Criminal Justice Bill
1. A bill has been introduced into this House
to make provision about criminal justice (including the powers
and duties of the police) and about dealing with offenders; to
amend the law relating to jury service; to amend Chapter 1 of
Part 1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and Part 5 of the Police
Act 1997; and for connected purposes. The Criminal Justice Bill
was brought from the House of Commons on 21st May (HL Bill 69),
and received its second reading in the House of Lords on 16th
2. The Bill proposes to make changes relating
to the conduct of trials on indictment, including provision for
(a) the holding of certain trials before a judge alone; (b) supersession
of the common law rule against double jeopardy; and (c) the admission
of evidence relating to an accused's bad character. We considered
that the bill raised matters of constitutional significance, particularly
in respect of the law on trial by jury and in respect of the composition
and functions of the proposed Sentencing Guidelines Council.
3. With respect to the law on trial by jury,
we noted that this had already been reported on, both by the Home
Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons,
and by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
We therefore considered that no further action was called for
on our part. As regards the composition and functions of the Sentencing
Guidelines Council, we wrote to the Home Secretary to seek further
information on the proposals and are grateful for his reply.
Our correspondence is appended.
4. We also wrote, in similar terms, to seek the
views of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, of Professor Andrew
Ashworth, Vinerian Professor of English Law at the University
of Oxford, and of Dr David Thomas Q.C. at the University of Cambridge.
We are grateful to them for their full and prompt replies, which
are also appended.
5. We consider that this correspondence will
be of assistance to the House in its consideration of the proposed
Sentencing Guidelines Council. There is however a specific matter
to which we wish to draw particular attention. With the exception
of the Home Secretary, our correspondents were concerned by the
proposal that a serving civil servant should act as a member of
the Sentencing Guidelines Council. Professor Ashworth had "grave
misgivings" about the proposal; Dr Thomas noted that a civil
servant "would be constitutionally bound to convey and to
reflect the views of his minister"; and Lord Woolf considered
it "wrong, as a matter of principle, for members of the civil
to be on the Council." The Lord Chief Justice
further noted that, even if the actual independence of such a
civil servant was assured, there would still remain the perception
that such a person would not be independent.
6. In the light of these opinions, we draw particular
attention to our concern at the proposal that a serving civil
servant should act as a member of the Sentencing Guidelines Council.
We note also Dr Thomas' alternative proposal that a recently
retired civil servant would be familiar with the civil service
perspective, but would no longer be obliged to express the departmental
or ministerial view.
7. We draw this specific matter to the attention
of the House as raising a question of principle about a principal
part of the constitution.
1 2nd Report, Session 2002-03 (HC 83). Back
First Report, Session 2002-03 (HL Paper 24; HC 191); 2nd Report,
Session 2002-03 (HL Paper 40; HC 374); 7th Report, Session 2002-03
(HL Paper 74; HC 547); and 11th Report, Session 2002-03 (HL Paper
118; HC 724). Back