Criminal Justice Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 15th July 2003.

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Photo of Lord Hooson Lord Hooson Liberal Democrat 4:45 pm, 15th July 2003

I had not intended to say very much today, but I have been provoked by considering Clause 42 in relation to espionage. There has been much discussion today about fraud and other trials of that kind. Let us imagine that an espionage case is brought in this country. Very few such cases have been other than pleas of guilty in our history. However, I happen to have been involved in one particular case which was tried by jury. If Clause 42 became law, undoubtedly there would be an immediate application by the Crown in such a case that the matter should be tried by a judge alone; that it would be far too complicated and difficult for a jury to try.

It so happens that in what became known as the Cyprus spy trial, a trial which lasted over six months at the Old Bailey, I was one of the defending counsel. Young servicemen were charged with espionage. It involved the safety of the country and NATO and the whole trial was held in camera. Because of the nature of the charges, the jury panel was positively vetted and was probably the most intelligent jury I have ever seen in my experience at the Bar. Jury members were selected, and so forth. Objections were raised to one or two. There was no reporting of the case, and we all had to take the oath not to disclose anything that went on in the trial.

However, it is interesting that at the end of that trial the most intelligent jury which I have ever seen took over a week to consider its verdicts. Six young servicemen were separately charged with espionage. The jury found them not guilty on each charge. Looking back, it is my belief that the particular judge who tried that case might well, although I do not know, have reached the same conclusion.

When one considers what the sentences might have been, it was of vital importance that the case was tried by a jury. That was also very important from the point of view of this country. I make no secret of the fact that I have always regarded jury trial as one of the great bulwarks of freedom in this country. I do not hesitate from my experience in any way to mitigate that view.

However, as there has been no mention of espionage, and as I happen to have been involved in that case, it is as well that I should bring it to the attention of the Committee. I do not know whether anyone here would suggest that the government of the day with that clause would have tried to ensure that the trial was by judge alone rather than by judge and jury. I can think of many judges who might have reached exactly the same verdict as the jury. I believe that the learned judge who tried the case might well have done. However, I can think of other judges who I know quite well who might have taken a very different view. That is why, from my own experience of that particular case, trial by jury is essential. In that kind of case there should not be an opportunity for the establishment to apply under Clause 42.