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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 20th January 2000.

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Photo of Lord Shore of Stepney Lord Shore of Stepney Labour 4:45 pm, 20th January 2000

Perhaps I may also say a word about what my noble friend described as the jewel in the crown of our legal system. Trial by jury is indeed just that. Because it is so, we need very powerful arguments indeed to persuade us that we should diminish access to trial by jury to our fellow citizens. I do not say that my mind is wholly made up even now. I wish to ask a question or two of my noble and learned friend who is to reply to help me and perhaps others in the Committee to reach a decision.

In our history, trial by jury has contributed enormously to securing justice for our fellow citizens. It has also been a powerful agent leading to law reform. Bad laws have been exposed by jury trial and because juries refused to convict, even against the summing up of learned judges. In the case of stealing sheep and being hanged for it, the law was changed to the great benefit of this country.

Some of the proposed changes are entirely marginal. I do not wish to be over-rigid about this but we are not including possible categories of offence which, although small in themselves, nevertheless carry heavy political weight. To make the issue more urgent and contemporary than it might otherwise be, I say this. There is a flood of legislation coming, not from this House and this Parliament, but from authorities across the Channel in Brussels that affects the rights of our citizens and in respect of which they incur penalties if the legislation is disobeyed.

An almost classic case of what I consider to be abuse of legislative power by Brussels is the compulsory change of units of measurement of goods sold by fruit and vegetable retailers and butchers. They are compelled to show and sell units in metric measures from 1st January this year. Whatever the merit of that may be, it is not a proper subject for penalty and law enforcement in this country. It seems to me that the splendid butcher who has already announced that he will contest it must be assured of the right of jury trial so that the attention of the media, Parliament and everyone can be focused on this outrage to our system of self-government in this country.