HL Deb 17 November 1982 vol 436 cc597-622

7.49 p.m.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. Your Lordships will be aware that the present position governing the disqualification of people from serving on juries by reason of their previous criminal convictions is governed by the Juries Act 1974, and I do not believe that anyone has ever queried in principle the wisdom of that Act. This Bill suggests that that Act is proving somewhat inadequate and that therefore the time has now come to strengthen it. I will quote really at random four very recent instances, which are all recorded as cases of this year, which suggest that that measure is not sufficiently strong.

There was a case reported on Thames Television of a woman who had 17 previous convictions and who was nevertheless not disqualified from serving on a jury and duly did so. There was a case cited by my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich, in his admirable article in The Times yesterday, of a juror at the Old Bailey—or at least he would have been at the Old Bailey if he had not been arrested and not allowed to get there—who turned out to have some eight previous convictions for robbery, forgery, criminal deception and so forth. There was a case recently at the Old Bailey where a juror turned out to have 10 previous convictions for burglary and yet was not disqualified from serving.

There was a case at Peterborough Crown Court reported in March of this year in which a juror, who was challenged because he happened to be recognised, not altogether surprisingly, had 18 previous convictions, including serving six prison sentences, and yet was not disqualified from serving under the present law. It was that juror who, with a charming frankness, said to the press as he left the court, "I would bring in a not guilty verdict whatever the circumstances". None of those four—and they are merely four of what must be a great many more people—were disqualified from serving.

The present law, as most of your Lordships will, of course, know, is that a person is disqualified for life from serving on a jury if he has served a sentence of life imprisonment, or a sentence of five years imprisonment or more, or been detained during Her Majesty's pleasure. And a person is also disqualified from serving for a period of 10 years if he has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of three months or more, or a term of detention or youth custody of that amount. None of the four cases which I have cited come within those provisions.

The reason I think why there has been this development since 1974 is that there has been a very welcome increase in the use of non-custodial sentences, particularly in the use of the suspended sentence, which of course, was not in existence in 1974, and in the result there are now many cases, as I have demonstrated, where people who in ordinary parlance would be called criminals are in fact not caught by the existing legislation and are free to serve on juries.

I have to suggest that this is totally undesirable. It is undesirable for two quite different reasons: first, because anybody who has a criminal record of that nature is a person who is bound to approach a criminal case with prejudices and biases which almost inevitably are bound to be in favour of the defence, and who is indeed quite incapable by reason of his previous experience of approaching a case with the sort of openmindedness that is desirable in a jury. There may be some who will contend that this is not so, and there will be some who will oppose the suggestion made in the present Bill. I look forward to listening to the no doubt moderate opposition of my noble friend Lord Hutchinson of Lullington in due course. There would be even more vehement opposition no doubt to this proposal from the amalgamated association of burglars, blackmailers and bank robbers. That is the first reason why I suggest that it is wrong that there should be people with criminal convictions on a jury, because they are not capable of approaching a criminal case with the required degree of openmindedness.

The second reason is that there has grown up since 1974 a very dramatic increase in the amount of jury nobbling. Indeed it has been reported that in the last year there were some 13 cases that came to light of jury nobbling at the Central Criminal Court, one of them indeed on the 67th day of a trial. I need hardly emphasise the vast waste of time and of resources that is involved in cases that have to be aborted as a result of attempts being made to nobble jurors. I can only add this: that, if there are 13 cases at one court which have come to light because they were unsuccessful, there must, commonsense dictates, have been a large number of cases that were successful and have not come to light, and of course in each of those cases that were successful the result must have been that the course of justice has been perverted.

I cannot prove by evidence that if one is setting about the nobbling of a jury one choses to approach the people on the jury who have previous convictions. But again I have to suggest that that is really a matter of the most elementary commonsense. Of course one would approach in the first place those who have been in trouble with the police, and the more often they have been in trouble the more readily would one approach them. And unhappily, despite all the precautions that are taken, we know it is quite impossible to prevent the discovery by one devious means or another of the previous history of jurors. In those circumstances the existence on juries of people with criminal records is a very real temptation to the jury nobbier and may very well be successful in many of the cases which never come to light.

What this Bill proposes is what I hope your Lordships will agree is a modest addition to the present powers of disqualification. It proposes that in addition to the existing position a juror should not be eligible to serve if within the last 10 years he has twice been convicted of an indictable offence. Your Lordships will remember perhaps that last session there was much talk about proposals of this nature, and without going into its history there was at one time a proposal put forward by the Government in another place that the disqualification should be varied so that anybody who had on one occasion been convicted of an imprisonable offence should be disqualified. The measure which my noble friend, Lord Harris of Greenwich and I now wish to put forward to your Lordships is very much less drastic than that.

It is less drastic, first, because it provides that before a person can be disqualified—unless, of course, he is caught by the existing provisions of the Act—he has to have committed an offence on two separate occasions. We are not seeking to catch the person who has succumbed to an isolated temptation once in his lifetime. Secondly, it is less drastic because instead of using the Government test of an imprisonable offence, which would include all summary offences where imprisonment might be passed and indeed would catch a very large number of motorists, the test here proposed is that of an indictable offence, in other words, an offence capable of being tried on indictment, which is, broadly speaking, the more serious type of criminal offence. Thirdly, our proposal is less drastic than the Government's proposal last session because it will only apply for a period of 10 years from the first of the two convictions, so that if a person has a long gap between his two convictions, seven or eight years, he would only be disqualified for a comparatively short time, whereas under the Government's proposal it would always be for a minimum period of 10 years.

