HC Deb 07 April 1971 vol 815 cc502-24

The qualification for jury service in England and Wales, including the City of London, shall be citizenship as evidenced by inclusion in the electoral register as a parliamentary elector provided that no one shall be qualified to serve on a jury who—

  1. (a) is over the age of 65 years;
  2. (b) cannot read, write, speak and understand the English language without difficulty;
  3. (c) has not, since the age of 16 years, been ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands or Isle of Man for a continuous period of five years; and
  4. (d) within the previous five years has been in custodial detention in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man, after being convicted of an offence and sentenced to three months or more, or to an indeterminate sentence, without the option of a fine.—[Mr. Gardner.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

Perhaps it would be convenient for the House if we discuss at the same time Amendment No. 26, in Clause 31, page 23, line 9, leave out subsection (1) and insert: (1) Save for persons exempted under the Juries Act 1870 and persons disqualified by virtue of section 10 of that Act every citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies and every Commonwealth citizen whose name is included as a Parliamentary elector in the electoral register shall be liable to be summoned to attend as a juror for service in the Crown Court, the High Court and county courts and, subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act, the Lord Chancellor shall be responsible for summoning such persons and for determining the occasions on which they are to attend when so summoned and the number to be summoned; and Amendment No. 27, in Clause 32, page 24, line 20, at end insert: (2) Subject to an upper age limit of 65 years and a lower age limit of 21 years, the basic qualification for jury service shall be citizenship as evidenced by inclusion in the electoral register as a Parliamentary elector.

6.2 p.m.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

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

The new Clause is a protest against the present jury system and aims at implementing the recommendations of the Report of the Departmental Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest. The present system of jury service is a legacy of the reforming zeal of one of our great Home Secretaries, Sir Robert Peel. His Juries Act of 1825 made the basic qualification the possession of property. Essentially, the rule was that a person who was liable to pay rates qualified.

As a result, from 1825 onwards, juries were composed mostly of middle-aged, middle-class men. The astonishing fact to me is that this still applies today. The obsolete provisions of the 1825 Act, which is now a century and a half out of date, still basically govern the qualification for jury service. In practice, eligibility is still confined to householders, who are generally those liable to pay rates. Most husbands—this is an unhappy fact which they have to face—usually pay the rates and therefore qualify, but their wives do not. Nor do the adults living in the same house, if they do not pay rates.

Nor is it sufficient merely to pay rates. They have to be paid separately. If the rates are added to the rent and one pays one sum, one is not qualified for jury service. Thus, there are large blocks of flats filled with admirable people who could well serve on a jury and who qualify in every other respect but who cannot be called because they do not pay their rates separately. This is also the position on council estates.

The number of women who serve on juries is about 11 per cent. of available jurors. One can see, in almost any court today, the truth of that famous description by Lord Devlin, that the British jury is predominantly male, predominantly middle-aged, middle-minded and middle-class. It is a system which is hopelessly out of date and which one might be forgiven for describing as slightly crazy.

Eight years ago the Conservative Government set up a Committee under Lord Morris to examine in great detail the present jury system. It reported in 1965, and its main recommendation was that the old property qualification was no longer relevant to present-day requirements and that it must go. The Committee recommended that, in its place, the qualification should be what it described as citizenship, as evidenced by inclusion in the parliamentary register. Thus, anyone entitled to vote in a parliamentary election could sit on a jury.

This unanimous recommendation makes complete sense and will probably commend itself to hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House and to people outside. Among those who are most active in voting the Government to action on this point are women's organisations, who feel—I sympathise strongly with them—that it is wholly wrong that they should, in the main, be excluded from the privilege of jury service. For juries to be made up as Lord Devlin described does not add up in this day and age.

The present age for membership of a jury is 21 to 60. The Morris Committee suggested that the age should be 21 to 65, but that was before the reduction of the age of majority from 21 to 18. Therefore, if the House is to accept—as I submit it should consider doing—the proposition that citizenship is the right qualification, the logical consequence is that, if one can vote in a parliamentary election at the age of 18, one should be able to sit on a jury at the same age.

If this recommendation is embodied in legislation, people from the age of 18 to the age of 65 will be eligible for jury service. This is right if only because of the melancholy fact that more and more young people are unhappily coming before our criminal courts. It is right that young people should have the opportunity of being judged by their contemporaries. In the fifteenth century the qualification for a voter was that of being able to sit on a jury. We are reversing that proposition by saying that if one is entitled to vote, one should be entitled to sit on a jury. That makes sense.

