HL Deb 30 July 1968 vol 296 cc156-7

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government in how many cases, since Section 13 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 came into force, a jury in criminal proceedings has returned a majority verdict; and what proportion this constitutes of the total number of such proceedings tried by jury in the same period.]


My Lords, provisional figures for the period from October 1, 1967, when Section 13 came into force, to March 31, 1968, show that 233 persons were convicted on majority verdicts. It is not possible to relate this to the number of persons tried by jury; but during the period October 1 to December 31, 1967, approximately 1.8 per cent. of all persons convicted at the higher courts were convicted on a majority verdict. The information relates only to majority verdicts of guilty, because, in accordance with the provisions of the Act, a jury is not asked whether an acquittal is by a majority.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for that Answer? Since the effect of this important change in the law is of great public interest, will statistics be kept and published? Further, is the Minister able to enlarge a little on his Answer, to say what thoughts the Government may have on the subject of this reform?


My Lords, most certainly. We recognise how important it is to keep under review the working of these new provisions about majority verdicts, and courts have been asked to make returns to us of information relating to such verdicts. Of course we must allow time for the completion of the returns, for examination of the information they contain and for taking up any queries with the courts. In any event, the review will remain incomplete to the extent that it cannot include the figures of majority verdicts of not guilty. But Parliament accepted that this was the price that we had to pay, and I think quite rightly, to allay fears that provisions as to majority verdicts might injure reputations. But although the figures for the first six months of the operation of Section 13 of the Criminal Justice Act suggest that there has been no significant change in the use made of majority verdicts during the first quarter of 1968 as compared with the last quarter of 1967, we realise the importance of keeping this under review. We shall be ready, as soon as we have the information, to publish the figures.


My Lords, would it be true to say that the feeling that members of juries have been "got at" has been largely dissipated? There has not been so much in the papers recently about that matter. Is that the view of the Home Office?


My Lords, that is entirely our view. This, the major reason for this decision, has so far been justified. But I would add that we have had only some six to eight months' application of the principle. It is working extremely well. But the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, is quite right: this subject must be kept under review, and we intend to do so.