The criteria which we have put forward in this Bill are open to discussion; of course they are. I do not think anybody would claim that we are necessarily in any way infallible in putting forward the tests we have suggested. Whatever tests one applies there are bound to be cases at the margin which it will be said make hard law. Perhaps the test that is put forward in this Bill can be applied for a moment in relation to somebody at the margin to see quite how reasonable it is. Let us take a person—may I say without being in any way anti-feminist, a woman—who has been caught shoplifting and on two occasions has stolen a pair of socks from Marks and Spencer's. I can well understand its being said at first blush, "Well, really, is it desirable or necessary to disqualify such a person from jury service for 10 years?" But the more one thinks about it, the more one realises that even on that marginal case there is a person who has been apprehended outside a shop, taken back to the manager's office, interrogated by the store detective and searched; the police will have been called and she will have been interrogated again. She will have been taken to the police station, searched and formally charged. Finally, she will have turned up at the magistrates' court. She may have elected to go for trial. She will have either admitted her guilt or denied it and been disbelieved. If that happens twice in a comparitively short space of time, then even in what I regard as an extremely marginal case it is perhaps not unreasonable to say that a person who has been through that sort of experience on those occasions is unlikely to make the sort of juror who will try a case with reasonable fairness.

In conclusion, I know that it is impossible to discuss a topic of this nature without talking about rights and liberties. I hope that we shall carefully consider what we mean when we use those words. I find it difficult to see that a person who has been convicted on at least two occasions of substantial criminal offences can claim to have a right to sit in judgment upon his fellow citizens. I find it equally difficult to see how anyone who is alleged to have committed a crime can claim to have a right to be tried by those who have committed substantial criminal offences. It seems to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and myself that the important right that we are considering is the right of the community to have a trial system in which defendants will be convicted if the evidence proves their guilt and which is not capable of being perverted in the way that we have seen so often.

My only other observation is that your Lordships will remember that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, at the end of the debate on the gracious Speech, indicated that the Government supported, in general terms, a measure to this effect. They were not, for reasons I know not, willing to introduce legislation themselves but they were hopeful that perhaps an honourable Member in another place might be fortunate in the ballot and introduce a Bill there. The object of introducing this Bill in your Lordships' House at this early stage in the Session and asking your Lordships to give it a Second Reading is to demonstrate that there is weighty support for a measure of this nature which might act as an encouragement to an honourable Member in another place to proceed along that path. If an honourable Member in another place chooses to take that course I need hardly say that those of us who support this Bill here now would not seek to pursue it further and if a Bill was under way in another place we would be very happy to lend whatever co-operation and support we could give to that measure. In those circumstances, my Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Wigoder.)

8.4 p.m.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, I am sure the House will be most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for enabling us to discuss the important subject of disqualification of jurors and, if I may say so, to do so in such an undogmatic fashion. The jury system has been under a great deal of attack of late. Despite its occasional lapses and frequent surprises I believe the system provides a vital and invaluable protection for the liberty of the subject in this country. It has been rather unkindly said of Welsh juries that they are against crime but they are not dogmatic about it. I think that is a libel on Welsh juries. In my 15 years as a recorder in South Wales I do not recollect many perverse verdicts there. That there can be perverse verdicts is undoubted. I believe it was the late Lord Goddard who said: There is no machinery that can prevent us from the occasional perverse verdict". Jury service is, of course, both a duty and a privilege. It can often be a burdensome duty and in these days of very long cases that is perhaps more so than has been the case in the past. But it is also a privilege in that it enables the citizen to take part in the administration of justice, public confidence in which it is vital to sustain. It enables him and gives him a sense of his significance as a citizen to play his citizen's part in the conviction of the guilty or to ensure the acquittal of the innocent. Some may regard jury service as something that they would be glad to be disqualified from having to carry out. For others, disqualification would be regarded as a serious diminution of their status as citizens, making them a kind of second-class citizen. Of course, I am not referring to those who are disqualified or rendered ineligible by virtue of the offices that they hold.

One thing will probably emerge without dispute in this debate. It is clearly not acceptable that those with long or significant criminal records should serve on juries. I think that is language which I found in an article of great interest by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, yesterday. As the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, indicated, already the Juries Act 1974 sought within its limits to deal with the problem. It disqualifies from jury service a person who has at any time been sentenced in the United Kingdom to imprisonment for life or for a term of five years or more". That carries a lifetime disqualification. It also disqualifies a person, who at any time in the last ten years has. . . served any part of a sentence of imprisonment or detention being a sentence for a term of three months or more; or. . . been detained in Borstal". Perhaps in his reply the Minister will tell us how effectively that provision is enforced so far as it goes. Do some such criminals in those categories still get through the net? If so, is there not a case for strengthening enforcement of those provisions? I certainly would not object to that.