There are a number of provisos in the Clause. One is that a person who cannot read, write, speak or understand the English language without difficulty should not be entitled to sit on a jury. It is clear from the Morris Report that there is no racial undertone in this requirement. It is a sensible attempt to make certain that jury members who may be asked to examine documents and deal with complicated matters of fact in documents should be able to understand what those documents contain. When they are being addressed by a representative on behalf of the accused, or indeed by the prosecution, it is essential that jury members should be able to understand what is being said to them. In theory—though in practice one hopes this will never happen—it is possible today for somebody to be called for jury service who cannot speak English properly, cannot read English, or cannot even understand the English language properly. In such circumstances justice in the end suffers in a disastrous way.

Sir Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

Could the hon. and learned Gentleman explain how this matter is to be tested? I notice that the Morris Committee considered various possible methods of testing, rejected them all, yet nevertheless made the recommendation. It has intrigued me to consider who should do the testing, what the test should be and whether it should apply to North Wales.

Mr. Gardner

I am sure that it does not apply to North Wales. Who would do the testing and what the test should be was not a matter decided by the Morris Committee, which rather sidestepped that issue. However, no difficulty should be experienced in this matter. Those who would have the responsibility of dealing with eligible jurymen and women should, when those people give their particulars, be in a position to decide whether they can speak English properly. It would not be a matter of great embarrassment or difficulty to present them with a card from which they could be asked to read. It is a lamentably common experience in our courts today to hear sworn a member of the jury who is incapable of reading the card on which is printed the oath. A person in such circumstances may find it difficult to speak and read properly because he is a little nervous, though often one feels that it is nothing to do with nerves but more to do with illiteracy. This is a grave difficulty and should be avoided if possible.

6.15 p.m.

The third proviso in the Clause is that a person shall not be qualified to serve on a jury who has not since the age of 16 been ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands or Isle of Man for a continuous period of five years. This, too, is a recommendation of the Morris Committee which I would commend to the House.

The fourth proviso deals with a very serious matter. At the moment it is possible for somebody who has been convicted of a grave crime to sit on a jury almost as soon as he or she comes out of detention. Paragraph (d) of the Clause is also a recommendation of the Morris Committee and provides that nobody should be qualified to serve on a jury who within the previous five years has been in custodial detention in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man, after being convicted of an offence and sentenced to three months or more, or to an indeterminate sentence, without the option of a fine. It may be that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State comes to reply he will rightly tell the House that this Clause has come up virtually at the last moment. I am sure that neither my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary nor the Home Office can have forgotten the fact that the Morris Committee began its examination of the jury system as long ago as 1963, nor the fact that it reported in 1965. If the reports of departmental committees in our Library were not dusted regularly, I have no doubt that by now the Morris Report would be very dusty.

Part V of the Bill is given over exclusively to juries. Clause 35 abolishes the practice of swearing two or more juries together at the same time and abolishes the right of judges to order that juries shall be composed entirely of men. I cannot believe that in proposing these measures the Government did not take into account the Morris Committee recommendations on jury service.

In February I attempted to put down a question to the Home Secretary asking him to take immediate steps to implement the provisions of the Morris Committee. Unhappily, when the time for the reply arrived the Question was not reached. Instead, I received a Written Answer to the effect that the Government were considering the possibility of legislation. On 23rd February in the Standing Committee on this Bill the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) reminded the Under-Secretary of State of the provisions of the Morris Committee. The Under-Secretary replied that the recommendations …are receiving sympathetic consideration from the present Government, but I am afraid that I am not yet in a position to say when it will prove possible to introduce legislation to give effect to the major intention of the Morris Committee. He added: We must wait for the appropriate time for legislation in that field."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 23rd February, 1971; c. 365.] I submit that the appropriate time for legislation to implement the recommendations of the Morris Committee is now. With great respect, I suggest that the country and the House need and deserve something more than sympathy and the promise of action in the vague and indeterminate future. We need, and we need now—and this is the reason for the new Clause—a basic reform of our jury system on the lines suggested by the Morris Committee. This reform is long overdue. The moment to take action is now. That is what I ask for.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

I am glad that even at this late stage sufficient interest has been aroused in this subject that, apart from the Amendment in my name, No. 27, we should have Amendment No. 26 in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones), and new Clause 2, tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Fylde, South (Mr. Gardner). They all deal with qualification for jury service.

