the right to jury trial, even in a fraction of cases? While my hon. and learned Friend's argument about the length of cases may have some merit, his further argument that cases are too complex and that juries are too stupid is a dangerous precedent to state. It is the poorest in our society and black ethnic communities who place most value on the right to trial by jury. Even though it is a handful of cases, a dubious precedent may well be set.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

I am not asking the hon. and learned Gentleman to do so. The Lord Chief Justice will make a decision on how he makes it publicly clear that he gives his approval in individual cases.

As for the question asked by my hon. Friend Ms Abbott, I am not suggesting—at no stage would I suggest—that juries are unable to deal with very complex cases. They often deal with complex cases, and will continue to do so. It will be in the case of only very lengthy and extremely complex cases—the most complex cases, a small handful or just more than that; we estimate up to 20 a year, and it probably will be well under that number—where there will be some difficulties. The types of problems that arise are not those that my hon. Friend suggests. Sometimes, to enable jury trials to take place and to put the issues properly to the jury, prosecutors have had to split cases and have two trials instead of one. There is also a temptation for prosecutors to undercharge to ensure that the case does not become too complex. To avoid such problems, to ensure that the full criminality of the issue is examined, and to ensure that justice is done we have introduced the proposals.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Many of us who have been involved in long fraud cases believe that it is possible to address the question of length and complexity by even better case management and by ensuring that the counts on the indictment are limited in number, that the evidence is confined to the central issues, and that a general charge of conspiracy is avoided.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

In many instances, it will be possible by means of case management to deal with relatively complex cases. On 22 March, new proposals were introduced by the Lord Chief Justice to see whether we could use case management techniques to deal with some of these cases. However, the Government believe that the most complex cases need to be dealt with differently and that better case management alone will not suffice. The right hon. and learned Gentleman identified the problem in his question. He said that we should limit the counts on the indictment, which would prevent the full criminality of the issue from being exposed before a jury. The seeds of the problem are evident in his question, as he is asking prosecutors to limit the extent of criminality so that it can be put before a jury. We want the full criminality to be exposed and justice to be properly done.

Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Labour, Wolverhampton North East

Adhering to jury trials is an extremely lofty principle for the Minister, but does he agree that the vast majority of City fraud is perpetrated by the very rich robbing the filthy rich, then pursuing justice at the taxpayer's expense? Does he share my experience of many council estates where robberies, I am afraid, are commonplace? When people lose their tellies and their cars the police come along and give them a crime number, which they are supposed to take to their insurance company. Most of my constituents on those estates, however, do not even have an insurance company. I suggest to the Minister that the way to get rid of these cases is to give people a crime number and let them get on with it.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

My hon. Friend has identified a problem, as all too often blue collar crime is prosecuted because it is straightforward. The full criminality of white collar crime, however, may not be exposed because of its sheer complexity and the use of complex financial instruments. Split trials and a particular charging technique may be required, with the result that the whole issue is not properly exposed. It is a matter of justice, and of ensuring that white collar crime is dealt with as well as blue collar crime.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

The Solicitor-General was careful in an earlier answer to say that the proposal does not have anything to do with conviction rates. Why, then, did he begin his statement with the words:

"In order to ensure that people accused of serious frauds do not escape justice"?

He says that the Government are in favour of trial by jury in the vast majority of cases, where it will remain appropriate. Should that not be in all present cases where it remains appropriate? Some of us believe that this is the opening shot in a great assault on the time-honoured principle of trial by jury.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

The House has already agreed that in cases where jury nobbling is an issue it may be appropriate that juries do not continue to be used. That was dealt with in the 2003 legislation, so the issue has already been looked at by the House. As for my suggesting that it is not about conviction rates, I said that it is about the complexity of the cases. I am concerned that the full complexity of cases is not always exposed to the eyes of the public because of the need, as Mr. Hogg said, to limit the number of counts in a case. To ensure complete examination of all the issues, we must ensure that the full raft of criminality and its complexity is subject to a single trial so that justice can be done. The criminality must be considered in all its complexity, and should not be simplified with split trials so that it can be more easily managed by juries.