Other steps have been taken to protect the public and the integrity of the trial process. Some of them have been regarded as highly controversial and much criticised. In August of 1980 the Attorney-General announced some extension of the provisions for jury checking or vetting. While I do not want to open that wide area of controversy perhaps the Minister could throw some light on how those provisions are operating to protect—again, I repeat the phrase—the integrity of the trial process.

We have not been, as a Parliament, indifferent to this problem although it may well be, as I think it is the case, that we have not done enough. It is well to remember, for instance, that majority verdicts have been introduced and they have greatly reduced the old risk that one or two prejudiced, maverick or nobbled jurors might achieve unmeritorious acquittals.

The Bill proposes very considerably to widen the range of those who will be disqualified from jury service. Indeed, it catches far, far more than the type of case which the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, mentioned in the quartet that he identified. Not only will the Bill disqualify persons who are convicted twice of possibly minor offences, even though, truly, they will be indictable, even when no term of imprisonment is included in the sentence and, indeed, the offenders may never have been inside a prison at all. As I understand it, unlike the Juries Act, no time limit is created by the Bill as regards the disqualification—it will be a disqualification for life.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, I think that is not so. I think it comes within the part of the Bill which is sub-headed, "Any person who at any time in the last 10 years". So it would only, therefore, catch those people who have been convicted twice in the previous 10 years and, of course, as they grow older, if they commit no further offences, so they will not then be eligible for disqualification.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord and of course accept that. However, the significance of the Bill is its very wide extension to include those who may have committed very minor offences indeed. The concept of rehabilitation seems to be abandoned in the contemplation of the Bill. It will, I repeat, catch minor offenders. I have—I shall not use the phrase "bitter memories"—very live memories of my attempt to persuade the House to give effect to the report of the Committee of Lord Justice James which recommended that small thefts of property up to the value of £20 should not be indictable. We lost that, so they are all still included in the category of offences two of which will result in a possible 10-year disqualification. It means that thefts on two separate occasions, possibly under stress or in circumstances of such mitigation that at any rate the relevant court might decide not to send the offender to prison, will be caught by the provision.

The House should consider carefully whether the Bill does not over-react to the present difficulties and go far beyond dealing with the category of those with significant criminal records, which is what we should be principally concerned about in the consideration of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, referred to the fact that in another place—indeed, it was during Second Reading of the Administration of Justice Bill—the learned Solicitor-General made a very specific statement (and I think it right that the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, should raise it at this stage) when he said: It is proposed to introduce a new disqualification. The Government have it in mind that a person should be disqualified for 10 years"— not for life— if convicted of an imprisonable offence". As the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has said, that, of course, is far wider than an indictable offence. The Solicitor-General went on: The Government welcome the earliest discussion and exchange of views on that provision". It is very important that the House should know the Government's intention because that will clearly affect our attitude to the Bill. Do they intend to legislate as they then indicated they proposed to do? Indeed, is this not a matter that calls for governmental legislation rather than legislation through a Private Member? It is a matter for serious concern. Upon the answer to those questions the future of this Bill will very greatly depend.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I also should like to express my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for having afforded this opportunity for objective discussion on a most important subject. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, whom I have the privilege to follow, referred to the enforcement of existing provisions and with that, with respect, may I be allowed wholly to agree? But are the existing provisions adequate? Does the Bill over-react? Surely any step towards maintaining the trustworthiness, the trustworthy quality, of jurors which in turn means that they are true to their oath, is not only welcome, but requisite.

In general, the type of juror whom this Bill seeks to disqualify is unacceptable for two reasons which are interrelated. In the first place, they have exposed themselves to the attentions of those jury minders. "No evidence" says the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and with that I agree. But do not some of your Lordships remember the recent television programme where there was the ex-villain who, with uncanny accuracy, picked out every single time, time and time again, each member of the mock jury who might fall prey to his threats or his bribes? There is no evidence, it is true, but may we not use our common sense?

Secondly, it is true—I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, as I usually have the privilege to do—that majority verdicts have lessened the evil. That is true, but still, in the world in which we live, a handful of perverse jurors can still play havoc with majority verdicts not only to delay but to defeat justice. At times, lawyers—I suppose it is a type of methode de métier—by picking at the stitches, destroy the fabric, and that is not my intention tonight. But the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in a sense opened up this arena when he said very fairly—and he always is fair—that the criteria are open for discussion. Perhaps consideration could be given in Committee to whether the crimes triable on indictment which disqualify could be limited to crimes of dishonesty or violence to the person. I take on board again a thought from the noble and learned Lord, Lord-Elwyn Jones, in this regard, as to the width of the existing drafting. For, as matters would stand under the Bill as drafted, a bank cashier in his mid-20s who at the age of 16 had been fined £5 for committing a public nuisance and at 18, £20 for threatening to damage his neighbour's chicken coop, would be disqualified from jury service. If anybody wishes to check that—those of us who are not lawyers—it will be found in the schedule relevant to Section 17 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980.

Even if one takes on board Lord Wigoder's marginal case, perhaps, as drafted, the Bill could be thought to be too draconian. But, if we have to err on one side or the other, on this occasion let us be avowedly draconian. And why?—because trial by jury in criminal cases must be maintained as part of the tradition of our fundamental freedoms; because this Bill would restore a measure of lost respect and enhance the trust we have in juries to honour their oath; because the interests of the due administration of justice demand no less than our support in principle for this Bill.

