HC Deb 27 November 1974 vol 882 cc551-70

8.16 p.m.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Roland Moyle)

I beg to move That the Juries (Northern Ireland) Order 1974, a draft of which was laid before this House on 31st July 1974 in the last Parliament, be approved. I am seeking the approval of the House to the Juries (Northern Ireland) Order 1974, a draft of which is before the House. The most important change provided by the order is the removal of the property qualifications for jurors. This step was recommended for England and Wales by the Morris Committee and was put into operation in the Criminal Justice Act 1972, and Article 3 of the order now before the House will make a similar provision for Northern Ireland.

I am sure that hon. Members will agree that juries should be as representative as possible of the entire population and that the effective way of doing this is, first, to remove the property qualification for jurors and, secondly, to equate so far as is practicable the jurors' list with the list of electors. We have not quite succeeded in doing that because there is an upper limit of age 70 for qualification for jury service. To this extent we are also departing from the position in England and Wales where the upper limit is aged 65. People in Northern Ireland between the ages of 65 and 70 will be able to say that they do not wish to serve on a jury, if that is their desire, but we hope that there will be a number of people between 65 and 70 who will want to serve on juries in Northern Ireland.

The consequence of this reform measure is that the number of people who will be available for jury service will rise from the present figure of about 60,000 to 750,000. A new system will also be introduced for the preparation of jury lists. The old system was largely in the hands of local authorities, working from rating lists. Hon. Members, particularly those from Northern Ireland, will realise that in the wake of the reform of local government that method is no longer as feasible as it was, and that is therefore another argument for introducing the order.

The revised procedure for preparation of jurors' lists has been designed with two objectives in mind. The first objective is to ensure that the selection of jurors is as fair and impartial as possible and the second objective is to ensure that the liability to serve will be evenly spread among the population.

It is intended, if the order goes through, that the first such selection of jurors will be in February 1975. Perhaps I can explain to hon. Members how we intend that the system should work. The first step is to decide the proportion of people who will be required to serve on juries and to decide what proportion that figure bears to the number of jurors available overall. Then we intend to use a computer to select from the list of jurors the proportionate number. If, for example, 1,000 jurors were required, each seven hundred and fiftieth name could be picked off the jury list by the computer. If 100 jurors were required the figure would be different. That is the way the system would work.

Names selected each year will be listed in random order by the computer and numbered to form area provisional lists. It is important to bear this in mind, and I shall explain why shortly. The number allocated to a juror in this way will determine the order in which a person is summoned for jury service. Every person whose name is selected in the manner I have described will be informed of his possible liability to serve on a jury and will be asked to complete a form of return which will enable the juries officer to remove from the area provisional list the names of those exempt, disqualified or over age, and furnish a revised area list which will include only those who are qualified and liable for jury service.

After the names have been picked up by the computer, there will therefore be a further sifting process to reduce the list still further by the removal of those who are exempt, disqualified or over age.

Lists will be prepared for each area served by a clerk of the Crown and Peace. The areas are six in number and correspond fairly closely to the old geographical counties of Northern Ireland. The important thing about the area basis of the lists is that although a person who resides in Northern Ireland and is selected for jury service can be required to serve on a jury in any part of the Province, in so far as it is possible jurors will be restricted to a request to serve on juries only in their own area.

The provisions of the order relating to excusal are to be found in Article 6, and the powers of a judge to excuse jurors may be exercised by an officer of the court appointed for this purpose by the rules of the court. The powers of excusal will, we hope, be exercised before the sitting of a court so that there will be no question of a poor, unfortunate, potential juror being summoned to attend court only to be told when he gets there that he can be excused. The whole object of the exercise is to try to excuse potential jurors before they leave home.

Schedule 2 to the order sets out the exemptions from jury service. This is mainly a repetition of the existing exemptions from jury service.

One matter to which I should draw the attention of the House is that the provisions of the order apply to all juries with the exception of a coroner's jury. Because of the nature of a coroner's jury—such a jury is summoned very often at short notice, and the coroner often has to instruct the chief superintendent of police or his deputy to assemble a coroner's jury at short notice—Article 8 applies only to that part of the order which relates to the qualification for exemption from jury service. In view of what I have said, the important provision by which jurors are numbered in sequence for calling forward for service cannot apply to coroners' juries.

