Clause 48 - Supplementary provision

Criminal Justice and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 27th March 2014.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 24—Information and education for jurors —

‘(1) The Ministry of Justice shall develop a public education programme on the role and responsibilities of jurors, to include provisions set out in this Act.

(2) The judicial college and HMCTS shall provide information to jurors about their obligations during jury service, to include offences under this Act.

(3) Jurors, on the first day of jury service, shall sign a declaration to say—

(a) they must not undertake their own research;

(b) they must base their verdict only on the evidence presented at court; and

(c) they must not seek or disclose information about any case they try.’.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice)

Good morning, Sir Roger. It is a pleasure to be here again under your chairmanship. New clause 24 effectively follows from our discussions about clauses 42 to 48 and  the part of the Bill that deals with juror conduct. It dovetails nicely with the previous debate on the subject, which was on academic research. Having broadly agreed with the Government, in so far as the Government agreed with the Law Commission, on adopting the Law Commission’s recommendations on new offences for jurors, I venture to suggest that in regulating jury behaviour, it might be better to know what that behaviour is, but there are impediments to that due to restrictions on academic research. I am genuinely sorry that the Government did not agree with us, although I was grateful for the Minister’s indication that he would look again at prohibited conduct under clause 44.

One final piece of the jigsaw puzzle is that if we expect not only more of jurors, but make specific requirements of jurors in terms of their rights and responsibilities, it is only right that they know what those rights and responsibilities are. The new clause suggests that that be achieved through a combination of long, medium and short-term means, to ensure that there is no doubt that jurors know exactly what is going on. What evidence there is from the research that has been possible, such as that done by Professor Thomas, shows that jurors are, to a greater or lesser degree, infringing what will now be some of the new offences and unsure about what their duties should be.

The new clause says first that there shall be more general education of prospective jurors, which is most of the population, and that that should lie with the Ministry of Justice. If that suggestion is taken up and is that broad, the Minister may want in due course to pass that on to the Department for Education, but that would not be within the Bill’s remit. Secondly, there should be clear ways by which jurors are provided with the information they need to know, such as the form and the timing. Thirdly, they should then have to acknowledge, by signing a declaration, that they understand the principal points: they must not undertake their own research; they must base their verdict on only the evidence presented; and they must not seek to disclose information about any case they try, subject to the exceptions set out.

Those are not my original thoughts; they are based heavily on the Law Commission’s recommendations in its useful report. The timing of our Committee proceedings is slightly unfortunate, as yesterday the commission published a second report, which would have had a bearing on clauses 37 and 38. It is a shame that we did not have the benefit of that when we discussed those clauses on Tuesday; no doubt its comments can be taken on board in another place. However, we have full recommendations in response to the Law Commission’s consultation that broadly agree with the points I just made. Essentially, the balance being struck is between protecting the confidentiality and sanctity of the jury room and not mystifying it or making the process so hidden from scrutiny that the measures are self-defeating.

In that respect, the Law Commission recommends that

“the Department for Education should look at ways to encourage schools to deliver teaching about the role and importance of jury service.”

Secondly,

“the Judicial College and HMCTS should implement measures to improve information provided to jurors about their obligations during jury service including awareness of the new offence we recommend.”

There has been debate in the judiciary about whether that information should be provided in writing or orally and whether it should be given by the presiding judge to all jurors in a particular court centre. We can leave those matters to the people who know best about that: the judiciary. Thirdly, it recommends that

“consideration be given to jurors having to sign a written declaration on their first day of jury service, after they have received a warning not to conduct their own research”.

That is followed by recommendations regarding the current wording of the oath and how information should be provided.

I will not say any more as I think the new clause is clear. The recommendations, which are sensible, are not my own, but based soundly on the Law Commission’s research and professional opinions. I hope that the Minister will accept them.

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. The new clause would impose statutory requirements on the Ministry of Justice, the Judicial College, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and jurors in connection with jury service. The requirements are similar to some recommendations in the Law Commission’s report on contempt published last December.

The Law Commission made recommendations designed to discourage and deal with juror misconduct. Some of them require primary legislation, either because they involve creating criminal offences or because they confer powers to search for and confiscate internet-enabled devices, and the Bill gives effect to them in clauses 40 to 45. The other recommendations could be implemented administratively.

We agree that it is important to prevent juror misconduct and we continue to look at ways of doing that. In parallel with the legislative measures in the Bill, we will be looking at guidance and procedures.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

Will the Minister, when looking at some of those procedures, have a look at the evidence that has been submitted by my constituent, Richard Taylor, who makes a number of suggestions, based on his experience, as to how the matter could be addressed. Will the Minister at least have a look at the submission that was sent to the Committee? I do not expect a detailed response now.

R

I have published the submission referred to: http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/open-courts-confident-jurors.html It's also been made available at: ...

Submitted by Richard Taylor Continue reading

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I will be happy to do so.

Much is already done to ensure that jurors understand their responsibilities. All jurors are shown a video about the role of the juror. It emphasises the importance of considering only the evidence adduced in court, not disclosing information about the case and not carrying out personal research on the case. It is made clear that if they do that, they could be held in contempt of court.

Furthermore, the consolidated criminal practice direction requires trial judges to instruct the jury on their responsibilities. The jury are warned about the need to try the case only on the evidence and about the prohibitions on internet searches and discussing any aspect of the case with anyone outside their number. Trial judges  should also explain the need to bring any concerns, including concerns about the conduct of other jurors, to the attention of the judge at the time and not to wait until the case is concluded.

We are still considering the recommendations that inspired the new clause and are not yet in a position to respond, but we do believe that if they were to be implemented, it would be better to do so administratively than through legislation. I therefore cannot agree to the new clause.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice)

I hear what the Minister says. I take it that he is at least prepared to look at the recommendations. I would slightly prefer it, if the stick is in the primary legislation, that the carrot be there as well. The Government should not be in the habit of cherry-picking the bits that they like from the Law Commission report, because the recommendations should be taken together. However, in the spirit of what the Minister has said—that these things will be taken seriously—I am happy not to press the new clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 48 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 49 ordered to stand part of the Bill.