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Lord Borrie: My Lords, Clause 43 gives the prosecution the possibility of asking for a judge-only trial, provided that certain conditions are satisfied relating to the burden that there would be on a jury, if it were a jury trial, and to the complexity of the facts. It has been said, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that if there is any difficulty in the jury comprehending the details of a fraud indictment, the case should be simplified because juries certainly understand the difference between honesty and dishonesty. There are dangers in that, however, as my noble friend pointed out, if the details of the prosecution case are withheld from the jury. If it does not get, receive or hear evidence about the details, the full force and strength of a prosecution case may be diminished.
Perhaps I may raise a point that has not yet been raised today. Who actually constitutes the jury in these complex cases? Is it really randomly selected? In the Maxwell case, 700 jurors were called and 550 were excused. Juries in these complex cases are likely to be less representative of the general community than in the norm of criminal trials, and they are unlikely to be peers of the people sitting in the dock. I fear that the jurors called who are not excused may be least likely to have experience of accounting or business. People running their own businesses and people with significant positions in industry and the professions are most likely to be excused jury service.
I fear that not enough was said during earlier stages of the Bill about the length and difficulty of some fraud cases. The Maxwell case, to which I referred, began in May 1995 and lasted until January 1996. It resulted in an acquittal to defraud the Maxwell pensioners of £122 million. The jury took 12 days to reach its verdict. It had taken 131 trial days and the cost was reported as being about £20 million.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, frequently they have and they can certainly understand more readily than many of us what is explained to them. I do not want to lengthen the debate, so perhaps I may put in parenthesis the fact that I would prefer a system whereby the judge sat with assessors who were particularly knowledgeable of finance and so forth. That suggestion is not before us in the Bill. There should be jury trials in every case or, alternatively, the possibility of requesting that it be a judge-only trial. That possibility, subject to conditions and to appeal as provided for in the Bill, deserves the support of Parliament.
In conclusion, it is worthwhile drawing attention to an article which appeared in the Financial Times two or three days after our debates in Committee by a former head of the Serious Fraud Office, Miss Rosalind Wright. She suggested what were the advantages, at any rate in some cases, of trial without a jury. She mentioned that the judge,
There is a strong case for allowing the Commons view to prevailthat there should be a possibility of asking for a trial by judge aloneand I hope that we will not persist in this House in continuing opposition to that.
Lord Morris of Aberavon: My Lords, I regret that I was abroad when the House last discussed juries. The House will be cheered that I will not repeat the arguments used on that occasion. The debate has been broadened by the Opposition into some observations which appertain to the next clause and it may be convenient if I deal briefly with both.
First, I am fundamentally opposed to tampering with the right to trial by juryeither at the instigation of the prosecution or the defence. Secondly, although I cannot go into the Lobby to support the Government, I accept with regret that at this juncture the views of the elected House must prevail.
As a practitioner in criminal law all my working life, save for the 13 years as a Minister and a senior Law Officer of the Crown, I believe that in the overwhelming number of cases the jury system in England and Wales
Since 1972, when the Criminal Law Revision Committee reported, there have been repeated attempts in one direction or the other to limit jury trials. In each case, one or other House of Parliament has resisted such attempts.
The Government have rightly watered down their original proposals in Clause 42. Their original proposals were unsustainable. There remains the only part of reform where I have a real sympathy for such trials which are really burdensome to jurors.
The longest criminal trial in which I was involved began in February and finished in September. All of us felt the burden. But is this enough for a change? I welcome Clause 42(6), respelling the duty of the judge to reduce complexity or length. A more active judicial role is to be welcomed. The Court of Appeal from time to time has dealt with the question of overburdening the indictments.
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will have very successfully curdled the blood of the House by reciting some of the comments made by Mr Blunkett in another place about your Lordships' House. If Mr Blunkett considers it necessary that we have a Speaker in this House in order that the Government may get their way, I should have thought that he will have fairly conclusively decided for this House how it will feel about that. I am very pleased to see that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, is in his place to hear those views so that he may take them into account in his committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and others, have made a very powerful case for the right to a jury trial. But surely the amendment currently before the HouseAmendment No. 32concerns the question of the defendant's ability to abandon that right. Surely it is a corollary of every right that one is entitled not to exercise it. I have to confess that I find the noble Lord's case on that amendment far weaker than his case on the others, where the right is being taken away from the defendant rather than being voluntarily surrendered by the defendant. If the noble Lord is minded to test the opinion of the House, I wonder whether he will consider it more appropriate to test it on the later amendments, where the right is taken away, rather than on the defendant's right to surrender his right. At present, I cannot understand the objection to that.
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