Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial)
(No. 2) Bill:
Some Extracts from the Debate in the House of Commons on
Jack Straw (Secretary of State for the Home
Department): I understand the concerns in the House about the effect of the
Bill on the principles of trial by jury. I understand those concerns not least
because, when I first considered the matter, my instincts were similar; I
acknowledge that. However, as the House knows, I have changed my mind--there
has never been any dubiety about that--because the more I have examined the
arguments in favour of the present arrangements, the weaker they appeared to be
and the stronger the case for reform.
In no sense does the Bill undermine the availability of
trial by jury for appropriate offences. What it does is to ensure that there is
a fairer and more objective basis than the decision of the accused for
determining which cases involving the middle range of offences should be so
tried. In doing so, we bring ourselves into line with the better practice of
almost all comparable jurisdictions and come closer to the practice in
Often, Scotland is, rightly, held out to be a nation with a
more effective criminal justice system than ours. There, the decision on mode
of trial has never rested with the defendant, but is made by the prosecutor.
The Bill provides greater safeguards for the defendant by having the initial
decision made by magistrates and the final one, on appeal, by an experienced
Crown court judge.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey):
The Home Secretary is being selective in the evidence that he chooses to
support his case. Two reports commissioned by the Home Office in the past 10
years have shown overwhelmingly that defendants who elect to go to the Crown
court do so for reasons other than simply to stay out on remand or because they
think that they can spin out the case. A defendant in the Crown court gets
sight of all the evidence against them. That is not available in the
magistrates court. They could also be given advice by lawyers to plead guilty
on the basis of later evidence at the doors of the Crown court.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The
Home Secretary should be cautious about relying on the support of the
judiciary. I exempt the Lord Chief Justice from what I am about to say, but is
not it correct that those of us who practise at the criminal Bar know full well
that many members of the judiciary--both lay and professional--develop a
predisposition in favour of the prosecution because they are exposed to crime
over many years? It is precisely for that reason that many of us want to retain
the jury system, and precisely for that reason that the Home Secretary should
be cautious about relying on the views of the judiciary.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): Does not the real
unfairness of the Bill rest in who will be allowed to have a trial by jury?
Will not it benefit the rich, the powerful and the famous who will have the
right to trial by jury? Will the Home Secretary answer the questions he himself
asked a few years ago:
If . . . a Member of Parliament or even a
Secretary of State were charged with an offence of dishonesty, would they not
insist on being tried by a jury? If that is the case, why should others be
denied that right of election?--[Official Report, 27 February 1997; Vol.
291, c. 434.]
Mr. Straw: I have answered those questions, because
I have said that I have changed my mind on that point.
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): I declare an
interest in the debate. I have been a member of the Bar for 33 years and
recorder of the Crown court with full powers of a Crown court judge for 18
years. In that time I have presided over many criminal trials, sitting together
with magistrates in appeals from magistrates and committals for sentence. I
have represented many defendants. I have represented the police, serious crime
squads and regional crime squads. I have met a lot of coppers, a lot of victims
and a lot of witnesses.
I have one abiding and passionate interest in the Bill:
that it should preserve the integrity, reputation and fairness of the system in
which I have served. With that experience and interest, I have no hesitation in
saying that this is one of the worst Bills to come before the House for many
years. It will cause real and perceived injustice; it was cause immense delay
and anxiety to victims, defendants and witnesses and their families; and it
will create vast expense. I hold that view in common with every institution and
organisation that is concerned with civil liberties.
I have three preliminary points, the first of which has
already been made several times. The Bill is a total volte-face for the Home
Secretary. I shall not repeat again the quotation that has been given several
times, when he asked whether any Member of Parliament, if charged with an
offence that would have a serious effect on their well-being if convicted,
would not choose trial by jury. That rhetorical question is as relevant today
as it was then. I have heard nothing from him to explain that apostasy. I am
not against apostasy. St. Paul had his change of mind on the road to Damascus,
where he was going to carry out a bit of public prosecution on behalf of the
Romans without a jury. I commend to my right hon. Friend the fact that that
example of apostasy was in favour of civil liberty and religious tolerance.
My second preliminary point is that this is not a manifesto
commitment of the Labour party or any other party. It has never received
careful consideration and control through conference or any forum--policy or
otherwise--in my party. It has never been placed before the electorate. The
proposal has been brought from its huts in the Home Office, where it has been
lingering for the past 25 years, rejected repeatedly by respective Home
Secretaries and Home Office Ministers, among whom it is not possible to find a
single Hampstead liberal.
It is surely wrong that the Government should use their
massive and quiescent majority without the issue ever being put before the
electorate, particularly as a review commission is sitting and will report by
the end of the year. Its finding may then be properly considered by the
My third preliminary point is that much use has been made
of statistics that were described in the House of Lords as a heap of guesses.
That was charitable. Many of the statistics that have been used to reinforce
the Bill turn out on close examination to be misleading to the point of deceit.
I shall give one example. The number of appeals likely to be generated as a
result of magistrates in 14,000 cases denying to people who have pleaded not
guilty the right to go to trial by jury has been arbitrarily calculated by the
Government at 25 per cent. There is no reason to suppose that that is an
accurate assessment. Anyone who practises in the courts will know that there is
likely to be a much more significant number of appeals--let us say 10,000. How
many days do the Government say will be lost on these appeals? The answer is
148. If 10,000 appeals are to be heard in 148 days in the Crown court, that
allows four minutes and eight seconds for each appeal.
Some in the Home Office may think that such a decision can
be taken in the time that it takes to boil an egg, but that will not appeal to
Crown court judges. If judges hear 10 or 12 of these cases a day, 1,000 days of
Crown court time will be lost. The answer to my hon. Friend the Member for
Bristol, East (Jean Corston) is that if hon. Members want to clog up the Crown
court system, pass this Bill.