HC Deb 06 April 1870 vol 200 cc1414-7

(Viscount Enfield, Mr. Denman.)


Order for Second Reading read.


in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the object of the Bill was to amend the Law with reference to the qualifications, summoning, attendance, and remuneration of Juries. It was the result of the labours of a Committee of the House which had sat for two years, and whose recommendations had been approved by the whole of the Members of the Judicature Commission—among whom were the Lord Chancellor, the Attorney General, and the Solicitor General—with the exception of the right hon. Member who was now the Chief Commissioner of Works. For many years there had been great and serious complaints, especially in the county of Middlesex, with regard to the manner in which jurors were called on to serve, and also in reference to the mode in which juries were constituted, so far as qualification was concerned. Special juries were by law to be composed of merchants, bankers, and esquires; but it was not always that persons summoned upon them belonged, to those classes. It frequently happened that only twelve hours' notice was given of requirement to serve, and one of the clauses of this Bill provided that there should be six days' clear notice. It was also provided that the limit of time for which, jurors were required to attend should be one week. As to remuneration, Sir William Erle thought that it should be one guinea a day for special, and 10s. for common jurors, the money to be provided out of the Suitors' Fund. This recommendation had been embodied in the Bill. Then, again, as to exemptions. He had retained the old list of exemptions, which would, of course, be subject to revision. There were, however, nineteen counties in England in which there were parishes or townships, the inhabitants of which, by charter or ancient statute, enjoyed exemption from the liability to serve on juries—one of them being Berkhampstead, in Hertfordshire. These exemptions, it was provided, should cease to exist. As to qualifications for jurors, he proposed that there should be some change. In London and Middlesex, the principal present qualification was a rateable value of £30; in other parts of England, £20; and in Wales, two-fifths of this amount. The Bill proposed that in towns containing 20,000 inhabitants and upwards, the rateable value should be £50, and in smaller places £30, for common jury men; and that the special jurors' qualification should be double these amounts. He hoped that the principle of the Bill would be affirmed by the House; but he was well aware that there were many matters of detail which were of an intricate character, and if the second reading were assented to, he should propose to send the measure to a Select Committee, in order that these matters might be carefully investigated. The Bill was practically the same as was introduced, last year, and to which there was no opposition. The noble Lord concluded by moving that the Bill be now read a second time.


said, that he had given notice of Amendments for the purpose of having on juries a less number than twelve persons, and also to do away with the necessity of unanimity in the decision; but upon consideration he did not think it well that these alterations should be engrafted upon this particular Bill, inasmuch, as it related entirely to the summoning, attendance, and remuneration of juries. It was an intolerable nuisance to many jurors that they should be called upon to spend so much time in trying causes, and he heartily assented to the principle of summoning a panel of special jurors to try all causes, instead of specially summoning a number of jurors for each particular cause. He was sorry that the Select Committee which had considered the subjects to which this Bill related had not also considered the question whether it was necessary to have so large a number as twelve jurymen to try every case. In a colony in which he had been High Sheriff he had been instrumental in introducing a system of having civil issues decided by a jury of four, of whom three-fourths could give a verdict after a certain number of hours' consideration; and it was found that a jury of four gave more satisfactory verdicts than a jury of twelve. In the case of juries of twelve there was a great division of responsibility; several of the jury were generally inattentive to the evidence, and the jury very much left it to the foreman to say what verdict should be given. But when a jury was limited to four, there was greater attention on the part of the jurors, and they had greater facilities of communicating with each other during the trial. As to the unanimity of juries of twelve it was a myth. The verdicts which they returned were compromises, and the practice of starving them into verdicts was a barbarous one. Under the old system twenty-three, or some such number, were called, and it was only necessary that twelve of them must concur. He thought, on the whole, that the Bill would fulfil its objects.


said, he was glad his hon. Friend did not intend to import the question of the unanimity of juries or the number of jurors into this Bill, inasmuch as such a question did not properly apply to this measure, and if pressed might endanger its passing. He confessed he thought that the subject was one which might very properly be discussed by the Legislature at a more fitting opportunity for its consideration.


said, he had one objection to this Bill—namely, that it did not go far enough. He did not see why the principle affecting county juries should not be extended so as to apply to cities and boroughs.


said, he must decline to discuss the very important question of the unanimity or number of juries, although it might hereafter be deserving the consideration of the House. In respect to the suggestion of his hon. Friend (Mr. D. Dalrymple) he was not sure that the principle of the Bill ought not to be extended to cities and boroughs. On the whole, the Bill appeared to him to be a good one, and the noble Lord (Viscount Enfield) was entitled to great credit for having introduced it. While approving the principle of the Bill, he did not, of course, commit himself to all its details, and he thought the proposal to refer it to a Select Committee a proper one.


said, he was of opinion that a Bill of this importance should be in the hands of the Government. In his opinion, it was hardly possible to overrate its importance. He trusted that when the Bill went into Committee they would receive the assurance of the Government that they had fully considered it; and that the measure would not be finally passed, except upon the responsibility of the Government, inasmuch as its provisions might materially affect the administration of justice.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.