These are the important points about the order. With permission of the House, perhaps I might be allowed to try to answer at the end of the debate any questions that are raised. I commend the order to the House.

8.24 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

It has been said lately that hon. Members are subject to marital strains because of our peculiar hours of work. I am an illustration of that tonight, because I am making my maiden speech from the Dispatch Box on my wedding anniversary. I refer to it as my maiden speech although I wound up briefly for the Conservative and Unionist Opposition when the appropriation order was passed in the previous Parliament, but that was only because there seemed to be no one else to hand at the time. I shall be equally brief tonight in the interests of thost representing Northern Ireland constituencies who will wish to put their points to the Minister, for whose exposition we are grateful.

On the other occasion when I spoke from this Box, a vast public expenditure went through in one and a half hours. Tonight's order is, of course, a less weighty one, although it is important. But perhaps I may be allowed to say now, as I did then, that our procedure does not do justice to Northern Ireland legislation. We do not give expenditure and legislation proper scrutiny. I wonder whether the Minister will be able to tell us when the Leader of the House will set out his proposals for an Ulster Grand Committee or other appropriate machinery to enable us to handle this legislation properly instead of in limited debates when legislation cannot be amended.

For Unionists this measure is welcome, since it provides that, where local circumstances do not dictate divergence, Northern Ireland practice should be in line with that obtaining over here. However, if the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun) were successful with the Private Member's Bill she has presented—to provide that appointments to juries, among other public bodies, should consist of women and men in equal numbers—I am not sure whether Northern Ireland would wish to keep in step with England and Wales.

Of course we welcome the removal of the property qualification. The new selection for jury service is in conformity with the Criminal Justice Act introduced by the last Conservative Government in 1972. Jurors will be selected from the electoral register, but there will be a difference between the Province and England and Wales, because I understand that it is the electoral register for the Northern Ireland Assembly and not the electoral register for this House which will apply. I am not sure whether the House grasped, or even whether I myself grasped, exactly why the age limit is to remain different in Northern Ireland.

I have seen no mention of payment for jurors in the order, but I was relieved to find that remuneration is provided for by regulations under Section 1 of the Juries Act (Northern Ireland) 1953. But will remuneration be in line with what happens over here, and is some review going on at present?

We on this side agree with the order and thank the Minister for commending it to the House.

8.29 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

There are a couple of points on which guidance would be welcomed both here and in Northern Ireland. I echo what the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) said about the problems of dealing with measures of this kind, which cannot be amended or adequately dealt with through the normal procedure for orders in the United Kingdom context. It is under very great strain when we use it to deal with elaborate material which would otherwise be Northern Ireland legislation. I think that that view is now widely shared, and it is time that we did something about it.

For the sake of clarity, can the Minister make clear which people are referred to in Schedules 1 and 2? It is clear that those detained during Her Majesty's pleasure or that of the Secretary of State under Schedule 1(1)(b) are not the people we think of in current Northern Ireland terms as detainees, but can the hon. Gentleman make clear who is referred to in paragraph 2(a)? Some people in Northern Ireland have said that this provision would apply to people who have served detention. I believe that it is not intended to cover sentences of detention.

The other omission which has been the subject of some discussion concerns the list of people to be exempted from jury service. Clearly there are many who would claim inclusion in such a list. However, when one sees included, for example, the mines inspectorate and others who conduct inquiries, it is reasonable to ask why the planning appeals commissioners are not exempted, given the considerable amount of public work to which they are now committed. I think that that would have been a reasonable inclusion. Again, however, given the procedure that we have, all we can ask the Minister to do is to explain why he has not made that provision this time and whether on some future occasion he will be able to make such provision.

8.31 p.m.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

I welcome this order, as, indeed, I welcome the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), who has spoken for the Opposition from the Front Bench. He has spoken on these matters before, but I was delighted to see him there opening the debate on behalf of the Opposition.

I welcome the order for two reasons. First, it brings jury service in Ulster into line with England and Wales, with certain minor exceptions to which I shall refer in a moment. Second, as a result of the changes, a greater number of persons will be available for jury service. The Minister has given us the figures, which are quite significant. The number of possible jurors will rise from 60,000 to 750,000. That will make a tremendous difference in the Province.