In the Second Reading debate I pointed out that the Morris Committee had been appointed in May, 1963, had reported in April, 1965, had spent a great deal of time, had heard many witnesses, had thoroughly examined all aspects of jury service, and had made 58 recommendations. I asked why the opportunity had not been taken to implement those recommendations, especially as Part V was devoted entirely to juries. I got no reply at all on that occasion from the Attorney-General.

The hon. and learned Member for Fylde, South, who, like myself, was a member of the Morris Committee, pursued the subject perhaps more energetically, because on 18th March he put down a question asking whether immediate steps could be taken to implement the Committee's recommendations. He got a rather dusty answer, which I should like to quote because it shows how important this matter is considered to be. He was told that the Minister was …considering this as a possible subject for legislation when…time permits"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1971; Vol. 813, c. 367.] I have said, and I repeat, that too often committees are appointed which spend valuable time, and then produce detailed reports which are not even discussed but are pigeon-holed and put away for years. Here was the opportunity for action. Paragraph 49 of the Morris Committee Report stated: Section 1 of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 provides that a 'person shall not be exempted by sex or marriage from the liability to serve as a juror'. It pointed out, however, that the effect of the requirement that a juror must be a householder means that many women are debarred from jury service. During our deliberations in the Morris Committee we were told that only 11 per cent. of the total number of persons available for jury service were women, and we all know that in court we see how few jurors are women because of this disqualification in not being householders.

The second objection is that a property value laid down in 1825–145 years ago—obviously bears no relationship whatever to values today. In 1825 it may have been reasonable to argue that the £10 freeholder or the £20 leaseholder, or the leaseholder rated at £20 or £30, gave a proper indication of suitability for jury service, but today merely to state that shows its absurdity. The citizen has certain privileges and certain duties. Jury service is one of those duties, and the convenient way in this respect is to adopt the recommendation of the Morris Committee—the record of citizens as set out in the parliamentary register.

The new Clause and the two Amendments seek to obtain the same object. I dare say that the Government spokesman will express gratitude to Lord Morris and the members of the Committee for their very valuable report, and will repeat the assurance that consideration will be given to the matter, and that this is a probable subject for legislation when time permits. That is not good enough. The Government should amend the Bill now by adopting at least Amendment No. 26. We now have an opportunity to do what is needed. We have a Bill part of which is expressly germane to the question of juries. Surely there can be no excuse on ground of lack of parliamentary time. Now is the opportunity, and action should be taken now.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

I support the new Clause so ably moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fylde, South (Mr. Gardner). Whilst it is perfectly true that the Morris Committee put in two years of service and made 58 recommendations, when it concluded its work the year was 1965. Our predecessors in office took no action on the matter for five years.

Each year the problem has become more urgent because of the very large increase in the number of citizens who do not speak English. It is now becoming quite a frequent occurrence to have those who simply do not understand the English tongue well enough nor understand the English customs well enough really to be entitled or qualified to serve on juries. That being so, it has now become urgent, indeed imperative, that something on the lines of the words in the new Clause …cannot read, write, speak and understand the English language without difficulty… should be included in the Bill.

6.30 p.m.

Certainly it seems necessary nowadays that we should have some age limit. I might have been prepared to have a slightly higher one than 65 but, on the whole, 65 is probably the right age to settle for. We need not insert the lower limit; if we insert the upper limit, that is sufficient.

Last week, in my experience at the Old Bailey, one was unable to find anywhere at the Central Criminal Court a lady to serve on a jury in a case in which one was challenging in order to try to get a lady to serve. It was particularly suitable that the case should have a number of women jurors. Some of my hon. Friends would agree that there is a preponderance of cases today in which no woman juror serves. It is particularly necessary in some cases that there should be a fair proportion of women jurors. As the position now obtains whereby the judge can rule that women shall be excluded, we ought to make provision to ensure that women are highly likely to be included and, by the process of challenge, could undoubtedly be included in the normal course of events. Those three matters included by my hon. and learned Friend are absolutely right.

On the fourth matter, I imagine that the great difficulty is testing. Clearly, the whole House would agree that it would be proper, and proper at this stage, to include straight away an arrangement whereby convicted criminals, certainly those who had served a custodial sentence, should not be included. Testing can probably be done only by those in charge of administration at the Central Criminal Court, the courts of assize and the courts of quarter session, or the Crown Courts under the new Act, by those who have to make the necessary arrangements. It seems, therefore, that this will result in a testing arrangement where it will be necessary to obtain from a person who is to be a juror a signed declaration which contains the points that he is under 65, that he can understand the English language, that he has lived here for a period of five years continuously and, furthermore, that he is not a person who has served a custodial sentence. It may be that the Government would have to devise an additional Clause whereby there would be a penalty, and possibly quite a severe one, for a person who refused or made a false declaration.

