HC Deb 12 November 1973 vol 864 cc24-6
54. Mr. Douglas-Mann

asked the Attorney-General whether he will publish the text of a communication from the Lord Chancellor to the Common Serjeant indicating his wish that Treasury counsel prosecuting at the Central Criminal Court should challenge or consider challenging jurors whom such counsel consider, from the knowledge available to the prosecution of the occupation and background of jurors, to be potentially sympathetic to defendants.

The Attorney-General (Sir Peter Rawlinson)

It is not the practice to publish communications between my noble Friend and members of the judiciary. My noble Friend has never expressed such a wish to any member of the judiciary or anyone else, since the opinions attributed to him in the Question are emphatically not his.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Whilst accepting that assurance, may I ask the Attorney-General to inform the House, first, whether any advice, official or unofficial, has been given to prosecuting counsel regarding the challenging of jurors?

Secondly, will he publish the terms of the administrative arrangement made by the Lord Chancellor in July under Section 32 of the Courts Act, which deprives the defence of information relating to jurors' occupations but leaves it available to the police and, consequently, counsel for the prosecution?

Thirdly, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House how he justifies the discrimination involved in giving such information to one side or the other?

The Attorney-General

First, if the direction has not been published—I think that it has—I shall see that it is published. However, it is wrong to think that information is denied to one side and not to the other. Neither the prosecution nor the defence now knows the occupations of jurors.

As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, Treasury counsel are appointed by me. They bear the bulk of prosecutions, but they are also in private practice. There has been concern that the right to challenge has been used in, for instance, fraud cases, where a person who has or appears to have experience or knowledge of bank accounts or bookkeeping has been challenged. This is not helpful to the administration of justice. In those circumstances, Treasury counsel may, if they wish, use their rights to redress the balance and have a properly constituted random jury.

Sir Elwyn Jones

As those who belong to certain professions and occupations are disqualified from serving on juries, is it not desirable that information about the occupations of potential jurors should be made known? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman satisfied that there is no discrimination in favour of the prosecution to the detriment of the defence in the proposed or already issued administrative order?

The Attorney-General

I am quite satisfied on that last matter. Indeed, prosecuting counsel may have good reason to stand by someone who he feels, having been able to check his or her name and occupation, should be stood by in a particular case. The removal of the list of occupations does not enable that to be done. Therefore, it falls equally between the prosecution and the defence.

Those persons referred to in the first part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's supplementary question should not be on the jury list at all. It is for the authorities concerned to ensure that those persons do not appear in the panel of jurors.

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