For six long years now we have suffered crucifixion. The catalogue of murders, torture, maiming and devastation has grown long. It has long since passed, to quote a former Home Secretary, the acceptable level of violence. Of course, what is acceptable seems to depend on whether one is living in the area which is subjected to violence or in the stately corridors of Whitehall.

The reign of terror in Northern Ireland has bred other criminal offences. But for the splendid work of the police and other members of the security forces, law and order, already perilously weakened, would have broken down. With this widespread criminality in the Province and the good police work, a vast number of persons have been appearing before the courts, and this has put an intolerable burden on those who are and have been liable to be called for jury service.

Perhaps the Minister could give the number of trials which have taken place in Northern Ireland over the past few years. He may not have the figures, but I am certain that they have increased with the years, and the burden is too much for the old system of jury service. I believe that in Belfast persons have been called for jury service, on average every two years.

Having practised as a barrister before my election for Down, North, I know the tribulations of people called for jury service. They attend court waiting to be called, and they may be told that their services will not be required and they should come back the following day. They may attend court and find that they must sit for an unconscionable length of time, often wondering, no doubt, what is happening to their business.

Worse still, in Northern Ireland jurors are always open to threats of intimidation, particularly—I think that the Minister will agree—because they have been taken from a limited category of persons. This order will provide a greater number of jurors, and consequently there will be a reduced likelihood of a person being called more than twice in a lifetime for jury service. Perhaps the Minister will say whether I am correct in that assumption. If I am right, it is a radical change from the existing system requiring persons—certainly those living in Belfast—to attend for jury service perhaps once every two years.

I have often said that Northern Ireland has lagged behind Great Britain in legislation, and I am glad that the property qualification for jurors will now be abolished, just as it has been in England and Wales. I am not sure of the position in Scotland, but certainly under the 1972 legislation it was removed in England and Wales.

We are coming into a new era. Quite apart from terrorism in Ulster, society is changing. Ideas are changing. If a defendant is to have the right, except for terrorist offences, to be judged by 12 of his fellow citizens, it is a mockery if jurors are selected solely on a property qualification. Under this order the defendant will appear before a jury, selected from the electoral list for the Northern Ireland Assembly, of persons aged between 18 and 70, and that change clearly makes the courts manifestly fair. I agree with the Minister that jurors will be more representative and that, therefore, those who appear before the court ought to be satisfied that they are being tried, to use the old phrase, by their peers.

However, I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Epping Forest about the age limit of 70. In England and Wales the age limit is 65. Perhaps the Minister can explain why that limit has not been adopted for Northern Ireland. I know that exemption from service can be claimed after the age of 65 and before the maximum age of 70, but I should like an explanation.

I agree with the hon. Member for Epping Forest that under the present system we are not in a position to move amendments. I echo his remark—I have said this often before—that we should have a system whereby we can examine Northern Ireland legislation in great detail and move amendments.

Will the Minister assure us that the computer selecting the jurors will be closely watched? This is a serious matter. I have seen how the computer compiling the electoral register in Northern Ireland can make mistakes, and I can go further afield. The bank computers are not always infallible. In fact, I now pay greater attention to bank statements than I did before because I am not certain that they are correct.

From my experience, the Post Office telephone computer is guilty of making errors. One account that I received added an extra digit to my bill, and the explanation that mistakes can occur from time to time was not very satisfactory. We know, of course, that the Post Office premium bond computer has left people wondering how it sometimes selects the same people for prizes. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), who has a heavy Adjournment debate later, has had the same experience. I do not have the same faith in computers that many other have. Computers can be guilty of errors. Can the Minister assure us that this matter will be looked at in order to avoid mistakes?

Reference was made to the qualification that person under the order who will serve on juries will be selected from the electoral register for the Northern Ireland Assembly. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said that it made no difference, because there is no difference between the registers. However, there is a difference. The electoral register for the Northern Ireland Assembly requires a person to be a British citizen. I do not know what happens in the case of the hon. Member for Belfast, West, because he travels on an Eire passport. He refuses to have a British passport. A person on the electoral register for the Northern Ireland Assembly has to be a British citizen and resident for seven years, if not born in Northern Ireland, and to have resided at his current address for three months prior to the qualifying date.

