HC Deb 12 November 1979 vol 973 cc904-6
36. Mr. Winnick

asked the Attorney-General what representations he has received over jury vetting.

The Attorney-General

I have received some correspondence from the National Council for Civil Liberties and a few letters from constituents passed on to me by right hon. and hon. Members.

Mr. Winnick

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that the manner in which jury vetting has taken place in a number of cases has caused considerable concern? Will he also accept that if the type of jury vetting that we have seen recently continues it will undermine the very basis of the jury system itself, which would be, to say the least, extremely unfortunate?

The Attorney-General

Jury vetting would not undermine the whole system of jury service. I think perhaps that the anxieties that have arisen followed the disclosure in The Guardian of some of the inquiries or results that were thrown up at local police station level. Anyway, the whole matter is under consideration between myself and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and we have already started discussions on it.

37. Mr. Rooker

asked the Attorney-General if he has any proposals to alter the existing guidelines on jury vetting.

The Attorney-General

In consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department I am considering these guidelines.

Mr. Rooker

Can the Attorney-General tell the House the results of the consultations that the Leader of the House initiated two weeks ago, when several of us pressed him for a debate? We do not really have to wait for the Government to come to their decision following the discussions referred to in the previous question by my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman) before the House can have a debate on this matter.

The Attorney-General

So far as I am concerned, the position is that I have started discussions with the Home Secretary. They will obviously take time. A certain amount of consultation will be necessary. As soon as those consultations are completed either my right hon. Friend or I will make a statement to the House.

Mr. Cryer

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is unfortunate that the whole business of jury vetting and the secret guidelines drawn up by former Ministers came to public notice only as a result of a court case? Should not the guidelines about which he is talking be clear and open to ensure that there is no possible basis for the public to feel that something funny is going on behind closed doors?

The Attorney-General

The decision not to publish and subsequently to pub- lish the guidelines was nothing to do with me or with this Administration. I undertake that when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I reach our conclusions either he or I will make a statement and that what we have decided will be published for all to see and to act upon.

Mr. John Morris

Does the Attorney-General accept that there is grave disquiet, which I share, about jury vetting and the position we have now reached, and that for 30 years defence lawyers did not know what was going on? Therefore, will he consider this matter urgently and ensure that there is an early debate in the House so that we can consider a grave matter of the utmost constitutional importance affecting the rights and liberties of the subject?

The Attorney-General

I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman spent part of yesterday reading what my predecessor said in a well argued article in The Observer.

I have told the House that art urgent review is under way. I shall, at the very least, ensure that a statement is made on the conclusions that we reach.