HC Deb 07 April 1971 vol 815 cc560-6

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Clinton Davis

I beg to move Amendment No. 29, in page 26, line 25, at end insert: Provided that—

  1. (a) the Lord Chancellor shall review the scales of payment annually, and
  2. (b) any juror who claims to have suffered undue financial hardship due to the length of a trial be entitled to apply to the appropriate officer of the Crown Court for an increase in the maximum loss of earnings allowance to a sum not in excess of double the maximum prescribed in the current regulations after the first 20 days of a trial. If dissatisfied with the decision of the appropriate officer the juror may appeal to the presiding judge whose decision shall be final.
The intention behind the Amendment is provide the long suffering juror with additional financial help in extremely long cases.

A juror is entitled to a subsistence allowance so that his out-of-pocket expenses are met, and there is provision for his meals, with a travelling allowance and compensation for loss of earnings. The scales of compensation are established by the Home Secretary. In future when the Bill has been enacted, they will be established by the Lord Chancellor. The maximum scale is £4 a day, but after the first 10 days the maximum is increased to £8. It appears that the scales were last reviewed in March, 1970. There is no right of appeal by a juror against a decision in respect of compensation for loss of earnings.

That real financial hardship and difficulty can ensue for a juror in a long case can hardly be gainsaid. It is not sufficient to say in rebuttal of the arguments set out in the Amendment that a person may apply to be excused if he is able to establish that considerable hardship may result. It is true that he may be able to do that, but it is equally true that his application may not be admitted. In those circumstances, a juror could conceivably suffer great difficulty.

The Under-Secretary of State said in Committee that a great responsibility was involved in being a member of a jury and that it is, in effect, part of the fabric of the democratic society in which we live. That is absolutely right: it is a great responsibility. But I do not think the argument he sought to adduce, namely, that the inconvenience which jurors may occasionally suffer is part and parcel of this responsibility, is a fair argument.

I believe that we should endeavour to preserve our jury system. It has worked well, and I hope that it will continue to work well. But I do not believe that people who undertake this responsibility—and they are compelled to undertake it—should have to face undue hardship. The philosophy is the same as that which for many years has suggested that certain people in public life, such as nurses, because of the responsibility that they carry, should not have a satisfactory standard of living. This philosophy is wholly wrong.

It was also said in Committee that until 1949 the hardship which jurymen experienced was greater than it is today because they were not entitled until that year to claim compensation for loss of earnings. That argument is not relevant to today's considerations. If injustice was done to jurors in the past, there is no reason why it should be perpetuated. It was rectified to some extent in 1949.

The Morris Committee stated that the intention was not necessarily to reimburse jurors completely for losses which were incurred, but to ensure that there was no undue hardship. That argument was prayed in aid by the Under-Secretary in Committee. But that is exactly my point. As the law stands, undue hardship is a real possibility. Cases are frequently complex and very long. I have no statistical information to support that assertion, but I believe that there are more very long cases today than there were in the past. There was a recent case at the Central Criminal Court which in fact collapsed but which, as it involved a number of very serious fraud charges, could have lasted many months.

The purpose of the Amendment is to provide some reasonable safeguard for the professional man in a small practice or the business man with a small business whose absence from that professional life or business could be extremely injurious. It would provide him with some protection in very long cases. That is why I specify the period of 20 days. The Amendment would enable the maximum allowances to be increased, in suitable circumstances of hardship, to double that at present prescribed, after the first 20 days. The £8 allowance, in those circumstances, would rise to £16 a day. It would also offer the aggrieved juror some redress against any arbitrary or capricious decision on the part of an official determining how much he should receive. I do not suggest that decisions of that kind are made frequently, but it is conceivable that such decisions have been made and might be made in the future. Increasing the scale in suitable cases and giving a right of appeal to the presiding judge for the aggrieved juror would overcome a real difficulty.

I do not see why a juror should be denied this elementary right. The Amendment would accord justice to those who are compelled to serve as jurors. I suggest that they should be protected by some such provisions.

Mr. Carlisle

The purpose of the Amendment is twofold. First, it provides for the annual review of scales of payment to jurors. Secondly, it provides for an increased loss-of-earnings allowance for those involved in very long cases.

The regulations governing allowances to jurors are made under the authority of Section 1 of the Juries Act, 1949. They are and have always been made administratively and, while I accept that the allowances should be looked at from time to time and raised so as to keep pace with any major change in the value of money, it is not really necessary to write in a statutory annual review of the kind that the Amendment requires. I think that we should continue with the administrative arrangements that we have.

As the hon. Gentleman said, these payments have been reviewed, the subsistence allowance as recently as 1971 and the loss-of-earnings allowance in 1970. They will be kept under review. But I do not think that there is any advantage in making a statutory requirement for an annual review.

The hon. Gentleman said that he objected to the suggestion that it should be to cover undue financial hardship; he felt that it should be to compensate for loss. However, I cannot help noticing that the second part of his Amendment starts with the words, any juror who claims to have suffered undue financial hardship". It has always been accepted that one of the duties of a citizen in a free society is to be willing to serve on jury service. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that I have always accepted that it is wrong to impose undue financial hardship on anyone being asked to carry out a public service. We have recently—from last week, I believe—implemented the payment of a loss-of-earnings allowance to those who sit as magistrates for that very reason.

