Criminal Justice Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 15th July 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management) 6:00 pm, 15th July 2003

The judge deals with that by considering those factors and taking them into account when a decision is made as to whether that case is suitable for trial by judge alone. It may be those very factors that will weigh heavily on the judge's mind to make that judge exercise the discretion. He may say, "This is a case that I believe, should, in the public interest—as provided for under the legislation—properly be heard by a judge and a jury together".

I remind noble Lords that before such decisions are made both the defence and the prosecution will be able to make submissions about the mode of trial. That will not happen, as many noble Lords have suggested, at the door of the court when people will see what judge they fancy, and say, "Well, I really do think that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt is a very nice cove. I think he will be very good for me, so I will go for that judge; but I am very concerned about the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, who looks quite different".

Those decisions will not be capable of being made in such a way, because they will be made at the preparatory stage; that is, before there is any knowledge of who the judge will be. Therefore, people will not be able to pick and mix—it will be more like Russian roulette. They will not know who they will get, and they will not be able to determine it. However, they will get a judge who will try the case fairly.

The defence and the prosecution will not only be able to argue about whether a jury is merited and give good reason as regards which should be chosen but also, if either side is displeased with the result, they can appeal to the Court of Appeal where all those questions—all those wonderful debates—about what is in the public interest, and whether it is going to be possible or appropriate for the judge to hear the case alone, can be rehearsed all over again. The court can then decide how to deal with it.

I can say to my noble friend that there are safeguards in the Bill that will allow her to quiet her beating heart.