In conclusion, may I add one final caveat? All instant legislation to deal with a specific evil is suspect. This is because one ought to take into account all aspects of the problem. And so it is with juries, so it is with this problem. Therefore, my real hope—and it is a personal expression of opinion, although I would support this Bill on any Division—is that this Bill could provide the catalyst to such an end; that is, a more general review.

8.22 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I think it is common ground on the basis of the speeches which have been made so far that the issue we are debating this evening is a matter of great importance in our system of criminal justice in this country. For that reason, if for no other, we are much indebted to my noble friend Lord Wigoder for having introduced this Bill today, although at this stage I would enter one caveat and I suspect that my noble friend would agree with me. I very much regret that we are not discussing a Government Bill to deal with this matter, which was indeed the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones. Frankly, I do not believe that in normal circumstances it is appropriate for private Members to attempt to legislate in areas of this kind. It comes far better from the Government. I very much hope that we may have some indication from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, at the end of the debate that the Government have thought about this matter again and have decided to bring their own legislation before either House of Parliament.

The reason for this Bill is fairly clear; it is that substantial evidence has emerged over the last year that determined efforts have been made to corrupt jurors in a significant number of cases tried at the Old Bailey. These cases have involved men charged with offences including armed robbery, fraud and conspiracy to import dangerous drugs. As my noble friend Lord Wigoder pointed out in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, so far as we know, approaches have been made to juries in 13 cases, all of which were subsequently aborted. As he again pointed out, there is of course the fear that in many other cases similar approaches have been made to jurors who did not report the fact that they had been approached to the police. It would indeed be remarkable were this not to be so, for who can possibly believe that in every single case where an improper approach was made to a juror that juror went to the police? Consequently, we have to accept that, in a number of cases involving serious offences, juries either disagreed, rendering new trials necessary, or may have brought in verdicts against the evidence.

I believe that this is an exceptionally important matter. At a time when the community is rightly concerned about the rising level of serious crime, I believe that there will be grave public disquiet if it comes to be believed that dangerous and sophisticated criminals can buy themselves out of trouble by the simple process of corrupting jurors. I accept at once—as, indeed, does my noble friend Lord Wigoder—that this Bill, by itself, will not solve that problem totally. Of course it will not. But I believe that if enacted, it would make life infinitely more difficult for the jury nobblers.

However, quite apart from that issue, I think it is wrong in itself that people convicted of significant criminal offences should serve on juries. How can they possibly be expected to weigh police evidence in a spirit of impartiality when they have often bitterly contested such evidence at their own trials? They are bound to be prejudiced against the prosecution case. I do not believe that it is generally understood that even when people have been repeatedly convicted they are not necessarily disqualified from jury service. If I may, I shall give a number of examples to demonstrate this. All these cases were heard at the Old Bailey and all of them apply to defendants in those cases. All of them took place within the last two years.

In the case of the first, a woman who had 17 convictions over a period of seven years for shoplifting, receiving stolen goods and theft from the person was qualified for jury service. In the second case, there was a man who had 12 previous convictions, ranging from unlawfully taking a motor vehicle to theft, assault and going equipped to steal. Again, he was qualified for jury service. In the third case, there was a man with six convictions, including receiving stolen goods, causing actual bodily harm and causing grievous bodily harm. Again, he was qualified. The fourth was a man with convictions for theft, possession of an offensive weapon and possession of a sawn-off shotgun. He similarly was qualified for jury service.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, will he indicate not only whether they qualified but whether they actually served on juries?

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I shall gladly deal with that point. No, they did not serve on juries. I fear that I may not have put this as clearly as I should have done. The point I am making is that all of them were defendants at the Old Bailey and all of them were qualified for jury service, notwithstanding the long records of previous criminal convictions.

I do not believe for a moment that Parliament ever intended that people of this character should serve on juries. That they do so arises from the fact that there has been a radical change in sentencing policy in the last decade. Men and women who would formerly have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment of three months or more and, as a result of that, would have been disqualified from jury service, are now given non-custodial penalties. Suspended prison sentences, which can of course be awarded only if a prison sentence is in itself appropriate in the circumstances of a case, were first introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 1967. Community service, regarded as an alternative to imprisonment, was not introduced until 1972.

I warmly welcome the fact that the courts use these disposals extensively. It is highly desirable that we should do everything we can to limit the number of people sentenced to terms of imprisonment. But that most emphatically does not mean that those convicted repeatedly in the courts and who miss being sent to prison by the slimmest of margins are appropriate people to serve on juries. That many do so is, in my view, deeply objectionable. It is wrong in itself.