I mention that matter because the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) adverted to the question in an intervention and said that he had foreseen—we knew at that time that he was in charge of this matter—the difficulties that arose about testing. How does one do this? Obviously, when one sends out the list, which is at random and should properly be at random, one does not know then. It can only be done by a sorting out process by the adminisstrative officer in charge of the court. A suggestion which is at least worth canvassing is that every juryman must sign a declaration form—this is quite common nowadays—in which there are penalties for falsity if it is not accurately completed. It will also save a great deal of time.

At present, when one finds somebody fumbling over the oath and one does not know whether he is literate, a rather hurried conference takes place, which can be very difficult, about challenging, and one has not much time. A great many of those in the courts would never think of challenging anyway, still less the accused person. That is why it is probably a wise precaution that one should have a form of this kind filled in by people before they take the oath. In this way, difficulties can be avoided.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

Generally speaking, I support the hon. Gentleman' arguments. Does he not concede, however, that there may well be a very good way of avoiding jury service altogether in feigning an inability to read, or to write, or to speak and understand the language?

Mr. Rees-Davies

That is true. I do not know that there is evidence of many scrimshankers. It is strange, very often, when a long case is being called, how very fair those who have been called to service usually are when they are warned that they may be required for several weeks, and how very few of them take the opportunity to stand down which is offered. One can test it in that way.

One can test it in another way. Apparently not very many of those who are called for service send in medical certificates or submit other reasons why they should not attend. I have no great experience in these matters, but I understand that there has never been any real complaint of a difficulty in getting jurors in this country to serve, and to serve properly. There is a minimal risk there. If it were found that there were endeavours to evade jury service, that is the type of loophole which could be considered later.

I see no reason for avoiding the task before us by saying that we cannot test this. We can test it, and my hon. and learned Friend's proposals meet the feelings of the country and of the House.

Sir Elwyn Jones

The House will sympathise with the sense of frustration of our two distinguished and learned colleagues, who served on the Lord Morris Committee on Jury Service over a period of two or three years, at realising that in this great Measure, which has a chapter on jury service, the Lord Morris recommendations on qualifications for jury service have been omitted.

It ill becomes me, as a member of the previous Administration, to reproach the present Government for inaction in this matter. I fear that I appear in sackcloth and ashes—although the matter was the responsibility of the Home Office and not of the Law Officers Department, where earlier action would undoubtedly have been taken. However, I shall not involve myself in inter-departmental unhappiness.

It is regrettable that nothing has been done sooner about this, because the present state of affairs is obviously highly unsatisfactory. The hon. and learned Gentlemen who have spoken have pointed to the absurd state of affairs that jury selection is on the basis of a property qualification which was set up very nearly a century and a half ago. That was at a time when only those who possessed property were considered to have a sufficient stake in the country to justify their being allowed to take part in public life or to exercise the franchise. Even the Tory Party has moved a little beyond that philosophy, and today it is reassuring that a Conservative Member has supported the principle of the Amendments.

The obsolete doctrine now embodied in the qualification for jury service survives in our public life perhaps, only in relation to the jury service qualification, and it is time that it went. The present set-up is also objectionable, as has been said, because it discriminates against women, for, as has been pointed out, the effect of the requirement that a juror must in general be a householder is that women form only about 11 per cent. of the total number of available jurors. From one's experience in and about the courts, it is rare to find more than two or three women on a jury, indeed, many juries are composed entirely of men. Yet the contribution that women can make to the administration of justice is certainly as good as that of men. The jury should be a mirror of the adult community. Women constitute at least half of that community, and, to coin a phrase, often the better half. So the present set-up which excludes such a large proportion of them is clearly unacceptable. It is said that women have difficulties because of their domestic responsibilities and problems, but the summoning officer and the judge have power to excuse and to deal with any situation of difficulty.

