HC Deb 15 April 1948 vol 449 cc1251-2
Mr. Ede

I beg to move, in page 30, line 33, to leave out from the beginning, to the end of line 34, and to insert: A person arraigned on an indictment for any felony or misdemeanour may challenge not more than seven jurors without cause. This deals with a point raised on Second Reading and in Committee by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) and others. It deals with a matter of some considerable importance. This Amendment will ensure that any person arraigned on an indictment will be able to challenge not more than seven jurors without showing cause. Previously the number has been much larger. We had originally intended that this right should disappear.

I am informed by lawyers that it is very rarely exercised. In fact, although I have, as a magistrate, had to attend quarter sessions on many occasions, I have never seen it exercised. The only occasion on which I have heard it mentioned was on an occasion when the clerk of the peace had forgotten to warn the prisoner, who was a man of some experience in these matters, of his rights. At the end of the swearing of the jury, he drew attention to the lack of consideration which he had received, but he did not challenge anyone when a new jury was called into the box. I think that he thought that he had sufficiently asserted the important principle which was at stake.

7.45 p.m.

We feel, and I think that it was felt by the Committee, that the arrangement we make here will adequately safeguard the rights of accused persons. They preserve what is an historic feature of the work of the courts, a thing in itself not to be despised. We also carry out something which is not in the existing law. We give the right of peremptory challenge to persons arraigned for misdemeanour as well as for felony. In these days when those two words have a quite different significance in actual reality to what they have in the popular mind, that again is a not unimportant alteration in the law. I hope that the right hon. Member for North Leeds and other hon. Members will feel that the undertakings we gave are fully met by this Amendment.

Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)

I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman not only for preserving this rarely used but, I believe, valuable right of peremptory challenge, but also for extending it to cases of misdemeanour. The right hon. Gentleman has met us very fully indeed, and we are well satisfied with what lie now proposes.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I also wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman for moving this Amendment. I think it was I who first raised the matter in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) also raised it, and the Minister has acceded to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite rather than to any suggestion. He has adopted a modified form. I thank him for what he has done, but I am sorry that he did not accede to my suggestion in toto. This is a historic right which was enjoyed by accused persons, and though it was not used as frequently as was the right to challenge for cause, it is a right which may possibly, under present circumstances, be used more frequently. It may be used in the case of a Jew who is on trial. He may see a Fascist coming to the box to be sworn, and he may be unable to prove that that is so. If he has a right of peremptory challenge, he can challenge without showing cause. It is obvious that there are other cases in which this right may be most useful. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not made it a little more expansive, but I thank him for what he has done.

Sir T. Moore

As three is a lucky number, I feel that I too would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for this generous and reasonable concession which fully satisfies all the arguments which were used in Committee. There is a traditional sense of freedom in this country. There are those who like to preserve a right of way which has become part and parcel of their daily life. This is a similar right of way for those who are charged under this Clause. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has shown not only a sense of the feeling of the House, but of the feeling of the country.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 30, line 35, leave out from beginning, to "shall," and insert: In any criminal proceeding, any challenge to jurors for cause."—[Mr. Ede.]