HC Deb 20 March 1962 vol 656 cc210-20

3.35 p.m.

Mrs. Judith Hart (Lanark)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to jurors and juries. I think—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order, Let the hon. Lady be heard.

Mrs. Hart

I do not know, Mr. Speaker, the nature of the disturbance which hindered my request for leave to bring in a Bill.

The purpose of the Bill would be to remove the property qualification which was made the basis for jury service in 1825 and which has remained unchanged since then. My Bill would consist of two very simple Clauses which would seek to base the system of selection for jury service upon the register of electors and would, at the same time, permit women who are the mothers of young children to claim exemption from jury service if they so wished.

The Acts of 1825 which related, on the one hand, to England and Wales, and, on the other, to Scotland, laid down the following qualifications for jury service. In England and Wales they were, briefly, that a juror should possess an income of £10 a year from real estate or rent charge, or £20 a year from leasehold of not less than twenty-one years; or, secondly, should be a householder living in premises which were rated no less than £20 a year, or, in Middlesex and the County of London specifically, with a rateable value of not less than £30 a year; or, thirdly, should occupy a house containing no fewer than 15 windows.

Those were the qualifications laid down in the 1825 Act which still relate to the qualifications for jury service in England and Wales today. In Scotland, the basis was broader. It was that a juror had to be seized of an estate of inheritance worth £5 a year, or worth in goods and chattels and personal estate the sum of £200 at least.

There can be neither philosophical nor theoretical justification for retaining this property qualification for selection for jury service. When Parliament established the universal franchise, it finally disposed of the belief that the possession of property either reflected or bestowed virtue upon the citizen, an idea which was finally ended when we gave the vote to every adult.

Therefore, I do not wish to examine the theoretical basis of the property qualification since it would no longer be upheld by any hon. Member; but I would like briefly to examine the practical effects of the retention of the present property qualification for jury service and of clinging to what I suppose is really an eighteenth century principle embodied in a nineteenth century Act. The effects are very serious for a number of different groups of people.

First, it affects people with residential posts, people who work, for example, in hospitals or training colleges for teachers or children's homes, or, indeed, in any kind of residential school. Such people as these, who live in premises for which they are not themselves rated, cannot be eligible for jury service. Nor can tenants of furnished houses or flats for which the tenants themselves are not separately rated. Nor can the adult sons and daughters of householders who themselves are eligible for jury service. Nor can—this perhaps constitutes the largest group—the wives of householders.

At present, a number of women in England and Wales are eligible for jury service because they are themselves householders or possessors of house property. The number of these is severely limited, because in the main they constitute women who are unmarried and living in their own homes, or widows, or women who, for some reason or other, have houses vested in their names.

With men and women who are joint householders, the practice in the country as a whole varies considerably in relation to whether both of the joint householders are starred for jury service. There are some parts of the country in which, where a man and his wife are joint householders, it is, nevertheless, the custom for only the man to be starred for jury service.

I submit that the result of this bias in selection for jury service can best be summed up as Lord Justice Devlin summed it up a few years ago, when he said that the consequence was that British juries tended to be predominantly male, middle-aged, middle-class and middle-minded. I submit that this is not the best basis for jury service in this country.

I do not propose to engage in yet another feminist battle of words. The feminist battle was well and truly won in 1919 by the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. I will remind hon. Members of Section 1, which says: A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function … and a person shall not be exempted by sex or marriage from the liability to serve as a juror. What has clearly happened throughout the years since 1919 is that the intentions of the 1919 Act have been thwarted in their relation to the public function of jury service by the continuance in existence of the property qualifications set out in the Juries Act, 1825. If hon. Members anywhere in the House have any doubts about the desirability or the wisdom of so enlarging the basis of jury service as to include more women, they should first look at the way in which the jury system is operating in Scotland, where the basis is broader, where there are many women serving, and where good Scottish justice is seen very clearly to be done on every occasion. Secondly, I refer them to their wives, who, I am sure, could argue the case much more vehemently than I can on this occasion.

Moreover, hon. Members who may very sadly be in the position of not having wives who might be affected in this way might care to consider the very hard case of the bachelor sons of householders, who themselves are now deprived of jury service.

Clause 1 of my proposed Bill simply seeks to establish that all those whose names appear on the electoral register shall qualify for jury service, provided only that their names have appeared on the electoral register for the area in which they live for three successive years. This meets one very desirable quality, namely, that there should be a degree of integration into the community on the part of those who serve on juries. Clause 1 would meet this need.

Clause 2 would simply permit a woman who is the mother of a child of or below the age of full-time school attendance to claim exemption from jury service if she wished to do so. This is also reasonable and necessary, because there might very well be considerable hardships on a small group of women who could not easily make the necessary arrangements to serve on a jury.

