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 Mishcon Lord Mishcon Labour 4:45 pm, 15th July 2003

Perhaps I may be allowed a short speech, an anecdote and an observation. The anecdote is forever written on my heart. I mean that without being emotional. It occurred many years ago when I was a young advocate appearing at Bow Street on a very unimportant case. The chief magistrate was there looking after his court.

While I was waiting for my case to come on, I witnessed a tramp—that is what he looked like. Incidentally, this was in the days before legal aid. He was accused of having stolen a wallet in St Martin's Lane by the trick of sidling up to someone who was on the pavement and asking him the time. The gentleman supplied the information. He then found his wallet was missing and the person who had asked him for the time was speeding up his walk along St Martin's Lane.

The magistrate had no doubt whatever in discarding the story that the tramp—not very vocally—told. It was that he had genuinely asked the time and wanted to know it because he had an appointment very near St Martin's Lane. The magistrate said: "There's too much of this going on. It's always the same story—someone asking the time. You're guilty and I want you please to go below while I have a report".

I then rose to speak on my unimportant case. I was only a little way into it when the clerk dropped me a note. The note said:

"Do you mind being interrupted? Something urgent has occurred".

I said that I did not mind in the slightest. A man hastily came into the court and addressed the magistrate. He said: "I'm so sorry, sir, but after the court hearing I went home. I wanted to take a suit to the cleaners. I found the wallet in that suit". The magistrate apologised. It was a story of "case hardened", which I believe was the phrase used by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner.

One of the reasons why I shall go into a certain Lobby if there is a Division is because I cannot forget that case. I am quite sure that a non-case-hardened jury would not have found that man guilty. Certainly, they would not have done so after a plea from an advocate, which was not heard in that court on that day, indicating that the onus is upon the prosecution and not upon the defendant.

I now make my short observation. I say with certainty that if any Member of your Lordships' House was charged with any offence covered by this clause or Clause 42, there is not a lawyer available, either here or elsewhere, who, upon being asked to advise on whether that Member should go before a judge or be tried by a jury, would not say to him that if he valued his reputation and it meant so much to him, that he should choose to go before a jury.

Should any Member of this House, if what I say be true, vote otherwise than the way I shall?