One or two matters of controversy have been raised in the debate, one of which relates to the age qualification. I see from Amendment No. 27 that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) is in favour of 21 as the lower age limit, but, in view of the change in the law which we made when we reduced the age of majority to 18, I agree with the view which has been expressed by the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) that it is now appropriate that the 18, 19 or 20-yearold should take his or her place on the jury. I looked at what the Latey Committee had to say on this subject, and it was this, in paragraph 25: We have to confess that it would not actually keep us awake at night if people under 21 were to serve on a jury"— Whether or not they are good sleepers, I do not know. The Committee added: …if, that is, one 18-year-old were liable to take his seat with 11 older people, since it is statistically unlikely to be more. If an elderly defendant did not like the idea of a young man or woman being on the jury there would be the power of challenge, and if there were any eccentricity in the mind of a young juror, we have now introduced majority verdicts which could cope with that.

The Latey Committee drew attention to an interesting experiment which was begun a few years ago in Houston, Texas, whereby in certain cases concerning young people juries of young people are empanelled to advise the court. It has been a remarkable success, and the judge in charge of the experiment has reported that offences among young offenders in Houston, Texas, have actually been reduced. He thinks the experiment had a part to play in that result because the young people are being taught respect for the law by participating in it. There is a good deal to be said for this. It is time that young persons were more involved in the administration of justice and the work of the courts, and the sooner it happens the better. It is a particularly important prospect because, un- happily, the bulk of contemporary offenders are comparatively young, and it is, therefore, right that youth should have a share of the responsibility for dealing with the problem of crime. The situation could not get out of hand because statistically the number of young people would be small enough to prevent any risk of danger emerging from the modest proposal that is made.

6.45 p.m.

I find the issue of the test of literacy rather difficult. The present arrangements do not work too badly. It is possible occasionally for an illiterate to participate in a jury but, generally speaking, he can be spotted. They themselves usually stand down if they find difficulty in reading. In addition, the Crown has the power of challenge if it is obvious that an illiterate has been called to take the oath, and sometimes the defence has the same power. That would depend on what prospects of success in the trial the defendant thought he might have. My view is that to establish a literacy test would be extremely difficult.

I am not attracted by the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) about publishing a document and the imposition of penalties for a false statement by a juror in relation to entries in the document, and I would not be disposed to make any statutory provision as is proposed in the new Clause of the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde.

At the end of the day, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington has said, we shall be told, "No go", none of these Amendments is acceptable, and we must await another day. With as much decency as I can reasonably claim, I urge that this matter shall be dealt with as soon as possible so that in this one instance at any rate the present Administration may prove to be more effective and more speedy than its predecessor.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) that the time has come for us to bring up to date the law relating to the qualifications for jury service. Having considered new Clause 2 and the other Amendments, I do not think we should be wise to legislate in exactly the terms which have been proposed.

I have an open mind about the lower limit of qualification for jurors. If we were to make young people between 18 and 21 eligible we should have to grant exemptions for students, and there would be a large number of exemptions. I am not disputing that in cases where young people are involved it might be useful to have some young people sitting on the jury, but on balance I think 21 is probably the right age.

I am, however, strongly opposed to an upper age limit of 65. if men over 65 are capable of being Prime Minister and leading us to the successful conclusion of a great war, of being Cabinet Ministers, judges and, I dare to say, Speakers of the House of Commons, it is likely that a great many other men and women above that age will make good jurors. If there were to be a limit—and I am not saying that there should be, because a man is as old as his heart—perhaps 75 might be a suitable upper age limit. I hope therefore that the Government will not accept Amendment No. 27.

I come now to the question of what the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South has called the literacy test. Both he and I have had a lot of experience judicially, and it is my experience that we have always overcome this problem without trouble. The court has a discretion to say whether a juror is not to serve. A good way of testing literacy is to insist in every case, as many of us have done, that jurors read the oath from a card when being sworn. That soon detects illiteracy, and it also detects whether they are able to see. Sometimes, jurors say that they cannot read the card because they have not brought their spectacles. In such cases, I have always said, "Very well, you shall not serve on this jury, but you shall be noted for attendance as a juror in waiting the next time they are required." That overcomes that difficulty.

I feel that all the points dealt with in paragraph (b) of the new Clause can be met perfectly well by the existing discretion of the court.

I doubt that it is strictly necessary, as it so rarely arises save in relation to immigrants, to have the limitation provided for in paragraph (c).

I feel strongly, however, that my hon. and learned Friend is on a serious point in paragraph (d). I have a recollection, nevertheless, that we went over this ground when we were discussing the Criminal Justice Act, 1967, and we inserted in that Act a provision—of which we shall soon be reminded, no doubt—which deals differently, though effectively, with this point.

