HC Deb 10 April 1946 vol 421 cc1904-6
16. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Attorney-General the reasons why the right of trial by jury in civil actions will not be immediately restored to litigants.

The Solicitor-General (Major Sir Frank Soskice)

It would not be practicable to restore the facilities for trial by jury in civil actions immediately, principally because the present jury lists are out of date, and although new lists are in preparation, they will not he ready until 1st January, 1947. At present it would be necessary to summon many more persons than are required, in order to ensure that the desired number appeared. This would be undesirable, particularly during the reconstruction period and when transport facilities are not yet normal. As soon as the new lists are ready the question of restoring trial by jury will be reconsidered.

I would remind my hon. and learned Friend that there is a limited right to a jury in civil actions provided by Sections 7 and 8 of the Administration of Justice (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1939. By virtue of these provisions a jury of not usually more than seven persons can he obtained on the order of a court or a judge.

Mr. Hughes

Is it not a fact that the number of persons required for jury service is comparatively small, and that that number is still further reduced by having a jury of seven instead of 12; and is it not rather a criticism upon the effectiveness of the demobilisation scheme to say that there are not sufficient persons to serve?

The Solicitor-General

It is not at all a criticism of the demobilisation scheme. It is a criticism of the present jury lists. As soon as these lists are brought up to date, the matter can be reconsidered, but it is obviously undesirable, when there is already a system of trial by jury under the Act to which I have referred, to keep people waiting about in order to ensure getting the necessary number for a jury.

Mr. Leslie Hale

Is it not the case that the power referred to under the Act of 1939 has remained virtually nugatory, is never exercised on circuit and rarely exercised in London; and if the only explanation given for delay is difficulty with the jury lists, will the learned Solicitor-General say whether this right will be restored by 1st January, 1947?

The Solicitor-General

I cannot tie myself to any date. I have said that when the jury lists are ready, which is expected to be by 1st January, 1947, the matter will be reconsidered.

Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite

Is it intended to return to the system of 12 jurors when the new lists are prepared?

The Solicitor-General

I cannot bind myself in advance as to the precise position, as there will be a number of factors to be considered. Hon. Members will remember that the previous system depended on Section 6 of the Administration of Justice Act, 1933, and that under that Act juries were only granted as a matter of right in certain cases involving fraud, slander and suchlike.