HC Deb 26 July 1967 vol 751 cc768-71

Lords Amendment: No. 9, in page 11, line 27, at end insert new Clause "C". C. It is hereby declared that the verdict of a jury in criminal proceedings (as in other proceedings) is not void by reason only that a member of the jury is disqualified from serving on the jury in those proceedings.

Mr. Taverne

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

This Clause is designed to put beyond doubt that the verdict of a jury will not be invalid because a disqualified person has served as a member of it. There have been decisions of the courts to this effect, but in view of the changes made by the Bill it seems better to have a declaratory provision to prevent there being any doubt in future.

Mr. Hogg

I rise only to say that in Committee we suggested such a Clause, and we were told that we did not know what we were talking about.

Mr. John Lee

I am not sure that this is such a trivial Amendment as has been made out. I can understand the need to avoid the situation in which a slip might lead to the invalidation of a long and expensive trial in which the evidence has been overwhelmingly in favour of the accused, and has led to a conviction, but what will happen if the situation arises in which more than one juror is found to have a conviction? There was a long debate in the other place during which the noble Lord made inquiries into the number of persons who had criminal records and who were summoned to the Central Criminal Court for jury service, and it was found that the proportion was higher than one out of twelve. What will happen if three or four persons of the number required for a majority verdict are persons of bad character, and ought not to have been summoned? Surely such a situation will cast doubt on the validity of the trial? I would be grateful if my hon. and learned Friend would deal with that.

Mr. Taverne

Perhaps I might have the leave of the House to speak again. I stand corrected. It was probably I who told the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) that his Amendment was not necessary. Certainly there was a decision in Kelly's case which suggested that it was not, and at first this view was taken in another place, but later it was felt that it was as well to make the position abundantly clear, and we have therefore bowed to the wisdom of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

The question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) does not, in a sense, relate directly to the merits of the Clause, because what we say is that all that is happening under it is that the law is being made clear. My hon. Friend has raised what may be a difficulty, but it is not one which really arises on the basis of the Clause. It is difficult to foresee what the result will be in every case, but I can imagine circumstances in which, if there is a requisite majority, and five of the ten jurors in favour of the verdict were found to be disqualified, it would give rise to certain difficulties.

Mr. John Lee

In other words, the Amendment is either otiose or bad.

Mr. Taverne

It is not bad. It is not otiose if it is desired to make clear what would otherwise in some cases be unclear. This is what the Clause does. It is declaratory in form, not only in criminal proceedings, but in other proceedings. I do not feel that this is an occasion on which I need answer the difficult proposition which has been put to me.

Mr. Weitzman

Is my hon. and learned Friend right about this? The Clause says: It is hereby declared that the verdict of a jury in criminal proceedings (as in other proceedings) is not void by reason only …". If there is a majority verdict of 10 to two, and one of the 10 is a person who is disqualified from serving on the jury, does not this mean that although it is only nine to two, the verdict remains?

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Taverne

I am not sure that that is right. I would not have thought that it was necessarily right. All we are saying is that it is not void only by reason of the fact that a member of the jury is disqualified. If there is a unanimous verdict, and one of the 12 members is disqualified, it does not mean that we must have a retrial and start again. This is what the Clause says.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

It is extraordinary that the Minister should say that the Clause is designed for clarification, and yet be unable to tell us what the position will be after the so-called clarification. Where one member of a jury is disqualified, the position is clear, and by the terms of the Clause a verdict will not be bad because of that fact. The position does not appear to be clear when more than one member of the jury is disqualified, and we would like to know what the position will be, especially as this is a so-called clarificatory Amendment. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will tell us what the position will be, and what the Government desire it to be, if two members of the jury are disqualified.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

I have always understood the position under the Interpretation Act to be that unless the contrary appears, the singular includes the plural, and it seems that if every member of the jury is disqualified the verdict will still be good. Surely that applies whether there is a majority verdict, or a unanimous one?

Mr. Taverne

The Amendment does not make the law any more difficult than it was in the past. There may have been a difficulty in the past, because the position then was that the verdict of a jury was not rendered void simply because a member of the jury was disqualified. This is the position which is being stated.

All that the Clause is saying is that the verdict shall not be void, but there may be reasons for upsetting the verdict because in a number of respects the trial is unsatisfactory. There is nothing here which says that the verdict shall be valid even though some members of the jury—and I take the point made by my hon. Friend—are disqualified. There is nothing which is introduced by way of confusion. It is declaratory, in the way first suggested by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone.

Question put and agreed to.