Criminal Justice Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:49 pm on 15th July 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat 6:49 pm, 15th July 2003

Thank you. I have a strong source of intelligence about what the great British public think about our legal system and its defects. The flow of letters—about 100 a week—into that programme is totally unmediated.

For my money, the problem is not that an unselected, random group of citizens is currently sitting on fraud trial juries. The public are not daft. They understand that the unbelievable difficulties of following those trials, if one has no financial experience, training, or numeracy, make the process a near farce. We should not be caught up in recollections of Henry Fonda in "Twelve Angry Men". The jury is wonderful for a typical case involving violence, dishonesty, burglary, where there is a match between the jury, the accused and the case, but not in complex fraud trials.

I conclude with a further quote from Mr Staple that puts the finger on the myth of jury comprehension. He stated in his letter to me,

"When the time comes, at the end of the process, to reach a verdict, the juror is expected to recall with clarity evidence which may have been presented to him many months before and take it properly into account when reaching his verdict. Subjecting lay people to this process is not to my mind best calculated to ensure that in the most complex and difficult cases the juror will be free from doubt and thus be sure of his verdict".

That is the nub of it. I am powerfully in favour of jury trials, but powerfully, I hope, realistic about the particular problems of complex fraud cases. I would like to think that the central proposal of the amendment takes what is already happening informally to a point where one would have competent juries dealing with the cases that need such expertise and experience. I beg to move.