I mention this qualification because I fear that a number of persons from the Irish Republic have slipped on to the Northern Ireland Assembly electoral register. Close scrutiny ought to be made of the register before drafting the jury list for Northern Ireland.

The present system whereby publicity is given to those who are liable to be called for jury service also gives me concern. It is repeated in the order. Article 4(5) states: The Area Provisional Jurors List as revised by the Juries Officer shall", and so on, be available for inspection and may be obtained on payment of such fee as may be prescribed. Will the Minister reconsider this? I appreciate that where justice is concerned a person should know who is likely to serve on a jury, but, because of the peculiar and tragic situation in Northern Ireland, will he look into the possibility of not making the jurors' list available for public inspection? I fear that evil-minded persons go through jurors' lists for the sole purpose of intimidation.

I hope that when the Minister considers these points he will also look into the question of the system of what is called the grand jury. It is high time for that obsolete system to be abolished in Northern Ireland in line with Great Britain.

8.43 p.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

Strange as it may seem, I am in almost total support of what was said by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). May I first say that I find it interesting that the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), speaking for the Front Bench earlier, said that he was doing so on behalf of the Conservative and Unionist Party. It may be that this is a new innovation in this Parliament, or that a new alliance has been sought and agreed upon. It may be of more interest to look at that again.

I can well remember, when first elected to the House in 1966, that I demanded equal status and British citizenship for all the people of Northern Ireland. I remember the vehement opposition that demand met from the then elected Unionist representatives. They had a different electoral register. There were qualifications for local government votes. They had the issue which we are now debating on which it was only property owners, people who owned shops, who had the vote at that time.

We were told time and time again, as we tried to appeal for equalisation of citizenship, that Northern Ireland had peculiar circumstances and that these differences were applicable to Northren Ireland and would not be understood in the United Kingdom.

I am delighted to say that the Unionist representatives from Northern Ireland are now freely agreeing to changes in the law that will bring Northern Ireland into line with the practices in Great Britain. I am delighted to welcome the Bill. I hope that this legislation will be a continuing process.

Concerning the property qualification, I say again—my most vehement opponents will agree with me in this—that the jury list as it was compiled in Northern Ireland was mainly composed of property owners, people who owned a small business, a shop, or had a certain valuation on their houses.

We remember well the intimidation of juries that took place in Northern Ireland, by one side or the other. I recall vividly a particular case that occurred in Crumlin Road. Loyalists had been charged with terrorism, and when the jury was sent out to deliberate on its verdict, a gelignite bomb was placed in the corridors off the Crumlin Road courthouse with the intention of intimidating that jury. Whether it has been Loyalists or Republicans involved in trials, we know only too well that juries in Northern Ireland were intimidated. One might easily visualise the small shopkeeper, publican or business man in either a Republican or Loyalist area being subjected to intimidation if what was regarded as a wrong verdict were to be given in a particular case.

I welcome the law in Northern Ireland being brought into line with the law in Great Britain. Tomorrow we shall debate these matters at considerable length. However, there is still a disparity between Northern Ireland citizens, subjects of the United Kingdom, and those citizens who live here in Great Britain. There is still that disparity, which was deplored by the hon. Member for Down, North, though he welcomed the restriction of the jury list to those whose names appear on the electoral roll for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

There may be differences of opinion on the subject tomorrow, but today Northern Ireland citizens are citizens of the United Kingdom and any citizen of the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland should be eligible for inclusion on the list of electors. They should be. We cannot, on the one hand, say, "We are United Kingdom citizens" and, on the other hand, say that we shall restrict the list for the Northern Ireland Assembly. By placing that restriction on the list, we are saying that Englishmen, Welshmen or Scotsmen living in Northern Ireland are not eligible to serve on a jury in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Kilfedder

The point the hon. Gentleman is making is false, because a British citizen is entitled to serve on a jury and to be on the register for the Northern Ireland Assembly. A period of seven years must elapse before someone not born in Northern Ireland can appear on it, which is not an intolerably long period to wait and is tied up with safeguarding employment.

Mr. Fitt

In fact, I was about to illustrate the rather strange law we have in Northern Ireland. It was designed originally to prevent people from the Republic from seeking employment and living in Northern Ireland. To sugar the pill, it was also made applicable to people from Great Britain. I agree with the hon. Gentleman in that there will be restrictions and I suggest that we should have the opportunity to amend such an order. I believe that everyone on the electoral list in Northern Ireland for elections to this House should be entitled to jury service.

