Criminal Justice Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 15th July 2003.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Wirral Lord Hunt of Wirral Conservative 3:30 pm, 15th July 2003

The noble Lord knows much about these matters. He is right. A great deal of unnecessary documentation could be dealt with at an earlier stage through pre-trial hearings in order to restrict the consideration. After all, the only real question is whether or not a defendant is dishonest. Surely there must be a better way of simplifying the issues.

As to the third area, that of jury tampering, I am sure that I speak for all Members of the Committee when I say that we have much sympathy with the police if indeed, as the Deputy Commissioner revealed in a letter to The Times today, this problem is growing. We need to conduct urgent research. Let us look at the details and consider what it is best to do—but not as a part of a bits-and-pieces package to dispense with jury trial.

Jury tampering needs to be tackled head on. It cannot be countenanced in this country that there should be such tampering. There are existing common law powers for a judge to intervene, to stop a trial and to then order a retrial before another jury, perhaps hundreds of miles away. Such common law powers exist. If the mode of trial is altered under threat, the problem will not go away. It will still be there, but it will be restricted to the judge. If the problem is not tackled head on, extra security for judges and their families would be a consequence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, and her entourage have moved into overdrive and there has been a highly orchestrated publicity campaign. I was delighted to see in the Guardian, if I may compliment the Minister, a marvellous photograph of the noble Baroness. Underneath the picture were the words "Scotland the brave". The article states:

"Can Baroness Scotland (above) ride to the government's rescue in the Lords today and save plans for judge-only trials?".

I have read with great interest the Minister's comments—no doubt they trail what she is about to say—and three words came across to me: namely, "cause to pause". She said that if indeed it was a fact that where there had been an attempt at jury nobbling juries were more likely to convict as a result, that gives "cause to pause". I hope that the Minister not only meant what she said but will put it into action today. This is a wonderful moment for the noble Baroness to save the Government from going down the wrong path and to say to the Committee today, "We are not going to move these clauses. We are going to remove them from the Bill and think again. We are going to have a moment of pause".

I hope that the Government will think again. Telling the public that certain cases are inappropriate for juries will surely undermine confidence in and commitment to the jury system. Trial by judge alone would see the independence of the judiciary called into question, to say nothing of the pressures it would place on individual Crown Court judges, an issue on which there has been no research and no consultation. There are many other issues that I hope will be raised during the course of the debate.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, the Government's proposals are, to use the phrase used by my right honourable friend the shadow Home Secretary in another place, taking us well down a slippery slope. Another shadow Home Secretary once said when opposing the restriction of jury trial that,

"Fundamental rights to justice cannot be driven by administrative convenience".

Those are the words of the present Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, then shadow Home Secretary. I was there and I heard those words. He is now Prime Minister. I am in total and complete agreement with him.

On Second Reading the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to that fundamental right and stated:

"The Bill"— that is, the Criminal Justice Bill

"respects and safeguards that central principle of our system".—[Official Report, 16/6/03; col. 560.]

This is where we on these Benches part company with the Government. The Bill neither respects nor safeguards jury trial and puts administrative convenience ahead of fundamental rights. For the reasons I have outlined, we not only oppose Clause 41 standing part of the Bill but seek to remove Part 7 from the Bill today.

Three years ago, the House stood up to the Government in defence of this central principle of our system of justice. I very much hope that the Committee will send the same message to the Government that they should end this obsession with restricting trial by jury. There are many provisions in the Bill which merit our consideration and support. Let us remove Part 7 and get on with our scrutiny of the remainder of the Bill.