We are in a difficult position to legislate on this matter at this stage of the Bill, for it has already been through another place and the only Amendments which we can consider are those on the Notice Paper now. In my opinion, the Government would be wrong to accept the present proposals. Another place will have no opportunity to use any initiative in the matter. In my view, therefore, there is nothing that we ought to do about it on this occasion. Nevertheless, I hope that this may be the subject of legislation, perhaps fairly minor and brief legislation—perhaps even a Private Member's Bill—in some future Session, and without waiting too many years.

Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, East)

In Committee on the Criminal Justice Bill I sought to insert an Amendment which would implement part of the Morris Committee recommendations. At that time we were told that it was proposed to legislate the following year and, therefore, the matter should be left. However, as a result of the revolt of certain Government back benchers, I was able on Report to introduce a Clause—it became Section 16 of the Act—which exempted from jury service ex-policemen, barristers who had ceased to practise, and certain others for a period of 10 years after they had ceased to practise or hold the position concerned.

We were told that the Morris Committee recommendations would be implemented soon. That was four years ago. I should very much like to see something done to implement the main recommendations relating to jury service.

I see difficulties in the new Clause, however, because Section 14 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1967, made alterations in the law with which the new Clause is inconsistent. Under Section 14 anyone sentenced to imprisonment for five years or more is prohibited for life from serving on a jury. According to the new Clause, such a person could serve on a jury if he had not been convicted and sent to prison during the previous five years. Section 14 provided also that if a person had been sentenced to three months' imprisonment or more in the previous 10 years—not five years, as in the new Clause—he could not serve on a jury.

Paragraph (d) of the new Clause would make it easier for people of criminal record to serve on juries, and that would be a misfortune. The paragraph would effectively repeal that Section in the 1967 Act, albeit by the back door, which would be undesirable.

For other reasons, I see technical objections to what might be called the official Opposition Amendment; that is, Amendment No. 26. I shall not go into what I regard as those technical objections. It seems to me that the Amendment about which least complaint can be made is Amendment No. 27, put down by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman).

True enough, my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment puts the upper age limit for jury service at 65. I heard the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) suggest 75. In this very Bill we stipulate that a recorder should retire at 72. We know that a High Court judge can go on till 75. I am interested to note that the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire considers that jurors are on a par in their alertness with High Court judges but are really quite superior to recorders. I cannot accept that view.

We can opt for the middle course, for under this Bill a circuit judge sits until 72 years of age, but at the request of the Lord Chancellor he can continue until 75. He is regarded as a hybrid—rather brighter than a recorder but rather less intelligent than a High Court judge.

Last Friday, in the course of moving the Second Reading of the Protection of Human Rights Bill, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) stipulated that the age of retirement for the proposed Commissioner on Human Rights should be 65. We are all over the place, and it is about time we began to put some coherent pattern into these age limits.

Mr. Weitzman

There are always difficulties in determining age limits of this kind. I hope that my hon. Friend appreciates that the Morris Committee went carefully into the whole matter and considered all sorts of representations. The present age is 60. The Morris Committee, having taken a lot of evidence and considered a great many views, came down in favour of 65. It seems to me that when a question is considered so carefully in that way the age limit of 65 should be accepted.

Mr. Lyons

I am delighted to hear that we are in agreement. I was supporting the age limit of 65 for jurors. Perhaps I did not make it clear.

Implementation of the Morris Committee recommendations would be a great victory for female equality in this country. For the first time, half of each jury would, on average, be composed of women. That should delight the hearts of those involved in the Women's Liberation movement.

It is said that ratepayers, as a group, are more intelligent than people drawn from the electoral roll. I was in court during one of the Kray trials when a number of defence counsel made an assault on the jury panel, making a series of peremptory challenges—they can make up to seven per defence counsel—and, as I sat there, it was difficult for me to see any motive other than the light of intelligence, or lack of it, on the faces of the potential jurors. So even now it seems that it may lie in the hands of defence counsel, if they wish, to eliminate anyone if he looks to them intelligent. Needless to say, in that Kray trial the accused were acquitted after a whole series of objections of a peremptory nature by a number of defence counsel.

In those circumstances there can be no objection on the ground of reduction of intelligence as a reason for delaying the implementation of the Morris Committee recommendation. I heartily support it. It will be a great day for women when it is implemented. If they find that they cannot even support the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North, I hope the Government will quickly do something about it.