On the subject of computers I again find myself somewhat in support of the hon. Member for Down, North. Computers can go wrong. They can make mistakes. An excuse can often be found for them. Perhaps in Northern Ireland computers could be more accurate than human counters. We have already had the example of what happened in Fermanagh and South Tyrone where there was no computer and where a mistake was alleged involving 2,500 votes. Therefore, when the hon. Member for Down, North talks about the counting of votes, he should push his tongue a little further into his cheek.

My main objection is to the restriction that has been placed on United Kingdom electors in Northern Ireland. Everyone on the register for a United Kingdom election should be entitled to serve on a jury in Northern Ireland.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that it is possible to be on the register for the United Kingdom elections to this House and yet be a citizen of the Republic of Ireland? One needs only a three-month residence in Northern Ireland. Does he believe that citizens of the Republic should be eligible to serve as jurymen in courts in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Fitt

I think that the British Parliament in its wisdom has promulgated a law that entitles a person to be included in the electoral register and so to serve on any jury, whether it be in Birmingham, London or Belfast.

8.51 p.m.

Mr. McCusker (Armagh)

I welcome the opening statement of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) in which he reaffirmed his belief in his British citizenship. It is a pity, therefore, that he would not change his passport. Many of us here would like to see most of the legislation applying to Northern Ireland in line with that for the rest of the United Kingdom.

We welcome the fact that occasionally there are differences. We can often learn from the mistakes that emerge from legislation passed here. I should like to differ from the hon. Members for Belfast, West, and Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) in that I do not believe that a computer can make a mistake. It can suffer from a mechanical breakdown or mechanical problem, but the mistakes that emerge from a computer are the mistakes of the person operating the computer. While I do not have the legal expertise of my hon. Friend, I think I can accept that.

With regard to the point made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North, and so vigorously attacked by the hon. Member for Belfast, West, I welcome the clarification that the jurors' list will be restricted to the list for the Northern Ireland Assembly. The electors' list for this House simply requires a person to have resided in Northern Ireland for three months prior to the qualifying date of 15th September. That person, of course, could be either a citizen of Eire or of any other foreign country.

As one examines the oath which the juror takes, one can understand the difficulty which such a person would be in. A juror takes the following oath: I swear by Almighty God that I will well and truly try and true deliverance make between our Sovereign Lady The Queen and the prisoner at the Bar. I would not want to expose any citizen of the Irish Republic to perjury. While one understands that there are occasions when oaths are taken lightly, where it could involve a person's loss of freedom or a person's loss of life one would not want the oath taken lightly.

I welcome the fact that there is a restriction on the list. But one has to be realistic and take account of the opinion of the hon. Member for Belfast, West that our Assembly may never sit again. The list may, therefore, become defunct. I hope we shall never have in Northern Ireland a situation such as that which exists in the rest of the United Kingdom, where a citizen of a foreign country can be called upon to take an oath and try fellow countrymen.

As a non-property owner, I obviously welcome the lifting of the restriction relating to property owners. It is commendable that the area from which jurors will be selected will rise from 60,000 to 700,000. That rectifies a bad situation. However, I have reservations about the lower age limit of 18. When I was 18 I was wearing a peaked cap and still carrying a satchel as a sixth-former at a grammar school. I would be interested to hear what the experience is in Great Britain, but I do not believe that an 18-year-old has the experience or maturity to make these decisions.

Mr. Kilfedder

Surely if a person is mature enough at 18 to decide what candidate to vote for, and if he is mature enough to fight for his country, he should be fit and able to sit on a jury which may be deciding the innocence or guilt of a defendant of 18.

Mr. McCusker

An 18-year-old soldier is normally told what to do and does not have to use much discretion in the matter.

With regard to elections, an 18-year-old in my constituency is one of 90,000. On a jury he would be one of 12, and when majority decisions are the order of the day to some extent that casts a further degree of responsibility upon him. Therefore, the case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North does not apply.

