HC Deb 12 July 1982 vol 27 cc643-4
50. Mr. Dubs

asked the Attorney-General if he is satisfied with the present workings of the jury system.

The Attorney-General

I am concerned about some evidence recently available of the suborning of jurors and that people who are disqualified under present legislation by reason of their previous convictions from serving on juries have, in fact, been sitting as jurors.

Mr. Dubs

Is the Attorney-General aware of how welcome was his change of mind not to make major changes in the jury system by means of an amendment on Report to the Administration of Justice Bill? If he intends to bring about such major changes, will he present them to the House in such a way that they can be debated properly, preferably being preceded by a White Paper?

The Attorney-General

The change is in the qualification of jurors rather than the jury system as such. I do not altogether accept what the hon. Gentleman said, because the intended amendment would have been moved on Report and the House would, therefore, have had a chance to debate it. However, as I indicated a moment ago, we decided riot to proceed with it. It is a matter that I want to have in law as soon as the House agrees, because I am worried about the number of people who serve on juries but who should not do so.

Mr. Stokes

Why cannot my right hon. and learned Friend go back to the good old days of the law in England when, in order to become a juror, one had to be a man of substance and maturity?

The Attorney-General

The reason is that the House not only moved away from the property qualifications, but, by an amendment which I believe was moved by one of my hon. and learned Friends, reduced the age from 21 to 18. However, all these matters must be kept under review.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

Will the Attorney-General confirm that, whether composed of men of substance or not, juries continue to reach fair and sensible verdicts, by and large, and that the problem of the corrupt juror is relatively small, a, though disturbing? Will the Attorney-General therefore ensure that any remedy he produces will be limited and do nothing to diminish the respect that the public have for the fairness of the jury system?

The Attorney-General

The problem is not the jurors themselves, but the extent of the attempts made to suborn them. This is an increasing worry and, I regret to say, an increasing worry which we have not fully appreciated in the past. When a juror is approached it has to be reported to the court. Although jurors in practically every case we know of have behaved completely honourably, for reasons that the hon. and learned Gentleman, as a barrister, will appreciate, it is safer to swear in another jury, with all the delay and further expense that is involved.

Sir Charles Fletcher-Cooke

Is there not a case for looking very carefully at the possibility of reverting to the special jury for long-term frauds and other complicated matters of that sort? Would not that be infinitely preferable to the alternative suggestion of having expert assessors?

The Attorney-General

My hon. and learned Friend is correct. The long-term frauds cause great anxiety. I was told last week of a case which is expected to last more than a year. Miss Smith could be a spinster at the time of the swearing-in of the jury and could have to leave the jury, having married and had a baby, before the end of the trial. That is one of the problems we have in keeping a jury together for long periods.

  1. Private Notice Questions 43 words