HC Deb 20 March 1997 vol 292 cc1063-4
5. Mr. Livingstone

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received concerning his proposals to restrict the right to jury trial. [19786]

Mr. Howard

Giving magistrates the right to decide where either-way cases should be tried was one of 33 recommendations in the report of the review of delay in the criminal justice system, which was published on 27 February and is now out for consultation. At this early stage in the consultation period, I have received very few responses.

Mr. Livingstone

Has the Home Secretary had time to consider the views of his former colleague, Alan Clark, who wrote in the News of the World dismissing those proposals as a last minute idea? He pointed out that the jury trial is the last line of defence for the ordinary citizen.

Mr. Howard

I always listen very carefully to what Mr. Clark says, because he is perhaps my most distinguished constituent. It is incumbent on me to take his views on all matters extremely seriously. I agree with him on almost everything, but not on that.

Mr. Ashby

This is definitely my last question in the House. My right hon. and learned Friend knows of my opposition and the opposition of many lawyers to restricting the right to jury trial. In his White Paper, he gave as the grounds for such a change the fact that there is too much delay and that that delay must be addressed. Has he considered that such a measure would reduce the delay in the Crown court and increase the delay in the magistrates court? That is what will happen, so there will still be delays in the system.

Mr. Howard

I do not accept my hon. Friend's point. The extraordinary truth is that two thirds of those who elect to go for trial in the Crown court then plead guilty, so they do not avail themselves of the option that they have elected to take. We think that it would speed up justice considerably in the Crown court and the magistrates court if the proposals were accepted. We think that they have merit. We want to listen to what people say about them, and we shall announce our decisions in due course.