However, I cannot understand the restriction on the upper age limit. If 65 or 70 is to be the age for exclusion from jury service, application of the same rule would restrict a substantial number of people, I assume, from sitting in this House and, perhaps, from being members of the Government. Therefore, while I look questioningly at the lower age limit, I look questioningly also at the upper age limit. As there are slight variations in this legislation in respect of Northern Ireland, there is no reason why we should not consider other minor alterations as well.

I come now to the list of exclusions and exemptions I find it difficult to understand why civil servants over a certain salary level are excluded from jury service. I shall be interested to know why that differentiation is made. I am interested to know also why an officer of the Post Office is not eligible for jury service. There is then the list of people in the medical profession who are exempt—medical practitioners, dentists, nurses, midwives, veterinary surgeons and practitioners and pharmaceutical chemists. Considering the various medical centres, rota systems and so on now in operation, I do not understand why all those people should be exempt as well. In the Northern Ireland context, when we need as many intelligent and reasonable people as possible to undertake jury service, this should have been looked at more closely.

Exemptions from jury service also cover members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve. One would commend and agree with that. But a person could join the Ulster Defence Regiment or the police reserve between the times of compilation of the jurors' list. My understanding or the order is that that person could be called to the court and would have to stand up and say, "I am now a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment and seek to be excluded from jury service on that basis". Would the right hon. Gentleman consider that a note from the commanding officer of the UDR man, or perhaps the chief inspector in the station where the reserve constable is employed, would be sufficient to gain him exemption without his necessarily having to attend court?

As I said earlier, this is largely a tidying-up operation. It is a consolidation of existing statutes, amendments and so on, and because it widens the scope of people capable of doing their duty in the community, I welcome it. I look forward to the day when we can return to the full standards of British justice which prevail in other parts of the United Kingdom.

9.1 p.m.

Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)

The order has been given a pretty good airing and there is not much more that I can add, particularly as we have no power to amend the order.

The order is to be welcomed generally. I only regret that, in the process of consolidating much of the law that relates to juries, the Government have not taken the opportunity to consolidate at the same time the law as to the operation of juries. It would have been useful to consolidate the right of the Crown to stand by, and the right of an accused to object to, a juror.

I should like to underline the remarks concerning the upper age limit in the order. I cannot think of any justification for having an upper age limit of 70 when this part of the United Kingdom has settled for an upper age limit of 65.

Can the Minister assure me that as long as this discrepancy exists steps will be taken to inform those between the ages of 65 and 70 that they have the right to be excused? I do not believe that many would be aware of that right. I suggest that the notice summoning people to jury service should say in bold type that there is a right of exemption.

Jury service is an onerous duty and many old people would go into a considerable flap and suffer anxiety on receiving such a notice. Until such time as the law can be brought into line with that in this part of the United Kingdom, I ask the Minister for that assurance.

9.3 p.m.

Mr. Moyle

Perhaps I should say first that I am very grateful for the acceptance by the House of the order. Having said that, I should like to extend to the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) my warmest congratulations on this his first official appearance at the Dispatch Box on behalf of his party. In view of the conciseness with which he presented his case, I cannot think why he did not have that honour many years ago. Anyway, he is there now, and we are very grateful for that.

It is particularly pleasant to be able to agree with the hon. Gentleman on this occasion. No doubt in future he will be arguing on behalf of his party on more contentious matters, and I look forward to crossing swords with him on those occasions.

The hon. Gentleman asked me what the procedures were to be for considering Northern Ireland business in the House. I do not wish to be ruled out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so all that I can advise the hon. Gentleman to do is to raise the matter on Business Questions, perhaps tomorrow. That will present an early opportunity to deal with the question.

There has been discussion about why the upper age limit is 65 in Great Britain and 70 in Northern Ireland, although there is some provision there for people between 65 and 70 to opt out of jury service if they so wish. I have been asked to explain the situation. With all due respect to the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, I feel, on contemplating the problem, that perhaps the explanation should be offered to people in Great Britain why we have not adopted the Northern Ireland procedure, because it seems to be much more logical.

The procedure in Great Britain is that if someone is 64 years and 364 days old he can serve on a jury, but if he is 65 years and one day he cannot. That seems to be a far less satisfactory method than to have a period of time in which people are free to decide whether or not to serve on juries. Though the right hon. Member for Belfast East (Mr. Craig) spoke about the onerous obligation of jury service, it is worth remembering that it is one of the privileges of citizenship as well. Perhaps some of those citizens between 65 and 70 might be looking at the problem from that point of view, rather than from the point of view expressed by the right hon Member for Belfast, East.