The jury system as a whole has become a matter of some discussion in the course of the last few months. My Bill, if the House will give me leave to bring it in, would not challenge the basis of our present jury system. It would, indeed, assume that British justice should continue to be founded in part upon the basis of the jury system. Nor would my Bill concern itself with age limits or educational qualifications. These are separate issues. Indeed, they are issues which the House might wish to discuss at some point, but they are not involved in wiping out an anachronism from our present system, which is what my Bill seeks to do.

Whatever views hon. Members have on these questions, which have become to some extent matters of interesting controversy, I hope that they will find it possible to support my Bill. I do not claim for one moment that jury service is a cherished and sought after privilege. Indeed, many regard it as an extremely grave and arduous responsibility. However, democracy must imply not only the assertion of individual rights, but also the willing acceptance of individual duty and responsibility.

I therefore suggest that the Bill, if the House gives me leave to bring it in, would make it possible for this responsibility to be exercised equally without the frustration of the property qualification and would provide a more realistic basis for the democracy and the system of justice which we in this country cherish.

3.47 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

I rise to ask the House not to give the hon. Lady leave to bring in this Bill. I say at once that this is not a political question. The only question which has to be asked is whether we improve the administration of the law in this country, of which we are so proud. I admit at once that, although I am asking the House not to give the hon. Lady leave to bring in the Bill, there are a number of matters which may be open to criticism in the jury service system in this country. However, a Private Member's Bill is not the proper means of putting these matters right. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] If hon. Members will listen quietly and politely, I will tell them the reasons.

This is not, as I have said, a political question. It is concerned solely with the administration of justice. Nor are Members of Parliament personally concerned in this matter, because like lunatics, peers, keepers of public lunatic asylums, and a host of other people, we are exempt from the duty of jury service. Whether this list is too long—it embraces about thirty-five classes of persons who are exempt from jury service—or whether it should be shortened is certainly a matter about which it is possible to argue. Changes and amendments may be desirable.

I thought that the hon. Lady would probably deal with one important matter today. As she has not, I will bring it to the attention of the House, because whether the list of exemptions is too long or whether perhaps it should be lengthened is a matter which should be inquired into.

The position at present is, as the hon. Lady said—I am going a little further than she did on liability for jury service—that persons between the ages of 21 and 60 to whom the property qualifications to which she referred apply are liable for jury service. I present the hon. Lady with this interesting question. As we live longer nowadays, and keep our wits longer, is it right to say that someone is too old to sit on a jury after he is 60?

In this country changes come gradually. Generally speaking, they are not brought about by legislation. When the property qualification was first introduced it meant that juries consisted only of occupiers of large houses or properties—what one might call people of property. Because of the change in the rateable value of property, nowadays the vast majority of householders throughout the country qualify. I would remind the House that they certainly have the right to vote at elections; the right to take part in the Government of the country by voting a Government in or out. But jury service is something quite different. It is a duty imposed upon people, with exceptions—I have mentioned one or two—and it is often a very onerous duty.

Nowadays there are very few juries in civil actions. That, again, is a matter that might be inquired into, because, in my opinion, they are too few. Jury service nearly always implies service in criminal cases and very often that service is long and tedious because of the considerable length of the case, or because the jurors, have concluded one case, then have to try another case or cases.

To refer to the matters which the hon. Lady raised, there is the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, 1919, but the matter does not rest entirely there. If the hon. Lady's researches had taken her a little further she would have found that in the year after the passing of that Act the Women Jurors (Criminal Causes) Rules, 1920, were passed to deal with and regulate the position of women on juries. It was perhaps wise that the House, or the Minister at the time who made those rules, said that husband and wife should not serve on the same jury.

That was probably a very wise precaution. It did, however, lay down that the sexes were to be put upon the panel for jury service in the same ratio as they existed on the jury list. As we know, once the jurors are empanelled they are called for service in the jury box purely by ballot—the luck of the draw takes them, or does not take them, as the case may be.

The practical result is that in criminal cases generally we find two or three women upon a jury. I have seen as many as five. Never let it be thought that I am criticising that for a moment. I think that it is an improvement. It has been brought about not by any legislation that the House has passed but by evolution of time, by changes in rateable values, and by the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. We have had these changes and we have improved our system altogether.

The effect of the hon. Lady's Bill would be to include a number of matters. Undoubtedly, by the property qualifications being removed, it might be said—I do not know what the answer is—that perhaps the standard of education and intelligence of juries might go down. I can assure the House that some of the cases which juries have to try are very difficult. Some are fraud cases involving figures, and the alteration or falsification of figures extending over years are often by no means a simple matter to understand. As there are more women than men on the electoral roll it is likely that the majority of juries would consist more of women than of men.