7.0 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

The House has had an interesting debate on the whole question of the Morris Committee Report. It is noticeable from the last few speeches that although those who have spoken have been, to a degree at least, in favour of implementing the Report, there is a variety of views on how it should be done.

We have been particularly fortunate in having had the new Clause moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) and discussed with an Amendment in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman). Both were members of the Morris Committee, but even they differ on how the Report should be implemented.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that he felt somewhat affronted because he raised the matter in his Second Reading speech and had not had a reply from my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General in winding up. It was not my right hon. and learned Friend but I who wound up that debate. Therefore, it would hardly have been possible for my right hon. and learned Friend to reply to the hon. and learned Gentleman's points, and so far as his stricture is justified, I feel that it must be aimed at me rather than at my right hon. and learned Friend.

The Amendments and the new Clause attempt in their different ways to implement the main recommendation of the Morris Committee. The present provisions on eligibility for jury service go back, I think, to the Juries Act, 1825. I have considerable sympathy with the view that the property qualificaton for eligibility is somewhat unsatisfactory in this day and age. I am aware of the feelings of women's organisations on the matter, that in this regard the law does discriminate against women, a view expressed by a committee of people belonging to my party of which I was a member.

But I must admit at once that the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) and certain other hon. Members opposite were psychic as regards what I would say. I am bound to say that, whatever sympathy we might have with views about the unsatisfactory present nature of eligibility for jury service, I cannot accept—and I apologise to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde for saying this—that this Bill at this stage is the right way in which to attempt to implement the Morris Report. It is far too substantial a matter to be dealt with in the last stages of the Courts Bill. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) pointed out, even if in principle we wished to accept the implementation of the Report at this stage, neither the new Clause nor either of the Amendments is wholly adequate to achieve that purpose. The Bill started in the other place and is now coming almost to the 59th minute of the eleventh hour. Perhaps that is a little hopeful in view of the number of Amendments to come, but we hope that this is the last day of its passage through this House, so we should be having a substantial Amendment made at a very late stage.

Mr. Weitzman

Can the hon. Gentleman satisfy my curiosity on one matter? Why, when Part V is headed "Juries" and has a number of Clauses devoted to juries, were the recommendations of the Morris Committee not dealt with in the preparation of the Bill?

Mr. Carlisle

Clearly, consideration was given at the time to whether the Committee's recommendations should be implemented in the Bill. But it was decided that it should not, because we should aim to implement in it only those recommendations necessary for the purposes of the Courts Bill, and should remain consistent to the policy followed throughout the Bill, that where possible it was intended to restate the existing law in so far as it was substantive law and was the law dealing merely with the organisation of the courts. Therefore, it was felt that this was not a suitable Bill in which to implement the Report, and that if those recommendations were to be implemented it should be by a juries Bill.

Another reason why this is not a suitable moment is that even if we accepted one of the Amendments or the Clause the Bill would have to return to the other place. At first I was under the misguided impression that the other place would be unable to amend an Amendment inserted in this House. But I understand that there is a system whereby the other place could reject it and replace it with another. There would be a very grave danger of the Bill's becoming a shuttlecock, going from one House to the other. We believe that its implementation is urgent if the administrative steps are to be taken so that it can be brought into force on 1st January next year, and it would be in danger of being held up because of the nature of the Amendments.

But I do not propose only to rely on the argument of this not being the right Bill in which to implement the Report. I should like to say something about the Report and the views expressed. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde pointed out, he has aimed to implement the Report by taking an upper age of 65, but intending that everyone else on the electoral roll should be eligible, which means that the bottom age would be 18. The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North agrees with the upper age limit of 65 but agrees with the original Morris recommendation that the lower age should be 21. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that he now feels that it should be 18. The then Minister of State in the Home Office, Lord Stonham, expressed considerable doubts about this in the debates in the other place on the Representation of the People Act, which lowered the voting age to 18. It is not correct to say that since the voting age has been lowered to 18 we should have 18 as the bottom age for eligibility for jury service in order to implement the Morris Report.

It is clear that the Morris Committee gave careful consideration to what would be the appropriate starting age for eligibility for jury service. It did not merely, as I understand it, conclude that it should be everyone on the electoral roll up to the age of 65. Having decided that it should take the electoral roll as a basis, it went on to discuss whether the age of 21 was the right age at which a person should become eligible when he went on the electoral roll or whether it should be a higher age. The Committee's Report said: The arguments for an age limit higher than 21 would have compelling force if there were any likelihood of particular juries being entirely, or largely, composed of persons not aged over 21. But it is clear…that this is statistically unlikely". The Committee made a clear decision that 21 was the right age.

