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 Lloyd of Berwick Lord Lloyd of Berwick Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee) 4:15 pm, 15th July 2003

I support the powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, and those who have spoken after him to the same effect. I confine myself simply to Clause 42, which was another clause that was barely considered in the House of Commons.

There only ever was one plausible argument in favour of the principles behind Clause 42. That was that long fraud cases are too difficult and complicated for juries to understand, and that they have therefore acquitted in cases where they should have convicted. I said that was a plausible argument; it never was the case, as has now been conceded, I understand, by the Lord Chancellor in his speech at Second Reading. He specifically disclaimed any reliance on the argument that juries are not competent to decide those cases. One will find that in Hansard of 16th June, at col. 560. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, made the powerful point that the Government's position has changed during the months.

I cannot speak from personal experience of ever having tried a long fraud case, but perhaps I may speak from the experience of others. Of course, juries do not always take in every detail of a long case—one would not expect them to do so—but they are well capable of grasping the essentials. In most cases, as noble Lords will hear again and again this afternoon if they have not done so already, those long cases boil down to one essential point—does the jury believe the defendant or does it not? The essence of all such long cases is ultimately a simple question of dishonesty. Anybody with experience of those cases will confirm that juries have a very good nose for dishonesty.

Moreover, it is simply not the case that juries are failing to convict in cases where they should convict. A figure was given by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, today. I thought that the figure that was given to us last time for long fraud cases was 92 per cent, not 86 per cent. That figure seems suspiciously high. I cannot believe that it is as high as that, but in any event, nobody is now suggesting that the rate of conviction in those cases is too low.

If fraud cases are not too difficult for juries to decide, what else is said? It is said, simply, that they are burdensome. Well, of course, they are. They are burdensome for judges, too. The remedy surely lies in the hands of the judges themselves. I return to a point that was very well made by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, at Second Reading. How are the judges in these cases to try and limit the issues and simplify them for the purposes of making them easily digestible by juries? I remember a very wise and experienced criminal judge—and he will be remembered also by all the lawyers in the Chamber—Lord Justice Farquharson. He showed the way. At the start of any long fraud case, he would fix leading counsel for the prosecution with a beady eye. He would see an indictment with 10 or 12 counts, or however many it might be, and he would say to leading counsel, "Now, which are your four best points?". From then on, the trial would proceed on the basis of those four counts. All the rest would be swept aside. Judges ought to do something similar to that in order to make such cases—not easier to understand, because that point is no longer relied on—but less burdensome.

If fraud trials are made shorter and less burdensome, as I believe they can be, and if they are not too complicated for juries to understand, as is now conceded on the Government Benches, why do we need to change the law at all? The answer is that we do not. So long as juries can be found to try those cases—and they can be found—surely a defendant is entitled to be tried in our traditional way, by a traditional jury. If we allow Clause 42 to take its place on the statute book, it will mark the beginning of a very slippery slope. I thought that those were my words until a speaker earlier today pointed out that those had been the words used by the shadow Home Secretary in the House of Commons. I am glad to see my not very original words have that additional support.

I do not know what the fate of Clause 41 will be. I hope that it fails. But if it does not, I shall want to vote against Clause 42, and I hope that those on all sides of the House today who share my feeling for justice will do the same.