Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill [H.L.]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 20th January 2000.

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Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative 4:30 pm, 20th January 2000

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for adding votes to those who disagree with the Government on the issue. His remarks about "blacks" were disgraceful. I have never previously used that word in this House, and I hope that I never have to use it again.

With immense trepidation, I turn to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice. I speak as someone who gained only five O-levels in, I think, 1953. Therefore, to argue with the Lord Chief Justice is a somewhat foolhardy venture but, nevertheless, I shall seek to do so.

The noble and learned Lord opened his remarks by saying that the present system works perfectly well. I think that we all agree with that. The argument is over cost and delay, with some people acting as what used to be called barrack-room lawyers or playing the old soldier. The one appalling fault of the Bill is that it separates justice from one class of person to another. If we say all murder cases should be tried by the head of the Esher Boy Scouts troop, we are making it fair for all murder cases. What we cannot say is that some murder cases may be tried by the head of the Esher Boy Scouts troop and others may not. That is the core fault of the Bill. It is essential that justice is not only seen to be done for all, but is equal for all.

In his maiden speech, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, told the story of his wife walking out of a shop with a sack of groceries and forgetting to pay for them. Had she been from a different background and caught, it is possible that the store detective would have said, "We've heard that before; there's no way we're going to let you off". It is equally certain that the magistrate would have said, "She's the sort of person we'll not allow to go down for that".

In the recent case of Jeremy Guscott, it seemed right for that to go to trial by jury. I do not know what the magistrates would have decided in that case, but it had all the characteristics of everything going wrong.