It is also wrong because I believe that such people provide a tempting target for the jury nobblers. Many inevitably are well-known to the criminal community. Some, unhappily, see themselves as serving some form of apprenticeship in crime. Others are sad, inadequate people, who find themselves quite unable to resist temptation. When, after they have been empanelled on a jury, a man whom they know slightly approaches them in an Underground station near to the Old Bailey—I understand that St. Paul's is a particularly favourite spot for this; the Underground station, I may hurriedly say, rather than the cathedral—and tells them that by chance they are sitting on a case in which a friend of theirs is a defendant (a person whom, it goes without saying, is entirely innocent) and then presses a bundle of bank notes into their hand, who believes that necessarily their first instinct will be to report the approach to the police? In perhaps the odd case they may well do so; and of course in a number of cases such corrupt approaches have been reported to the police. But many of these people, with substantial records of criminal convictions are, for perfectly understandable reasons, bitterly anti-police. Many also have pressing financial problems. The risk is—and it is a clear risk—that they will pocket the money and be influenced in favour of the defendant in the case.

It has been said, not least by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, that this is not a new problem. Indeed, as he rightly said, it provided one of the principal reasons for the introduction of majority verdicts in the Criminal Justice Act 1967. Mr. Jenkins, who was then the Home Secretary, received evidence that a number of sophisticated London criminals were using the unanimity rule to threaten relatives. It was not at that stage by and large the offer of financial inducements, but rather direct threats, which were employed against the relatives of individual jurors, that harm would befall them if a verdict of guilty were returned in a particular case. For that reason, and for a number of other reasons, Mr. Jenkins decided to introduce the majority verdict.

It was a decision that was fiercely attacked by The Times and the Sunday Times. I am not sure whether they used the term "over-reaction", but from what I can recall of the controversy, I suspect that they used language rather more extravagant than that. The proposal was opposed by some members of the criminal Bar and by a number of Members on both sides of another place. However, thanks in part—and this I believe should be said—to the redoubtable support that we received from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, this important change in the jury system was carried through both Houses of Parliament. I believe that the rather extravagant fears that were entertained by some of our critics at the time of the passage of that section of the Act have since been proved to be unjustified. Indeed, today I know of no serious commentator who believes that we should now revert to the old unanimity rule. However, I am bound to say that the evidence that we had on that occasion was considerably less than the evidence that is now available of the form of grave improprieties as have been outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder.

Of course, we know that, despite the introduction of majority verdicts, the jury nobblers are once again hard at work—and as I have indicated, on a scale far exceeding anything that we knew to be the position before the passage of the 1967 Act. The reason is not hard to find. It is exceptionally difficult to catch them. There take place every year at the Central Criminal Court scores of trials in which it is possible that approaches can be made to individual jurors. In any event it is a mistake to believe that the problem relates exclusively to the Old Bailey. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, pointed out, in a particular television programme which he watched, as I did, it was suggested that the problem was far more significant. I know of experienced judges and members of the Bar who believe that this form of corruption is now appearing in other courts—some others certainly in London.

I believe that in the light of that situation it is, frankly, fanciful to claim, as did one of our opponents in another place, that it is a problem that can safely and securely be left to the police. The police simply do not have the resources to protect every juryman in every trial at which nobblers may be at work.

In one recent trial which took place, I believe at the Central Criminal Court, no fewer than 48 police officers had to be employed to give protection to the jury, and on the basis of elementary mathematics it is easy to work out the sheer resource implications of that kind of jury protection. It would require a force of many hundreds of police officers, working full-time, to deal with the problem, and even then it might not be effective.

Certainly I repeat that I would not suggest that the Bill before the House would end the problem, but I believe that it would make a significant contribution towards limiting the growth of this deeply disquieting development. I very much hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Elton, replies he will give us not only some indication that the Government share our anxieties—I am sure that they do; that has been made clear by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, the Home Secretary, and the Attorney-General. What we also hope to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is a clear indication that the Goverment themselves are prepared to take some action in this matter. In saying that I would repeat that we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for having introduced the Bill, and I very warmly welcome it and wish it well on its way.

8.37 p.m.

Lord Denning

My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for introducing the Bill. Certainly it is a Bill the objective of which is very well supported. My anxiety would be whether there are any teeth with which to enforce it. The right to trial by jury is of course fundamental—trial by 12 men good and true, not by eight men good and true and four crooks and criminals.

I should like to touch on the history of the matter, for just a moment. At common law there was no difficulty. Every jury was kept separate without meat, drink, fire, or candle, until they were agreed. That happened in the trial of the seven bishops, when they were acquitted after the jury had been confined all night. The result was that there was no jury nobbling, no chance to nobble them at all. They were always unanimous because they had been kept together until they were agreed. That went on for centuries.

Then there was the next stage, which is very important—the question of majority verdicts, which I remember well. For many years now instead of being kept together throughout the trial all night, jurors have been allowed to separate, to go and have their lunch at tables next to the witnesses or the friends of the accused, to go home at night and be followed by the accused or their relatives, or whoever it may be. They have been completely separate, with no protection or guard over them, with every opportunity for jury nobbling, for payments to be made, for bribes to be made. That, it is said, is what led to majority verdicts. I remember it well. Cases at the Old Bailey went on for three or four weeks and then at the end one man would disagree. He would not agree to a verdict of guilty, and the whole case had to be tried over again. That was the reason why majority verdicts were introduced. I agree that I was wrong then. I opposed it. I supported the old principle of unanimity, and I voted against the change. But I was wrong. Majority verdicts have proved their worth; they have been entirely successful, and I was wrong in those days. Majority verdicts were the first way of curing the evil.