Some people might think that a good thing; others might think it bad. One reason which, I think, militates against them—and I say this with no disrespect to any hon. Lady in the House—is that women are undoubtedly rather more emotional than men. Having defended many women accused, I know that they are much harder on women accused than are men jurors. Very often I have known defending counsel object, as they are entitled to do, to women jurors, because they are defending a woman and they do not like other women upon the jury. They think that they have not such a good chance as they would have with an all-male jury. That is the kind of question that might well be gone into a little more fully.

The question of juries was before the House in 1949 when a previous Government brought in a lengthy Juries Act. It provided, among other things, for the payment of jurors and also for the abolition of special juries, which was not, in my view, a very wise thing to have done. It went into such details as those in Section 14: The foregoing provisions of this Part of this Act shall not apply to, or in relation to, service on a jury summoned—

  1. (a) for the purposes of an inquest held by the coroner of His Majesty's household;
  2. (b) for the purposes of a trial of the pyx under section twelve of the Coinage Act, 1870;
  3. (c) for attendance at the Great or Small Barmote Court for the Hundred of High Peak or the Soke and Wapentake of Wirks-worth or a great or small barmote court for any of the manors or liberties mentioned in sections twelve to fifteen of the Derbyshire Mining Customs and Mineral Courts Act, 1852; or
  4. (d) for attendance at a hundred court which is not a court of record or at a court baron, court leet, law day, view of frankpledge or other like court."
If any hon. Member asks me when one of those courts last sat, I cannot answer. The point is that at that time the whole position of jurors was carefully gone into by the Government and no change was made then in the methods of selection, or in the qualifications for a juror. Therefore, if the Government of the day did not choose to do it when they were going very fully into this matter—

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Who was the Attorney-General?

Mr. Doughty

Sir Hartley Shawcross, now Lord Shawcross.

The Government went very fully into the matter at the time and decided to make no change. Certainly, the few years that have elapsed since do not make it advisable, on a Private Members' Bill of this kind, to suggest that a sweeping change in the law should be made. If the hon. Lady is lucky in the Ballot and tables a Motion, I promise her two things. I shall give her every assistance. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Perhaps the hon. Lady will be more

thankful for it than some of her hon. Friends. They do not seem to be assisting her. I am offering to give her all the assistance I can on the points that I have raised, which, no doubt, could be considered more fully in suggesting improvements in the system that now prevails. The system is a very good one. Before the law is changed it must be looked at very carefully. I must, however, tell the House that, in my view, this is not the way to tackle this problem, and for the reasons I have given I suggest that the House does not give the hon. Lady leave to introduce the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 167, Noes 178.

