HC Deb 25 July 1918 vol 108 cc2045-8

Sixty-five years shall be substituted in Section one of the Juries Act, 1825, for sixty years as the age at which liability to serve upon a jury shall cease, and that Section shall have effect accordingly.


I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words and women who possess the same qualification as men and are between the ages of sixty and sixty-five shall be placed upon the lists for jury service and shall be liable to serve.


I called on the hon. Member to move his first Amendment. I am afraid the interesting proposition of having lady jurors is a little beyond the scope and title of the Bill.


I have no doubt you have carefully studied the ruling of Mr. Speaker on the point when I put a question on the Second Reading. As I understand the ruling, Mr. Speaker held that, whereas this Bill was only increasing jury service for men from sixty to sixty-five, it was far too big a change to suggest that women should come in of all ages. It is quite consistent with that ruling, and I believe with the practice of the House, and if I limit my proposal for having women on juries to this extension which is given to men, I submit that we might discuss it. As to your riding on the general Amendment, I am quite prepared to accept your decision. But may I not ask to be allowed to move within these limits that women should be called upon to serve, as they are available in such large numbers?


I am afraid not. I did consider that point in view of what was said upon the Second Reading, but I do not think a woman ceases to be a woman under those circumstances, and I really think it would be much too far beyond the title of the Bill and the conditions in which the House agreed to give the Bill a Second Reading to bring in such a proposition as this.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


Then I make my protest in a form which will, I think, be in order. I do not think the Government is justified in bringing forward this Clause without allowing women to come upon juries. I regret that it did not see its way to consider this point. By this Clause you say to the female sex, whereas no woman of any age can do any good by serving on a jury and shall not, yet men between sixty and sixty-five, whose powers may be beginning to fail, shall come on because we are short of jurymen. You can only justify the Clause because we are short of jurymen owing to the War. But we have hundreds of thousands of bright, intelligent, fair-minded women, and I think you might have introduced some of them. Instead of that you say, "No; you may be in the prime of life, you may have had a first-class education, you may have been trained in judicial posts, but we prefer men between sixty and sixty-five, who up to now have not been called upon." We are all familiar with the spectacle of the juryman saying he is deaf. It is sometimes a little difficult to get a medical man to support it if the juryman is having a very busy season in his shop, but there are genuine cases where men over sixty years of age must have difficulty in following the evidence in a case that sometimes lasts into weeks. Yet we go to an age we have not gone to before, but no woman of any age shall have the right to serve. I think the Government would have been well advised to introduce a moderate beginning, say, a third of the jury, because directly the women have votes they will appeal to the House to have juries composed in equal proportions of men and women.


Wait till then!


I have no doubt the hon. Member will pledge himself to that at the next election. I am not putting this so much as a criticism of the Government. It is the only chance I have to make a plea in a matter which the Chair rules to be outside the scope of the Bill.


This is a Bill to amend the law in respect of the preparation and publication of jury lists amongst other things. I should have thought that would make it possible to increase the list by the admission of women. You, Sir, have ruled otherwise, and not being an authority on these matters I do not challenge your ruling. At the same time there is a desire on the part of very large numbers of women to be allowed to serve in this capacity. Cases are constantly occurring in which women appear before juries of men. They are not tried by their peers. Cases of injustice are often inflicted which they believe their service on juries will enable them to prevent. In view of the fact that we now recognise them as citizens, that they are now in a position to fill public offices of all kinds, and that all kinds of professions are being opened to them, it is a great pity that this occasion was not used for the purpose of putting them in a position to help in the administration of justice.


I am extremely anxious not to say a single word which might be taken as hostile to the claims of women to sit as jurors, or, indeed, as hostile to any other of their political or professional claims. But so far as this Bill is concerned, I am sure my hon. Friend will perceive that the provision for the modification of the existing law as to the preparation and publication of jury lists is a provision in the direction of simplification and economy and the saving of labour and expense. He must perceive upon reflection that if there could be, as there cannot be, imported into the Bill the inclusion of women as jurors, the task of preparing the lists, so far from being simplified and rendered more economical, would be enormously extended and would be far more costly. The question whether women may sit as jurors is well worthy to be determined on its merits, but not in relation to this Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause 6 (Power by Order in Council to Modify Statutory Provisions Relating to the Preparation and Publication of Jury Lists) ordered to stand part of the Clause.