But now we have this position. It should be realised that everything has been changed as a result of the report of the committee under the chairmanship of the late Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, under which every person on the parliamentary voting list is entitled to be on a jury. In the old days, in which I was brought up, there was always the householder qualification. The sheriff's officer would summon them, and those householders were all good men and true. Never did we have this trouble in those days, when there was the householder qualification—no nobbling or anything of that kind. But now it is open to everybody on the voters' list, nobody—not the court, the sheriff's officer nor the police—knows anything about those individuals; everyone is there on the panel and may be called.

Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest realised that there was a danger in this. How were you to find out those who were not worthy to be on a jury? He quoted the very words of Blackstone, that the members of the jury should be "superior to suspicion". How are you to ensure that when you take their names from the whole voters' list? What they said—and they recommended it—was that there should be a questionnaire put to every person who was to be on the jury panel, and in that questionnaire they should be asked such questions as, "Have you been convicted of any crime?", or in this particular case, following what my noble friend is saying, "Have you been convicted of any indictable offence?" That is the way to find out.

That questionnaire has never been authorised by statute. You ought to be able to ask the individual whether he has been convicted of any indictable offence. Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest considered this very question which the noble Lord has put today of the indictable offence, and his committee said that that was not a question which any individual could properly answer. If he is asked, "What is an indictable offence?", he does not know; he has to go to the schedule to the Magistrates' Courts Act. There you have three or four pages of sections of Acts of Parliament and many offences within those Acts. The number of indictable offences is innumerable—thousands of them, one might say—and, of those, thousands upon thousands are tried summarily by the magistrates.

What the committee of Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest feared was that it was not practicable to enforce it. It certainly was not practicable to ask prospective jurors the question, or for a man to know whether or not he was breaking the law. Suppose a man had been convicted of a motoring offence—dangerous driving, perhaps—by the magistrates; he could have been tried by a jury, but he was not. When he was asked, "Was that an indictable offence?", he would simply say, "I do not know". In other words, on the test in this Bill the individual concerned would not know whether or not he was disqualified. Who is to tell him whether it is an indictable offence?

What Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest and his committee said on this very subject about indictable offences—it is paragraph 141—was: The best way of excluding persons who are subject to disqualification is to require them to declare the fact to the summoning officer. It follows that the criterion of disqualification must be a simple one which can be quickly understood by prospective jurors. This seems to us to rule out any proposal to disqualify persons convicted of indictable offences, since such offences are often tried summarily, and an individual can hardly be expected to know whether a particular offence is indictable or not". So this very point was considered by the committee of Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, after hearing all the evidence and many proposals, and they rejected it because they said, "No individual, no ordinary chap, can know whether or not he has been found guilty of an indictable offence."

That is why I said we want some teeth in this Bill. How can you prove a man is disqualified under this test when you cannot tell him whether it is an indictable offence, or what offences are indictable? There is the trouble and the weakness of it. If I may say so, I should like to see Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest's recommendation of a questionnaire adopted, or the other alternative—and one does not like this—is for the police to be able to go through the list of names on the jury panel, put it on the computer and see how many have been convicted; but one does not like the idea of jury vetting of that kind. So all I would say is that there are grave practical difficulties, although I would sympathise entirely with the object of this Bill, which is to have all these people disqualified. I would disqualify the lot; the difficulty is the enforcement of it. Whether it can be dealt with in Committee or by means of a Government Bill is another matter.

I would end with this. Surely the time is right, in view of the modern problems which have arisen since everybody on the voting list has been eligible to serve on a jury, with no means of checking whether that person is good or bad, to give further consideration to the matter, in particular to the suggestion of the questionnaire which Lord Morris's committee recommended, to jury nobbling and to jury vetting—and, I would add, to peremptory challenges. The time is right—and it should be done quickly—for there to be a reform of this branch of the law as to juries. Lord Wigoder has started on the way, and I hope the Government will take it up and do something urgently to deal with this most important problem.

8.47 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I intervene, very briefly, in this debate. With six legal luminaries, a former Minister at the Home Office and a present Minister at the Home Office speaking, I presume to speak for ordinary people, for the ordinary man in the street. During the time I was working, I counted among my friends and acquaintances a number who had committed offences and who had been found guilty but had not been in prison. I was called to jury service. It was quite wrong that I should have been called, I think, and I was exempted under Section 9(2) of the Jury Act 1974, on the grounds that I would know those coming before the courts. Indeed, had I served on the jury I would have known as my acquaintances and friends several of those who were being charged.

At the time I was working with a number of young men, all of whom had been before the courts and had been found guilty but not imprisoned. I said to them, "If I had been on the jury, what would you have thought?". One young man said, "I would not have liked you to be on the jury, Miss; you would have known too much about me". Another young man said, "I would have liked you to be on the jury; you could have spoken up for me". Another one said, "I do not think it would have been fair if you had been on the jury because it would have put a strain on you, because you certainly would have spoken for us, wouldn't you, and found us innocent?" These were the reactions of these young men.

