Criminal Justice Bill

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour 4:45 pm, 15th July 2003

I rise to oppose my noble friend. I do not do that easily or often. However, on this occasion I think that the case that has been made by a number of Members of the Committee is almost irrefutable. When one considers the views of organisations such as Justice, the Bar Council and the Law Society, none of which are averse to changes in the law, such views are persuasive. They are wholly against the ideas which have been advanced by the Government, particularly as regards the three items mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.

My view is that the burden of proof rests very heavily upon those who want to change the law. As far as I can make out, what is being advanced by those who argue for these provisions is based on belief that in certain cases it is safe to dispense with juries. But, frankly, belief is insufficient. The burden of proving that the system of justice can be improved falls on those who put forward these solutions. Therefore, I think that belief is insufficient. We are not talking about 30 or 40 years ago, we are talking about the present situation.

None of the organisations I have mentioned can be accused in any way of being conservative—with a small "c". In their time, those organisations have put forward vital, important and, in my view, essential provisions for strengthening the law. It is true that certain police organisations have come out in favour of the change which is being advocated, but they are all concerned with the prosecution of offences. Therefore, not one organisation of repute, which is concerned both with prosecution and defence issues, supports these proposals.

My view is based upon some 50 years of practice as a solicitor. In the debate so far, only the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, and myself represent that particular profession. In that time, I have never come across a situation in which a jury was totally misled or totally foundered upon the evidence that was put forward by the prosecution. Members of the jury come forward with their own ideas. As has rightly been said, it is impertinent to believe that they follow each nuance that is advanced: of course they do not; but do the lawyers?

In my view the jury system, even in complex cases, answers the bill. There are certain instances in which there should be more co-operation between the prosecution and the defence. I also believe—and I speak here from experience—that where there is such co-operation, the cause of justice is improved immeasurably.

I turn to jury tampering. As I said at Second Reading, when I was defending I came across one particular incident in which the argument of jury tampering was advanced. It resulted in a total acquittal of the defendants. Of course they had a brilliant advocate at the time. That apart, the case which was put forward was vitally flawed. I do not think that we should consider a right to trial by jury being abrogated because of something that may happen in the future. It may well be that there is some evidence of jury tampering, but surely there are other means of protecting juries that could be tried.

On what evidence is the removal of juries wholly justified? I think it is slender. I return to the point I made right at the beginning. I do not think that the evidence should be slender: it should be firm and irrefutable; and that is not the case.