HC Deb 19 October 1982 vol 29 cc233-4


'In section 2(5) of the Juries Act 1974

  1. (a) for the words "attends in pursuance of such a summons, or of a summons" there shall be substituted the words "is summoned under subsection (4) above or"; and
  2. (b) after the word "may", in the second place where it occurs, there shall be inserted the words "at any time".'.—[The Attorney-General.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.48 pm
The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General outlined the proposal during the Second Reading Committee of the Bill. He said then—as I believe now—that there cannot be any great difference of opinion on the principle of what is proposed. While the Government have reluctantly agreed not to proceed in the Bill with any proposal affecting the eligibility of persons for jury service, I believe that this minor but useful reform is something that we can all agree upon, so that it can take its place in the Bill rather than awaiting any other legislative vehicle.

The purpose of the new clause is to amend section 2(5) of the Juries Act 1974 so that "the appropriate officer" may put questions to a prospective juror to ascertain whether he is qualified for jury service at any time and not just when he attends in pursuance of a summons. The result will be that if a juror refuses without reasonable excuse to answer or knowingly or recklessly gives a false answer to the questions which are customarily set out in the jury summons, he will commit an offence which is at the moment triable summarily before magistrates with a maximum fine of £100. That will be increased to £200 by virtue of the Criminal Justice Bill.

The jury summons asks a prospective juror whether he is qualified for jury service. If he knowingly or recklessly—the reasons for disqualification are clearly set out in the form—gives a false answer by saying that he is when he is not, he will commit the offence. Likewise, if he says that he is not qualified and gives a reason which is false—for example, by inventing a disqualifying conviction—he will also commit the offence. That will cover those who seek to use this method to avoid jury service.

Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)

As the Attorney-General said, this side of the House would have strongly opposed any attempt by the Government substantially to change the rules affecting the disability of jurors. I appreciate that the new clause is not a change of great substance, and it is sensible. It is obviously wrong for a potential juror to conceal previous convictions or relevant information that would disbar him from jury service. It is equally wrong for him to say that he is disqualified from serving on a jury when that is a misstatement. Such devices bring the jury system, which we all prize, into disrepute. the Attorney-General has ensured that the jury service operates as we should like it to operate and as it is meant to operate. The new clause strengthens, rather than weakens, the jury system and we on this side of the House fully support it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Forward to