Perhaps I have criminal tendencies, but I am sure the Minister would agree that I have not committed two offences within a certain number of years. Now, if they say those things to me, this is what they say among themselves—and I need hardly say so to your Lordships because, of course, it is well known. But certain of them feel that justice is not done if there is somebody on the jury who knows them and with whom they have been mixing, because he might belong to another gang and might find them guilty when in fact they were not guilty and when he knew them not to be guilty—and this is particularly so with drugs. The other set of young men would expect of their friends on the jury who themselves had been convicted that, moving in that circle, they would be found guilty. When one is talking to these young men, one finds that they are quite honest and realistic. Of course, they would like somebody on the jury who would get them off, but they are honest enough to say that it would not be right.

Then there is the third type of man, a man who was convicted perhaps many years ago. I think that sometimes one thinks: "Well, if it is many years ago, it is past history and therefore let us take no notice of it". But a young man said to me only the other day, "If I were called to a jury, I can never forget what happened to me five years ago and I should always find somebody not guilty if I were on a jury". The fact that they have themselves been before a court and have been found guilty does colour their feelings for a very long time. Therefore, I support this Bill. I cannot pretend to argue the legal points, but I support the principle of the Bill and the objective of the Bill, in that the kind of people whom I have mixed with, who have been my acquaintances and friends, as much as anybody else, want justice not only to be done but to be seen to be done.

8.51 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, I should like to be associated with the expressions of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, whose Bill, as to objective and as to general method, I heartily support. My noble and learned friend Lord Denning referred to the Morris Report. The Morris Committee identified as the two particular purposes of criminal procedure, first—and they emphasised "first", as I think all your Lordships would—the acquittal of the innocent; but, secondly, not to be forgotten, the conviction of the guilty. It is that latter consideration which really lies behind the Bill. It certainly does not mean that we do not put first the acquittal of the innocent.

My noble and learned friend also cited a famous phrase, "Twelve good men and true". There was another famous phrase relating to the jury. When an accused pleaded not guilty he was said (and he is still said) to put himself "upon his country". That is an illuminating phrase because it identifies the jury as a microcosm of democratic society. If that is right, it is itself a vindication of this Bill because no one would pretend that a jury containing a person subject to the disqualification imposed by this Bill was a microcosm of our democratic society. That is the first consideration.

The second is that a jury is part of a tribunal of justice; and that means that it must not only act fairly and act justly but be seen to act fairly and justly. It is because of those two considerations that the 1974 Act—or, rather, its predecessors, because it was a consolidation Act—excluded the extremes of this whole spectrum of society. On the one hand, there were excluded persons concerned with the administration of justice—a great many of them, a great many classes; but it is sufficient to mention persons who have been police officers of any sort during the previous 10 years. That previous 10 years is important because it is paralleled by the disqualification imposed by this Bill. Police officers are, and were, excluded not because they were necessarily thought to be incapable of judging fairly and dispassionately. They remain disqualified notwithstanding the system of majority verdicts referred to by my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones. They were and remain disqualified because their presence on a jury would prevent the jury having total appearance of impartiality and justice.

The other extreme is that there are excluded those who were identified by the Morris Report. I venture to cite two short passages from paragraph 134. The first is this: … it seems to us that confidence in the administration of justice is bound to suffer if a person with a recent and serious criminal record is allowed to serve as a juror". The second is: It is wrong that the functions of jurors should be carried out by persons who may themselves be enemies of society. In maintaining law and order reliance should not be placed on those who have shown that they pay no heed either to law or to order. It would be wrong to depend upon those whose own understanding of the line that divides right from wrong may be defective; or to entrust the fate of accused persons and the parties in civil suits"— because this Bill also extends to civil suits— to those whose own behaviour shows a lack of any proper understanding and recognition of decent behaviour". When the Morris Committee reported in 1965—even as late as 1974 when the consolidation Act was passed—the custodial sentence provided a reasonable criterion which vindicated the sentiments which I have just ventured to draw to your Lordships' attention. But, for the reasons that were so clearly and cogently given yesterday in the press by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and again today in your Lordships' House, that is no longer so. Serious offences may well in these days have no custodial sentence imposed. My noble and learned friend Lord Denning suggested that the problem could be dealt with by a questionnaire; but that was considered by the Morris Committee. It was not recommended by them. On the contrary, it was turned down for practical reasons which are as cogent today as they were at that time. I venture to think that this Bill carries out entirely the spirit and intention of those passages to which I have referred, and I shall support the noble Lord.

9 p.m.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, although indebted to my noble friend Lord Wigoder, I must assure the House that I am not a paid-up member of the Amalgamated Society of Burglars and Housebreakers. I only wish I were, because then my insurance policy premium would be very much lower than it is. Membership of that association, I can assure the House, is not an essential prequisite to practice at the Central Criminal Court.

It is indeed a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and I only wish that more lay members of this House took part, as she does, with such great value in debates of this kind. It is also a great privilege of course to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon—if I may say so, one of our greatest judges of the time.

If I pour a little tepid water on this Bill, I hope that my noble friend Lord Harris will not accuse me of accusing him and the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, of making a dastardly attack on the jury system. My noble friend's article in The Times seemed to me to be a little strident, and his statistics a little suspect.

