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32BLord Hunt of Wirral rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 32 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 32A, leave out "not".

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to follow the example of the Minister in seeking to address the debate on the other amendments that deal with jury trials.

As probably several noble Lords did, I listened to the full debate on these Lords amendments in the other place yesterday. I was very concerned that the Home Secretary, Mr Blunkett, did not follow the example of the noble Baroness. He was very critical of this place. First, he said that we had not had a sensible debate. I recall that in July we had a very wide-ranging debate. Hugely important issues were raised and a number of noble Lords clearly expressed deep feelings of anger at any attempt to fetter the right to jury trial. To regard that as not a very sensible debate was not helpful. Indeed, Mr Blunkett said that we had scored a pyrrhic victory. Noble Lords will know that in 279 BC the Greek leader, Pyrrhus, scored a great victory over the Romans. I suppose that the analogy that Mr Blunkett used concerned the great cost of that victory. However, I am afraid that he was badly advised. I consulted the website of The Oxford English Dictionary and of Webster's. Mr Blunkett could hardly have failed to notice—although this must be another bid by him to appeal to the Left wing of the Labour Party—or he should have noticed, that there was a press release some weeks ago by the editors of The Oxford English Dictionary stating that the phrase "pyrrhic victory" was to be removed from the dictionary because, rather like this Government, it had outlived its usefulness.

Did Mr Blunkett know that, according to John Smytheton, chief editor of The Oxford English Dictionary, the phrase, "pyrrhic victory" is to be replaced with "Bush victory" in the next edition of The Oxford English Dictionary? Perhaps the Home Secretary was not up to date on that. However, he was also very critical of the fact that we do not have a Speaker or Deputy Speaker and that we have no means of timetabling our debates. In fact, the debate in the other place took one hour 45 minutes, of which Mr Blunkett took over 30 minutes. I counted another 12 speakers who were trying to get in. That is the evil of timetabling. Mr Blunkett said:

    "There is no procedure in the House of Lords for any sort of timetable or closure mechanism, nor any provision for the operation of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker system . . . Until we have such a system in the Lords, we cannot take anyone's word that that House will be in favour of anything that we propose".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/03; col. 652.]

I hope that Mr Blunkett will regret those words. Those are the words of a senior Cabinet Minister so at least we know what this Government would have in store for us. However, we shall carry on having our high quality debates without timetabling.

On 15th July your Lordships decided to remove entirely from the Bill what was then Part 7. Now the other place insists that those clauses should be restored. I hope I speak for the majority when I say that we remain opposed to the Government's proposals which would allow a defendant to elect trial by judge alone, and those which would allow judge-only trials in so-called complex cases. We believe that

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allowing defendants to elect non-jury trial would be divisive and would create an unacceptable two-tier system. Defendants charged with offences attracting serious public opprobrium would opt out of the jury system; others would engage in forum shopping, hoping for a particularly liberal judge. I have to tell the Government that they are wrong. Similarly, we cannot accept the Government's proposals to do away with jury trial in complex and lengthy cases. Juries are perfectly capable of understanding the key issues relevant to guilt or innocence in such cases. It is a simple matter for the jury to decide whether someone is dishonest. That is its task, and it fulfils it extremely well.

There are other avenues whereby fraud trials could be made less complex and lengthy. I have a press release issued on 30th July 2002 by the Law Commission. It had been asked by Mr Straw to look into ways in which the law on fraud could be made more readily comprehensible to juries. That is a very simple task, but one that the Law Commission took some considerable time—more than four years—to fulfil. It came forward with a draft fraud Bill, which would certainly simplify the law on fraud. I have asked the Home Office and the Library what has happened to the Law Commission's proposals, why there has been no comment from the Government on the proposals, and why on earth we are suddenly seeking to tamper with the jury system without having properly considered the fraud Bill. I hope that the Minister responds.

The Government propose to do away with juries in any case in which there are complex or lengthy issues of a,

    "financial or commercial nature or which relate to property",

so many more cases will be affected than the Government have claimed. The proposal is not related simply to complex fraud trials, but could affect all sorts of cases, from drug dealing to health and safety prosecutions. I hope that the Minister will understand when I say that we cannot accept the Government's proposals on defendant election and complex and lengthy cases.

This House has come to recognise the force of the arguments made in relation to jury tampering. We on these Benches and the Opposition in another place have reflected long and hard on what was said in this House on 15th July, and on what was said outside Parliament, most notably by Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. I hope that your Lordships will recall that I said on that occasion that,

    "we have much sympathy with the police if indeed, as the Deputy Commissioner revealed in a letter to The Times today, this problem is growing. Let us look at the details and consider what it is best to do".—[Official Report, 15/7/03; col. 773.]

One way forward to attempt to tackle jury tampering was suggested by my honourable friends in another place in May. Intimidation of juries is an evil that has to be stopped, but so does intimidation of the judge, of witnesses and of parties. We all agree that that evil has to be stamped out.

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The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, said in our previous debate—I will not quote him in full—that he had been persuaded that there had to be a way forward. We have listened to the arguments and have been persuaded that, where a trial has had to be aborted because of jury tampering, it should be open to the judge to order that any retrial should be before a judge of the Crown Court alone, sitting without a jury. That was the proposal put forward by Mr Letwin in another place on 19th May, and the opposition amendments would preserve the right of everyone charged on indictment in the Crown Court to have a jury trial in the first instance.

We do not subscribe to the idea that it would be desirable to dispense with jury trial completely in some cases, which was the original proposal in the Bill. However, we accept that if someone has abused the right to a jury trial by seeking to pervert the jury's verdict, it should be open to the judge to prevent that happening a second time. There would, of course, be an appeal against the judge's decision under our proposals.

The essential principle is that justice must be done. For those who abuse the right to jury trial and seek to pervert the system in their favour, we have been persuaded of the case for change. Having said that, we remain opposed to what the Government seek to do. We remain committed to the fundamental principle of ensuring that every defendant in the Crown Court has the right to a jury trial in first instance. That remains our position, but we accept the force of the arguments made in relation to cases where jury tampering has taken place. However, so far the Government have not come forward with proposals that we could accept.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 32 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 32A, leave out "not".—(Lord Hunt of Wirral.)

3.30 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, we on these Benches support Amendment No. 32B. Everything that could be said on this topic has been said in the days in Committee and on Report. The fact that Mr Blunkett made the comments referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, demonstrates that he has as much understanding of this House and the way in which we consider matters as he has of the criminal justice system.

The noble Baroness seemed to think that it should be put on the debit side that the prosecution in a complex case simplify issues and pare them down. I do not regard that as something wrong in any way. It is very important that the public understands what a case is about. When we get to a situation in which there is a private conversation between lawyers in a criminal case—the prosecution, the defence and the judge—and when it is only the judge who can understand what is going on and members of the public cannot, it will be a bad day for the criminal justice system of this country.

I put that in the context that public confidence in the jury system remains as high as ever. The proposals are not put forward in a climate in which the public is

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calling for change in the area. The verdict of a jury, whether guilty or not guilty, commands respect and acceptance. The longer that that stays with us the better. I do not intend to weary your Lordships any further with the amendment. We will support it.

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