However, the suggestion that there should be special steps to ensure that those between 65 and 70 know their rights in this matter is very sensible. We shall endeavour to ensure that they are fully aware of their position when those steps have been taken.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest also asked whether there was remunera- tion for jurors. There is no remuneration as such, but they are entitled to claim for loss of earnings and other expenses on the same basis as obtains for the rest of Great Britain. The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to learn in these inflationary days that a review of those expenses is now being made.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) asked me to give an example of those who were detained during Her Majesty's pleasure. He was right when he said that this did not refer to people detained under the Emergency Powers Act (Northern Ireland). It particularly applies, for example, to someone who committed an offence while under the age of 18 and was detained during Her Majesty's pleasure whereas if he had been over 18 and was found guilty he might have been given a sentence of life imprisonment. That is the class of person we are referring to here.

Mr. Beith

Will the Minister say who is referred to in Schedule 2, which refers to a person serving a sentence of detention? Will he make this completely clear?

Mr. Moyle

I shall have to look into that and write to the hon. Member.

The planning appeals commissioners have been excluded mainly because we do not want to be unduly restrictive in determining who can serve on juries. Obviously, they will not be summoned very frequently.

The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) asked about the numbers of trials in Northern Ireland. The following are the numbers of trials for indictable offences at assizes or county courts in recent years. In 1968 there were 696 cases; in 1969, 669 cases; in 1970, 800; in 1971, 833; in 1972, 1,348 cases; and in 1973, 1,569 cases, of which 1,423 were tried before juries.

The hon. Member also asked when the liability for jury service was likely to arise. I think he said that in Belfast in recent years people had been summoned for jury service about once every two years. I am being pessimistic when I say that under the new arrangement people may have to serve on a jury once every 10 years.

The hon. Member's comments about computers were most amusing. We shall obviously watch our random jury-selecting computer with great keenness to make sure that it does not make any mistakes. As I understand it, however, the argument for using a computer is not that it does not make mistakes but that it lacks human bias in selecting people from the jury list. That is why we have decided to use this instrument.

The hon. Member seemed to think that perhaps the jurors' list should not be open to public inspection in case it lent itself to intimidation. I cannot help feeling that if someone was thinking along those lines he would be taking a pretty long shot, because he would have to contend at one stage with perhaps the main electoral register or a document nearly the equivalent of it. There is no point in intimidating potential jurors generally. The important thing for an intimidator is to intimidate a particular jury in a particular trial. In those circumstances I do not think that a jurors' list would be of much benefit. I cannot, therefore, refrain from publishing the jurors' list.

Several hon. Members were eager to assimilate the law in Northern Ireland to the law in the rest of the United Kingdom. I was interested to hear the debate across the Floor on that subject, and I have taken note of it.

The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) asked why civil servants earning above a certain salary were excluded. The only quick answer I can give is that they always have been excluded in Northern Ireland, at least since 1926. To that extent we are continuing an exemption that has always existed. We exempt medical people because, by virtue of their occupation, they are likely to be involved in sudden emergencies. We do not wish them to be taken way from their normal occupation to serve on a jury with possibly serious consequences to the people who man accident wards and the victims of accidents. The police are usually exempt from service for obvious reasons.

I think I have answered all the questions which have been asked in this short but interesting debate. I hope that the House will approve the order.

Mr. John Carson (Belfast, North)

Will the Minister give the assurance asked for by my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) that the reserve police and the UDR will be told before they appear in court that they are not required for jury service? If they are required to appear in court, they may be in danger of intimidation or perhaps assassination.

Mr. Moyle

I am sorry I overlooked that question. The whole object is to ensure that the excusal procedure operates in such a way that a person who is summoned for jury service will learn about the excusal before he arrives at the court door. He will be informed at home, and an officer is charged specifically with that duty. I hope this satisfies the hon. Gentleman that people will not be needlessly summoned and be caused needless worry.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Juries (Northern Ireland) Order 1974, a draft of which was laid before this House on 31st July 1974 in the last Parliament, be approved.