I repeat that it does not necessarily follow, in the Government's view, that because one has reduced the voting age one should take the electoral roll qualification as being the qualification for jury service and thereby reduce the age for service to 18. The Government have had to consider this matter very carefully in deciding whether to implement the Morris Report. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will not think this in any way an unkind crack, but I point out that, although he said he would allow service from the age of 18 onwards, he becomes wholly inconsistent himself because he retains the provision that one has to have lived in this country for five years after the age of 16. Under paragraph (c), one would not be eligible unless since the age of 16 one had been ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom for a continuous period of five years. That provision was introduced when it was intended that the lower age should be 21. All I am saying is that this is an example of where, if one accepted the new Clause, one would have considerable difficulty amending it in the time span left to the Bill.

Mr. Gardner

I well understand that there is considerable debate on whether the age should be brought down to 18, but I suggest that, although there may be difficulties, there is no inconsistency in having a proviso as contained in paragraph (c), which was, of course, a recommendation of the Morris Committee.

Mr. Carlisle

But it was recommended when the age was 21. I know what my hon. and learned Friend means, and, clearly, it would be no use considering retaining a recommendation for those who had not lived in this country before that age, but as it stands, since it was geared to eligibility for jury service at 21, it would have to be amended to bring in 18-year-olds as being eligible for jury service. There is obviously considerable dispute about what is the right age.

I turn to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) and by the right hon. and learned Gentleman—the question of how one tests whether a person can write, read, speak or understand the English language without difficulty. Unlike the right hon. and learned Gentleman, my sympathy would be with the view of my hon. and learned Friend and the Morris Committee that this would be a proper provision to have in the Bill. But if that were so, it would inevitably mean some system of testing. That would mean in turn that the Bill would have to be much longer and very complex, because there would have to be more than a one-clause Amendment. My hon. and learned Friend suggested a signed declaration with a penalty for a false declaration. I understand that the Morris Committee suggested the sending out of a questionnaire, which would be something similar to what my hon. and learned Friend suggests, and it conceded that there would then have to be an offence of a failure to fill it in.

Undoubtedly it would require a considerable amount of legislation to implement the Morris Report. The advice we have had in the Home Office is that the length of a Bill could be anything up to 20 Clauses wholly to implement it anything it would also have to include such matters as the appropriate method of disqualification.

7.15 p.m.

My third point on all these Amendments is with regard to disqualification of those with criminal convictions. The new Clause 2 follows the Morris Committee proposals but ignores the fact, as pointed out by the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons), that under Section 14 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1967, we have much tougher provisions to prevent those with criminal records appearing on a jury than were proposed by the Morris Committee.

Amendment No. 26 does not refer to Section 14 of the Criminal Justice Act. Its only reference is to Section 10 of the Juries Act, 1870, which apparently disqualified people who are … attainted of treason or convicted of infamous crimes… I feel that the wording of the Criminal Justice Act, 1967, is probably more appropriate for modern times than that of the 1870 Act. The reason why I am saying this is not to make drafting points or to pour scorn on the Amendments, but to reiterate the point that the implementation of the Morris Report requires very careful consideration and cannot be done piecemeal, as is attempted here. Our view is that it should be done, if it is to be done, in a comprehensive juries Bill to bring the whole thing up to date.

Mr. Weitzman

Can the hon. Gentleman go beyond the reply he gave to the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner)—that this is a possible subject for legislation if time permits?

Mr. Carlisle

I was coming to that. I cannot go much beyond that. What I can say is that the Government are considering the Report. We have been in office for nearly a year. The right hon. and learned Gentleman accepted that the Labour Government had the Report for five years, and I cannot believe that the compartments were quite so watertight that the Attorney-General's Department never knew what the Home Office had in mind for the criminal law. The Government are considering this. I am sure that they will bear in mind the views expressed today, and if it is decided to implement the Report in full, then legislation will be considered. But I cannot go beyond that.

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for having ventilated this matter, but I hope that, having done so, he will accept that this Bill is not the way in which it should be done. I hope that he will accept my assurance, as far as it goes, that what has been said on both sides of the House will be taken carefully into account in the consideration of any legislation on this matter.

Mr. Gardner

In view of the statements which have been made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, there would appear to be no alternative for me but to withdraw my proposed new Clause. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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