Photo of Brian Jenkins Brian Jenkins Labour, Tamworth

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for the statement today and the promise of a debate in the near future. I shall not speak on behalf of lawyers. I am not one, and there are enough Members present with that interest in mind. With regard to juries and the people whom I represent, does my hon. and learned Friend understand that—and when we have the debate, will he take cognisance of the effect that it would have on a small company—if one person were taken out of the company for 12 months, or if the person ran the company himself, that would have a bad effect over those 12 months? Would all jurors have the right to decline jury service if it would have an effect on their living? If they did that, would not juries then be self-selecting, and would not that undermine the very essence of a jury trial?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

My hon. Friend identifies a key problem with some serious and complex fraud trials. If they are likely to last six months or a year, many people will suffer enormous economic and personal injury if they have to serve on a jury throughout that period. Most juries are in panel for a two-week period. In serious fraud trials the period can be much, much longer and the economic damage that that can cause to companies and individuals is serious.

It is important that we ensure that these cases are dealt with in a way that leads to proper justice being done. I am satisfied that the proposals that will be put forward by the Government will ensure that. There are safeguards and limits to undue use of the power. It will be for the judges and the Lord Chief Justice to look at each individual case and to be satisfied that it is necessary to try it without a jury.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

I do not know what it is about the Government and jury trials—they seem to get so angry about the idea that ordinary people can make a decision about the future of somebody defending a case. Will the Minister deal with the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg about the problems of case management? The Minister implied in his response that it was a quantity issue, rather than a quality issue. He said that if we got rid of juries, prosecutors would no longer under-charge. Presumably he means they will over-charge—they will put more and more into the indictment, making the case even more complex and leading to a longer trial with less likelihood of prosecution leading to a fruitful result. Why, when the Minister has a problem with complexity, does he focus on the jury, not on those who brought the case in the first place?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

The right hon. Gentleman's hyperbole about jury trials ignores the fact that out of 40,000, we are dealing with up to about 20 a year. It is utter hyperbole to suggest that this is a general attack on juries. In many serious fraud cases, case management will be of assistance. We warmly welcome the proposals by the Lord Chief Justice on 22 March this year to help with that process, but in a small number of cases it is necessary to look at the quality of the trial and the issue of—

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

I hear the right hon. Gentleman shouting from a sedentary position. Perhaps he could keep himself under control. We are not moving towards a position of over-charging. We are recognising the serious criminality that some white collar crimes expose. Up to now we have not been entirely successful in ensuring that the full complexity is recognised and dealt with by courts. There will be no over-charging. There will be proper charging. The right hon. Gentleman ought to be in favour of that and in favour of catching the criminals.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

This is a very bad day for the liberties of the subject and for the reputation of British justice. I fear that the fact that the Minister has already sought to defend his proposal on the grounds that some inroads have already been made into the right to jury trial in the context of jury nobbling means that it is true that the proposal is part of a teleological, deliberate and conscious decision steadily to erode the right to jury trial. The Government have condemned themselves by trying to force through the proposals before Parliament has seen the results of the inquiry into the Jubilee line fiasco, which might well show that the judge failed to manage the case in a timely and businesslike fashion, or that the prosecuting counsel failed to master the brief and present it sufficiently succinctly. We are being asked to take a view before the evidence is available, which is scandalous in itself. Is the Minister not aware that the Americans—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I am going to stop the hon. Gentleman, who has not asked a question. [Interruption.] Maybe he is getting round to it—I will call him the next time the Solicitor-General makes a statement.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

Will the Solicitor-General re-examine the clear undertaking given by the previous Home Secretary to me in the debate on 20 November 2003, when he said that a way could be found by agreement to bring back powers in principal legislation after serious discussion across the parties? Will he say that it is unacceptable to take these powers by affirmative resolution? One seminar for a couple of hours in the House of Lords does not count as consultation across the parties in Parliament. The situation is unacceptable, and I formally ask the Solicitor-General to look again.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

