Criminal Justice Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 15th July 2003.

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Photo of Lord Taverne Lord Taverne Liberal Democrat 4:15 pm, 15th July 2003

I have not spoken in the debate previously and I do so with great hesitation and humility, because it is a very long time since I had anything to do with the law. For the reasons which have been advanced by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford and by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, I do not accept the arguments in favour of Clauses 43 and 45 and I do not support all parts of Part 7. In general, I accept the arguments for juries in serious criminal cases, but I am sorry to say to my noble friends, with whom I part company on this matter, that I am attracted by the arguments in favour of Clause 41 and by the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Phillips to Clause 42.

I shall make a few brief, general remarks. I worked at the Home Office a long time ago. We found that the legal profession tends to oppose many reforms. It is a very conservative profession. The first question that arose when I arrived at the Home Office was whether we should have majority verdicts in jury cases. There was unanimous opposition from the Bar. The sky would fall if there were majority verdicts. The Criminal Bar Association was passionately opposed. It made official representations to the Home Office at that stage and argued that majority verdicts would be a disastrous development for criminal justice.

Leaving that aside, I also remember that earlier, during the time when a certain number of cases were subject to jury trials in civil proceedings, there was again strong opposition to any curtailment of jury trials in civil proceedings. I remember the late Lord Hailsham, when he was still Quintin Hogg, saying that there was a simple rule at the Bar. If one had a good case, one went for a judge; if one had a bad one, one went for a jury. In the case of Clause 41, it would be wrong to say that a member who thinks that he has a good case for the defence, and thinks that there may be prejudices against him if he goes for a jury trial, should not be allowed to opt for trial by judge. For once, I am not convinced by the arguments of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford. He cited a number of examples—they seemed to be examples—where the defendant thought that there would be great prejudice against him. Therefore, in the case of Clause 41, there are reasons why it should be legitimate for a defendant to opt for trial with a judge alone.