HC Deb 09 May 1922 vol 153 cc2120-3

If any person who has been summoned by the sheriff to attend on a jury shows in writing to the satisfaction of the sheriff that there is good reason why he should be excused from attending on that jury, it shall be lawful for the sheriff notwithstanding anything in the Juries Act, 1825, or any other Act, to excuse that person from so attending:

Provided that— (b) if the court or judge so require, the sheriff shall produce to the court or judge all applications received by him from persons asking to be excused from attendance on any jury summoned for the trial of cases before that court or judge and any correspondence relating to any such applications, and shall where he has complied with any such application state to the court or judge his reasons for so doing.


I beg to move, in paragraph (b), leave out the words if the court or judge so require. The reason I move this manuscript Amendment is that the words of the Clause do not express the real state of affairs so far as the preparation of the jury list is concerned. If this was really done by the sheriff, or was done with the cognisance and under consultation with the sheriff, it would not be necessary to put down this Amendment. As a matter of fact anyone who has acquaintance with the courts and with the way these lists are prepared knows that the matter is left entirely in the hands of the under-sheriff. The high sheriff is nominally responsible, but as a matter of fact, in practice, he leaves the details—and this is one of them—entirely in the hands of the under-sheriff. This is a very big power to leave in the hands of the under-sheriff—that is the power to excuse jurors from attendance without giving any explanation unless he is called upon to do so. I do not want to suggest that the under-sheriff is likely to yield to temptation. Still one knows that a man in that position has his own friends. He has those who may come to him and want to get off, and may be it is a disagreeable duty to insist, and like the rest of us, he may want to oblige his friends if he can do so. For that reason I think it is desirable that he should be placed under a compulsion to produce to the court, if necessary, a list of those whom he has excused from attendance upon a jury. I think the officer should be compelled to justify in each case those who have been excused. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman it is desirable that in every case he should have to produce his list and give good reason why a person has been excused from attendance.


I beg to second this Amendment, which I commend to the judgment of the House. For centuries jurors have been summoned to our courts, and the only method of obtaining exemption has been by an application to the judge in open court, or if the juror was ill and could not attend, he had to send a doctor's certificate, and that certificate had to be verified by an affidavit. Anybody who practises in the Law Courts knows that a very great number of applications are made by jurymen to escape from the duty of serving. The great change made by this Bill of taking away the careful decision of the judge upon open applications made in Court is being done away with, and the power is left to the sheriff to decide on a written application whether any juryman who has been summoned should be exempted. The words of the Section lay down the line of action to be adopted in arriving at a decision, because the sheriff has only to be satisfied that there is good reason why the juryman should be excused. Nowhere in the Bill is the term "good reason" explained.

It has been pointed out by the Mover of this Amendment that a sheriff does not mean the High Sheriff, but it means the Under-Sheriff, who is generally a solicitor of high standing practising in one of the chief towns of the country in an Assize Court, and if it is a Sessions Court he is the clerk of the peace. I suggest to the Home Secretary that anybody can appreciate the enormous pressure that will be put on the Under-Sheriff, who has to exercise this jurisdiction without publicity, by his friends and acquaintances. In this matter we ought to see that everybody does his duty as a juryman fairly and squarely, and is not let off except for good reasons and good cause, and in justice to the sheriff or clerk of the peace who arrives at these decisions they should not be subject to pressure which can be put upon them. I think it would be going a long way to obtain that object if this Amendment were accepted, because the result would be that both these officers who had to make these decisions would find it necessary to prepare for the judge a list of the names of the jurymen who have made applications to be exempted, setting out the cause for which each juryman had been excused.


I do not think that the omission of these words will do the Bill the slightest harm, and, on the other hand, I am not convinced that they will do much good or make much difference in the working of the Bill whether these words are in or not. No doubt some judges would take great care to scrutinise what the sheriff has done and some judges might not. This Amendment cannot do the Bill the slightest harm, and, if hon. Members do not object, I hope the House will accept it.

Amendment agreed to.