I will not "look again" in the sense suggested by the hon. Gentleman. Opposition spokespersons were invited to attend that particular seminar to discuss their proposals, and my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary said that we would examine the issues, which we have done. The affirmative procedure is not unacceptable, because, following discussions, the House decided that the matter would be brought forward by the affirmative resolutions of both Houses. The matter will be properly debated in the House in the way understood at the time—I, too, have read the hon. Gentleman's speech in Hansard, and we disagree on its interpretation. We have delivered on the then Home Secretary's proposal—I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied, but we have done it. The reality of the situation is that we are hearing a lot of hyperbole about 0.05 per cent. of jury trials.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon and East Chelmsford

Is the Solicitor-General aware that I served on a jury at the Old Bailey in a murder trial earlier this year—I may have been the first Member of this House to appear at the Old Bailey, at least in the jury box? All my fellow jurors took their task immensely seriously and meticulously studied the highly complex evidence. Will he say why juries are not capable of mastering the complexity of a fraud trial, when they are perfectly capable of dealing with a charge as serious as murder?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

I did not know that the hon. Gentleman had served as a juror in a trial earlier this year. We owe a great debt to everyone who serves as a juror, and I thank him and all other jurors for their work as citizens. Jurors take the issues seriously and, as a lawyer, I have seen jurors take a serious interest in cases and manage complex issues. With respect, however, that is not the point. No one is suggesting that juries are a bad way of making decisions. Indeed, we want the vast majority of cases, including many complex cases, to continue to be dealt with by jurors, but for the past two decades judges and others have said in report after report that we have a serious problem with a tiny percentage of cases—0.05 per cent. We cannot continue to ignore the seriousness of such fraud cases and to allow justice not to be done, and we must introduce a system that enables justice to be done in serious and complex cases.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Surely the real problem is not with juries but with lawyers. I put it to the Solicitor-General, whose statement I personally found thoroughly unpersuasive, that the real challenge is for lawyers more effectively to distil their arguments and present their evidence. On a personal note, as one who admires the Solicitor-General, the way in which he sniffily dismissed the expressions of concern from Members on both sides of the House and was so manifestly patronising and arrogant towards my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg and my right hon. Friend Mr. Duncan Smith did a Minister of his great experience no credit whatsoever.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

I did not notice that the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham was particularly put down. Having known him over many years, I think that it would take far more than humble me to achieve that.

The hon. Gentleman, like the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, almost crystallises the problem. He says that it is all the fault of lawyers who do not put the case properly or distil it properly. Such cases are often very complex and difficult, and what sometimes happens now is that they are simplified in a way that prevents the full complexity of the injustice and criminality from being exposed. The problem is that lawyers are continually trying to do that distilling process, and we must ensure that the full nature of the issue is not prevented from being exposed. We need to create a situation in which the complexity can be dealt with and justice can be properly done.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Rugby and Kenilworth

Although I accept that the number of cases that the Solicitor-General is talking about in this context is very small, does he not accept that the difficulty with this proposal is that the arguments that he is deploying can be used to justify the removal of jury trial in a large number of other cases? Arguments of complexity and length apply to more than just serious fraud trials.

That is the first thing that is dangerous. Does the Solicitor-General accept that it is also dangerous to include reference to conviction rates in a statement to justify the removal of jury trial? The fact that conviction rates do not include every case may indicate that the system is working as it should be.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

It may indicate that certain people are not guilty and therefore should not be convicted, as is of course the case. However, the hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that the arguments that I have put forward can be used to apply to the vast majority of the 40,000 jury trials that take place across the country. Many of those cases are straightforward. Many are complex. Many concern serious fraud matters but ones that can properly be put before a jury and have their complexity exposed before it.

I certainly do not accept the hon. Gentleman's proposition that in advancing these arguments I would seek further to curtail the number of cases that a jury would try. In the long term, it is our intention that the vast majority of the 40,000 cases that are tried by juries today will continue to be tried by jurors. However, we want to ensure that in all those cases the jury is able to do justice where it can, and that justice is none the less done where the case is very complex and serious enough for it to go before a judge rather than a jury.