Division No. 130.] AYES [3.58 p.m.
Ainsley, William Gourlay, Harry McKay, John (Wallsend)
Awbery, Stan Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia
Bacon, Miss Alice Grimond, Rt. Hon. J. MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.) Gunter, Ray Mallalleu, E. L. (Brigg)
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Manuel, Archie C.
Bence, Cyril Hamilton, William (West Fife) Mapp, Charles
Bennett, J, (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Hannan, William Mason, Roy
Blyton, William Hart, Mrs. Judith Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Bottomley, A. Hayman, F. H. Mendelson, J. J.
Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics. S. W.) Healey, Denis Millan, Bruce
Boyden, James Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis) Milne, Edward
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Herbison, Miss Margaret Mitchison, G. R.
Brockway, A. Fenner Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe) Moody, A. S.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D, Hill, J. (Midlothian) Moyle, Arthur
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Hilton, A. V. Mulley, Frederick
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Holman, Percy Nabarro, Gerald
Castle, Mrs. Barbara Holt, Arthur Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)
Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.) Howard, John (Southampton, Test) Oliver, G. H.
Cliffe, Michael Howell, Charles A. (Perry Barr) Oram, A. E.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Owen, Will
Cronin, John Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Pavitt, Laurence
Curran, Charles Hunter, A. E. Peart, Frederick
Darling, George Hynd, H. (Accrington) Pike, Miss Mervyn
Deer, George Hynd, John (Attercliffe) Popplewell, Ernest
Dempsey, James Janner, Sir Barnett Proudfoot, Wilfred
Diamond, John Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas Quennell, Miss J. M.
Dodds, Norman Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Randall, Harry
Drayson, G. B. Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Rankin, John
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Redhead, E. C.
Ede, Rt. Hon. C. Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Reid, William
Edelman, Maurice Kelley, Richard Rhodes, H.
Eden, John Kenyon, Clifford Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Kerby, Capt. Henry Robertson, John (Paisley)
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Fernyhough, E. Lawson, George Ross, William
Finch, Harold Lee, Frederick (Newton) Royle, Charles (Salford, West)
Fitch, Alan Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Fletcher, Eric Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Foot, Dingle (Ipswich) Lipton, Marcus Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Loughlin, Charles Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Loveys, Walter H. Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh Lubbock, E. Small, William
Galpern, Sir Myer Lucas, Sir Jocelyn Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Gammans, Lady Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Snow, Julian
Ginsburg, David Mclnnes, James Spriggs, Leslie
Stewart, Michael (Fulham) Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.) Willey, Frederick
Stonehouse, John Thornton, Ernest Williams, w. R. (Openshaw)
Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall) Thorpe, Jeremy Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C) Turner, Colin Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)
Swain, Thomas Wade, Donald Winterbottom, R. E.
Swingler, Stephen Warbey, William Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Symonds, J. B. Ward, Dame Irene Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) Weitzman, David
Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.) White, Mrs. Eirene TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side) Whitlock, William Mr. Monslow and Mr. Allaun
Thomas, George (Cardiff, w.) Wilkins, W. A.
Agnew, Sir Peter Green, Alan Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Allason, James Gresham Cooke, R. Page, Graham (Crosby)
Balniel, Lord Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R, G. Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)
Barlow, Sir John Gurden, Harold Peel, John
Barter, John Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough) Peyton, John
Batsford, Brian Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Bell, Ronald Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Pilkington, Sir Richard
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Harvie Anderson, Miss Pott, Percivall
Berkeley, Humphry Hastings, Stephen Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch
Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald Henderson, John (Cathcart) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Bitten, John Hendry, Forbes Prior, J. M. L.
Biggs-Davison, John Hicks Beach, Maj. W. Ramsden, James
Bourne-Arton, A. Hiley, Joseph Rawlinson, Peter
Box, Donald Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk) Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. Hirst, Geoffrey Roots, William
Braine, Bernard Hobson, Sir John Russell, Ronald
Brewis, John Hocking, Philip N. Sandys, Rt. Hon. Duncan
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter Holland, Philip Scott-Hopkins, James
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Hollingworth, John Seymour, Leslie
Brooman-White, R. Hope, Rt. Hon. Lord John Sharples, Richard
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Hopkins, Alan Shaw, M.
Browne, Percy (Torrington) Hughes-Young, Michael Shepherd, William
Bryan, Paul Hulbert, Sir Norman Skeet, T. H. H.
Buck, Antony Hurd, Sir Anthony Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'rd & Chlswick)
Bullard, Denys Hutchison, Michael Clark Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)
Bullus, Wing Commander Erlc Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Spearman, Sir Alexander
Burden, F. A. Jackson, John Stevens, Geoffrey
Butcher, Sir Herbert James, David Stodart, J. A.
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Carr, Compton (Barons Court) Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Studholme, Sir Henry
Carr, Robert (Mitcham) Kerr, Sir Hamilton Summers, Sir Spencer (Aylesbury)
Channon, H. P. G. Kershaw, Anthony Tapsell, Peter
Chataway, Christopher Kitson, Timothy Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Chichester-Clark, R. Langford-Holt, Sir John Temple, John M.
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Leburn, Gilmour Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Cleaver, Leonard Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Thomas, Peter (Conway)
Cole, Norman Lilley, F. J. P. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Collard, Richard Lindsay, Sir Martin Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)
Cooke, Robert Litchfield, Capt. John Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Costain, A. P. Longbottom, Charles Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, w.)
Coulson, Michael MacArthur, Ian Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Courtney, Cdr. Anthony McLaren, Martin van Straubenzee, W. R.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Vane, W. M. F.
Cunningham, Knox McMaster, Stanley R. Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis
Dalkeith, Earl of Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Maddan, Martin Walder, David
Duncan, Sir James Maginnis, John E. Walker, Peter
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Wall, Patrick
Elliott, R. W. (Nwcstle-upon-Tyne, N.) Marlowe, Anthony Webster, David
Errington, Sir Eric Marshall, Douglas Wells, John (Maidstone)
Farey-Jones, F. W. Marten, Neil Whitelaw, William
Farr, John Matthews, Gordon (Meriden) Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Finlay, Graeme Mawby, Ray Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton) Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Gibson-Watt, David Mills, Stratton Wise, A. R.
Gilmour, Sir John More, Jasper (Ludlow) Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Glover, Sir Douglas Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Woodhouse, C. M.
Goodhart, Philip Neave, Airey Woodnutt, Mark
Goodhew, Victor Nicholson, Sir Godfrey TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gower, Raymond Noble, Michael Mr. Doughty and Mr. Ridsdale.

Third Resolution read a Second time.