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's proposals are necessary. We can never completely succeed in compensating the man on the higher income who is required to serve on a jury and we can never completely compensate the self-employed man or the salaried man, except that the salaried man probably suffers no loss as a result of sitting on a jury.

We have the provision that, after 10 days, a man is entitled to the maximum of £8. I do not think that it can really be suggested that that should be put up to £16, which would be the effect of the Amendment. If we accept the Amendment we are saying that even those in the higher income bracket should be compensated entirely for any loss which they might incur through doing their duty as citizens. I do not believe that undue hardship exists.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall continue to look regularly at the allowances which are payable. I accept his sincerity in moving the Amendment and his concern that jurors should be adequately protected against any loss.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Clinton Davis

I beg to move Amendment No. 30, in page 26, line 31, leave out "not".

This Amendment deals with coroners' jurors. I should say at the outset that, through an error, the name of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) appears on the Amendment. It was his intention that it should appear only on Amendment No. 29, which we have just debated. The hon. Gentleman has asked me to make the situation clear, which I willingly do.

I understand that the gravamen of the Government's case on this matter is "Wait for Brodrick". It is rather like "Waiting for Godot." We seem to have been waiting incessantly for seven or eight years. I do not suppose that it is the fault of any hon. Member that we have been waiting all this time. After all, it is a Committee which is sitting.

In an answer on 5th April by the Under-Secretary of State, I was told that the reason for the delay is the complexity of the Committee's task, which is not confined to a review of coroners' courts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April, 1971; Vol. 815, c. 54.] We understand that the report will be published shortly, which, in parliamentary terms, means some time towards the end of the year or perhaps the beginning of 1972. It is unsatisfactory that this situation should have developed.

We are being asked to legislate for coroners' jurors and to make an exception for them to be dealt with differently from all other jurors. We are indeed at the stage, approaching Easter, when Jewish people, on the Passover night, ask, "Why do we treat this night differently from all other nights?"

9.30 p.m.

Why do we treat these jurors differently from all other jurors? The first reason which was adduced in Committee by the Under-Secretary was that the paying agency was different. That is not very convincing. He then said that coroners' jurors are chosen by the coroner. But that does not diminish the inconvenience which they suffer. It is true that it is unlikely that a coroner's jury will sit for anything like the same sort of time that a jury at a Crown Court would be required to sit, but this provision would suggest that the coroner's jury should be treated as poor relations. That is unjust. They are sometimes derided unjustly.

My own belief is that they often have a sturdy independence. Only recently, I was involved in a case in which, notwithstanding the influence and persuasion of the coroner, a jury decided to return a rider which was not to his liking. I believe that they have a purpose and that it is unfortunate that they should be treated in this casual way as second-class juries. That they are not.

Of course, one other matter affects coroners' juries, which was mentioned to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons) before and during the Committee stage, and which is within my own experience. It is that a coroner doles out money from his desk to members of the jury—

Mr. Edward Lyons indicated dissent.

Mr. Davis

I am sorry if I mistook him, but I have seen this done. It is unbelievable that, in this day and age, after the jury have sat, they should be compensated in this way.

But the burden of my argument is that there is no reason in the world why a coroner's jury should not be treated in exactly the same way as any other jury under the terms of the Clause.

Mr. Carlisle

I am afraid that the only message which I can give is the one which was given in Committee. We are still waiting for Brodrick. We hope that the House will not have to wait with anticipation too long but, before the Brodrick Committee reports, we do not feel that it would be right to make any alterations in the law regarding jurors.

Sir Elwyn Jones

What is happening to Brodrick? They have been sitting for five years. An elephant does not take so long. What is going on in the Brodrick Committee? Can the Under-Secretary tell us?

Mr. Carlisle

I am sure that members of the Committee will have heard the views of the previous Attorney-General about that Committee. All I can say is that, just as the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Administration used to say that they hoped that, shortly, they would hear from Brodrick, we believe, in all seriousness, that their mammoth task is drawing to an end. We hope that there will shortly be a report from the Brodrick Committee. But until that report is available, it would be wrong to legislate in respect of coroners' juries.

I was sorry to hear the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) say that, because we were not legislating for them, coroners' juries were second-class citizens. The only distinction is that they will continue to be paid by the Home Office, whereas other jurors will be paid by the Lord Chancellor's Department. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to suggest that the Home Secretary was necessarily a second-class citizen, as compared with the Lord Chancellor.

Although they are paid by a different paying agency, coroners' jurors are, in fact, paid the same allowances as other jurors, so they will lose nothing in the time that we have to wait.

Mr. Clinton Davis

It occurs to me that perhaps the members of the Committee have lost the address of the Home Office. Could it be supplied to them?

Mr. Carlisle

The House may be assured that the secretariat of the Brodrick Committee works in the Home Office. I assure the House that the urgent anticipation expressed on the benches opposite will be conveyed to members of that Committee. I would ask the House to reject this Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

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