HC Deb 25 January 1979 vol 961 cc665-6
11. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will examine the jury review arrangements which were set out by the then Secretary of State in 1975.

Mr. John

No, Sir. We are satisfied with the present arrangements for the checking of potential jurors. These were agreed by my right hon. Friend's predecessor in 1975, and have since been set out in the statement of 10 October 1978 issued by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, a copy of which has been placed in the Library of the House.

Mr. Cryer

Does not my hon. Friend agree that the guidelines in that statement, which was wrung out of an unwilling Establishment during the A, B, C trial, represent a diminution in the right of trial by jury and an interference by the secret police with the juries, which is not equally available to both prosecution and defence? Does he not accept that removal of the guidelines and this interference would be a far better option for the Home Office and the Secretary of State to take up? At least it would improve the reputation of the Home Office and its concern for justice, which is what we are all concerned about.

Mr. John

The Home Office is not solely responsible for this whole problem. Guidelines have existed for a number of years. So far as I can trace, they have existed since 1948. They were not introduced for the A, B, C trial. The check is to see whether a juror may be susceptible to improper pressure, or is unduly biased against either the prosecution or the defence. When the prosecution believes that a juror is unduly biased, it may use its power to stand down that juror. But when it believes that he is unduly biased against the defence, it is its duty to communicate that fact to the defence so that the defence may use its right of peremptory challenge.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

If the principles which my hon. Friend has just enunciated are logical, they ought to apply to all kinds of jury cases. If they do not, they ought not to apply to the group outlined in the Attorney-General's statement. Is not it right that we either go over to the American system or keep random selection and should not mess about with it?

Mr. John

There are some very serious crimes where the stakes are so high that it is right to select those outside the normal run.

Mr. McNamara

Does not my hon. Friend agree that it is in precisely those cases where the stakes are so very high that justice must be seen to be done? If we are to interfere with the principle of random selection of jurors, we must have a clear and direct code. This must not be left to the discretion of the prosecution, as it is in these cases, or as sometimes happens, to the discretion of the judge trying the case. Does not my hon. Friend agree that this must be clear, obvious and straightforward? But basically, we should go back to random selection.

Mr. John

The actual inquiries are left to the authority of the Director of Public Prosecutions, or his deputy, and notification of my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General. But the point that I am making is that, when facts are revealed which suggest that a juror may be biased against the defence, those facts must be communicated to the defence so that it may exercise its right of random challenge.