Criminal Justice Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 15th July 2003.

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Photo of Lord Morgan Lord Morgan Labour 5:15 pm, 15th July 2003

As a non-lawyer, perhaps the first to participate, I want to say very briefly why I am afraid that I cannot support the Government in the Lobby. Speaking as a non-lawyer seems peculiarly appropriate, because the law belongs to everyone. The matter is too serious to be left to lawyers, and my case is relevant because the point of the jury system is that jurors are not lawyers. They have no legal background or axes to grind in terms of their expertise.

As a historian, I totally disagree with the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken, who says that he finds it impossible or very difficult in our history to find examples of the jury acting as the bulwark of liberty. I find that a puzzling remark. The concept is rooted in our traditions. It is in and precedes the Magna Carta. I wonder whether it is even part of the Government's disrespect for the Middle Ages that they should offer the proposal.

I have two very brief remarks; we have had a long debate. I find very strange the idea in Clause 42 that jurors somehow might be thought too inadequate mentally or in terms of knowledge to understand the details of a case. As professional people, we have, as they say, a mission to explain. I have spent my entire life as a university teacher. One distinguishes between the accumulation and assessment of evidence and the reaching of a conclusion based on facts. One tries to do so not by assuming that one's pupils are foolish or stupid, but that they are intelligent citizens who can get to grips with it. So it should be and is in the case of a jury. A judge is there to direct a jury, and to explain technical details to it. As we have heard, verdicts are reached. It is important, not merely that the jury should be thought to understand, but that the public should be thought to understand. These are not arcane matters for an enclosed profession; they are for society as a whole. It is extremely important that Clause 42, which appears to contradict that proposition, should not be supported.

Further points could be made about the openness and the independence that the jury system enshrines. Those qualities would be compromised by judges deciding in secret conclave whether cases should be conducted with a jury or not.

I wish to follow up the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, with which I very much agreed, that the issue relates to citizenship. Citizenship is a concept with which people in the United Kingdom have difficulty. Not long ago, we had great difficulty getting the word inserted in the Communications Bill. Citizenship relates to the doctrine of liberty and the doctrine of rights. That would be compromised, perhaps, by having two kinds of cases—those conducted with a jury and those conducted before a judge. Even more importantly, citizenship is about a doctrine of solidarity. It is about society acting together, and, in this case, publicly reaching its own idea of what are norms and values embodied in particular kinds of behaviour that one can accept, behaviour that one cannot accept and behaviour so unacceptable as to be deemed a crime. It is extremely important that that be maintained.

The jury system has been with us for centuries. It has survived King John at Runnymede and the rigours of the Second World War. I recall a distinguished judge and compatriot, Lord Atkin, who vigorously defended in wartime the maintenance of the full panoply of habeas corpus, our civil liberties and our judicial system. That is why we were fighting. The war was about defending our liberties. I recall as a historian reading the material produced by the Army Bureau of Current Affairs during the Second World War. It enshrined trial by jury as one of the supreme values that justified what the war was about.

I hope that the Government think again. I approve their other moves towards constitutional modernisation. I do not regard this proposal as modernisation. I hope very much that it will be rejected.