HC Deb 26 April 1967 vol 745 cc1680-4

(1) The persons to whom this section applies (being persons exempted from jury service by section 9 of the Juries Act 1870 in the case of persons mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (k) by section 4 of the Port of London Act 1959 in the case of persons mentioned in paragraph (l) and by section 43(2) of the British Transport Commission Act 1962 in the case of persons mentioned in paragraph (m) of the next following subsection) shall for ten years after the date on which they cease to hold the office or employment or practise the profession by virtue of which they are so exempt continue to enjoy the like exemption from serving on juries on criminal proceedings as they enjoy that date.

(2) The persons to whom this section shall apply are—

  1. (a) judges;
  2. (b) barristers at law;
  3. (c) solicitors, and their managing clerks;
  4. (d) the registrar of criminal appeals, clerks of assize and persons appointed or employed to assist him or them in the exercise of his or their functions;
  5. (e) clerks of the peace and their deputies;
  6. (f) coroners;
  7. (g) prison officers;
  8. (h) sheriffs officers;
  9. (i) members of police forces and special constables for police areas;
  10. (j) metropolitan stipendiary magistrates;
  11. (k) justices of the peace;
  12. (l) constables appointed by the Port of London Authority; and
  13. (m) constables in the British Transport Police Force.—[Mr. Edward Lyons.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Edward Lyons

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

This new Clause, which stands in the names of hon. Members on both sides of the House, proposes a major change in the law relating to eligibility for jury service. When the question was raised in Committee my right hon. Friend said that he would study the matter; and I hope that this proposal will, in its present form, meet with his approval.

Certain classes of person, including police officers, prison officers and lawyers, are exempt by law from jury service while they are following those occupations. However, under the law as it stands, after their retirement they can, and do, serve on juries. The Clause is designed to prevent them from doing so for a period of 10 years after their retirement. The introduction of the Clause was recommended in the Report of the Departmental Committee on Jury Service, the Morris Committee, in 1965.

In Britain we adhere to the maxim that justice should not only be done but be seen to be done and, to that end, groups of citizens who have a great deal of connection with the administration of law and justice are excluded from jury service. Their knowledge, experience and training would, at best, cause them to exercise undue influence on fellow members of the jury and, at worse, tend—perhaps in spite of themselves—to prejudice them against an accused person.

It has, however, not hitherto been recognised by Statute that the factors which make such people unfit for jury service while they are practising in those occupations and professions persist after their retirement. The loyalty of ex-police officers to their colleagues remains for years. They may tend to be uncritical of police evidence. Their knowledge of an accused man's record remains. Instead of seeing themselves as impartial arbiters, they may see themselves as protagonists for the prosecution. All this is perfectly natural, and no criticism of the police is intended. None the less, those matters unfit them to sit on a jury until such time as their knowledge fades and old habits of mind alter.

Ten years was the period recommended by the Morris Committee, and it seems that perpetual disqualification would have the unfortunate affect of barring for life people who, perhaps, for only a short period in their twenties, served in the prison service or the police force or in some other of the listed activities. Those supporting this reform have therefore come down against perpetual disqualification.

Mr. Carlisle

Having moved in the Committeeé thé Amendment which, I think, gave rise to the new Clause, I want to associate myself with the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons) and to thank the Home Office for suggesting a Clause in a form of drafting that may well be acceptable.

Having read the Clause, I am reminded of the phrase used in Committee by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) in connection with another matter, when he said that he and the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) had produced a mouse and the Home Office had come along and produced a mountain out of the mouse.

I cannot help feeling that something similar has happened here, because the new Clause started as a humble Amendment asking that any police officer who had been in the police force for at least 12 months should be excluded from jury service. Instead, we now have a vast schedule which covers the hon. Member for Bradford, East, the hon. Member for York, myself and practically every one else sitting in the Chamber now, even if we were to give up our present professions.

It is right that those who through their previous work have knowledge of the workings of the criminal law—who, for example, have a knowledge of previous offences of an accused person—should be excluded from jury service for the period suggested. I thank the Home Secretary for his assistance, and I hope that he will be able to welcome the new Clause.

Mr. Clegg

I only want to add very shortly to what has been said by the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle). This Clause will make the jury system stronger, and will be of advantage when we debate another matter later. It will also preserve the lay character of the jury, which is very important. For those reasons I support the Clause.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

While I agree with everything that has been said so far, there is one practical difficulty which perhaps the Home Secretary can clear up. A great many people join the police force and, not finding it to their liking, leave it. A great many people who join the legal professions, perhaps do not make a success, or find another appointment. The Clause would disqualify them from jury service for 10 years—and I use the word "disqualify" deliberately because it may not be the word used in the Clause.

Eight or nine years after leaving one of the listed professions they might be on a jury and find the accused person guilty. An assiduous person looking up the records could discover this, and a long and perhaps expensive trial might be invalidated and the sentence quashed on the grounds that the jury was wrongly empanelled. If I am wrong, I will gladly withdraw my objection, but if I am right I see practical difficulties in adopting the Clause.

The young barrister who practises for a few months in chambers, or the young solicitor who may practise for just a short time is disqualified for 10 years from sitting on a jury. By that time he may be in a quite different occupation—a salesman, a shop assistant, or whatever it may be. He is summoned to jury service, the jury convicts, and away the case goes to the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division on the grounds of conviction by a jury not properly empanelled because at least one person on it, perhaps more, was not qualified under this Clause to sit. The appellant says, "As I was convicted by a disqualified jury, I ask that my conviction should be quashed."

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

I am happy to say that I believe the fears of the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) are unfounded. This Clause does not disqualify these categories of people, it exempts them. Therefore, should they by inadvertence serve on a jury it would not mean that the trial was nul and void and had to be gone through again.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for moving the Clause and for the support it has received from the other side of the Chamber. The provision is reasonable. I do not think that we would have been very happy to put criminals on one side and police on the other in this respect, but we have taken this exemption from the Juries Act of 1870 and put in the 10-year provision. The Government will be very happy to accept the Clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.