May I say something about the statistics and the exent of this problem of nobbling of juries? The mischief seems to be realistically limited to the Central Criminal Court. I have often and for long wondered why it was. Perhaps one of the reasons is, as we have heard tonight, that St. Paul's Underground station seems to be such a convenient place for doing this. But it is limited to cases where very large sums of money are concerned, and where very long potential sentences are in view. I have checked these statistics at the Central Criminal Court: the 13 trials where there was some possible approach to juries were not all stopped. Of the 13, five—and five only—were stopped. The eight others all continued to their end without incident. Of those five, three involved jurors who had been corrupted, and in two there was sufficient evidence to doubt the jurors' integrity and therefore the case was stopped.

In the other eight there had been approaches of the kind that we have already heard tonight where somebody may come up to a juror in a caf??—and indeed did—and use the words: "Do show a favour to Charlie, mate. He's an innocent fellow, you know". Another man was approached on the Underground and someone said: "The man you are trying in that court you know is not guilty". In the other case there was a phone call of the same kind. In another case there had been similar approaches.

After investigations, the view was taken by everybody concerned in the case that no harm had been done and that that kind of situation, sometimes from relatives and sometimes from friends, under great stress, happens. It may also of course be a preliminary approach to do something more serious.

All approaches of any kind to members of the jury must be treated very seriously. Efforts to corrupt, successful or not, are clear criminal offences and every effort must be made to arrest such persons and charge them, as indeed happened in two of the three cases where this was shown at the Central Criminal Court. But let us not exaggerate the extent of this problem, which does not exist at all in the vast majority of criminal trials taking place all over this country.

When my noble friend Lord Harris refers to nobbling, saying nobblers are at work, and so on, it really is, if I may say so with the greatest respect, an exaggeration of what is a very serious matter but a very limited matter and really almost entirely at the Central Criminal Court. At the same time, of course jurymen do not report to the police; jurymen report to the court. They report to the judge and they report to the court official. It is from there that the matter of the police is taken up.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, with great respect to my noble friend, there have been cases where juries did take the money which they had been given and took it into police stations in the Metropolitan police district.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

Of course, I accept that that happens from time to time. Certainly in all these cases that I have checked in the Central Criminal Court the correct and proper course was followed of the jurymen reporting to the judge in the court.

May I add a warning note as to approaches to jurymen. Such approaches may be directed to the verdict; but they may also be directed—and are in the majority of cases—to aborting the trial and obtaining a retrial when things are going badly. Then you get what may be called fake nobbling. I personally know of a case where a bogus letter was dropped in the cells area, and the letter was found. Also there have been cases where threatening phone calls have been made to a juryman and where gestures have been made from the public part of the court or in the passages of the court and where jurymen have been approached on the way home in the hope that the juryman will do his duty and report the matter to the court and that the judge will then stop the trial. That is not because of nobbling but because, in the view of the judge—and maybe of counsel—the remainder of the jury will be prejudiced against the accused. The obvious inference would be drawn, and very possibly quite wrongly, that some approach has been made and therefore the jury will be prejudiced against him. A large part of the so-called "nobbling" can fall into that class.

Such stratagems, of course, are not always defence orientated. One knows cases—I know them myself—where corruption and dishonesty are about to be revealed in court on the part of prosecution witnesses, when suddenly a juryman will report an approach and there can be an incentive just as strong in those circumstances on the side of the police as the incentive on the side of the defendant not to continue the case to verdict. So there are other ways of looking at this and it is essential to keep a balanced view. That danger, of course, is particularly relevant in the "super-grass" case, where the police and the criminal are working together. It is an added reason for bringing that appalling type of case to an end.

The reason for keeping persons with convictions off juries is because, as has already been said, they will be prejudiced and they will be vulnerable. But, as another note of warning, are not security officers, private detectives, store detectives and ex-policemen (even after 10 years) prejudiced when serving on a jury? Are not the victims of crime—the woman who has been assaulted, the housewife who has been burgled—prejudiced when they come into the jury box? Are not those who have been injured by drunken drivers prejudiced? Are not teetotallers and heavy drinkers prejudiced? All sorts of groups are severely prejudiced people when they go into the jury box; but the great joy of the system is that of course those who are concerned in the administration of justice—judges and those who take part—in this country succeed in removing those prejudices during the course of the trial.

I might add, because of what has been said this evening by my noble friend Lord Wigoder: What about the woman who has been through all that process of shoplifting? What happens if she is acquitted? What happens to all the people who have been acquitted, who have heard lying statements made about them by police officers or anyone else, and who are then acquitted? Are they going to be prejudiced when they go into the jury box? The argument is so easily put always on one side, and because of that one must be particularly careful as to the basis on which one disqualifies people from service.

Indeed, on the question of being vulnerable and open to bribery, the families of persons who have been convicted are even more vulnerable, I would suggest, than the criminals themselves. The wives, children, families and so on of people who have been sent to prison will be just as prejudiced or as vulnerable when they go into the jury box to try other cases. So, as one who believes that jury trial is one, if not the essential, guarantee of our liberties, I want the system itself to be guaranteed, with the support and confidence of the general public. That is indeed why I, for one, throughout supported the introduction of majority verdicts.

Therefore, the rules governing qualification must be sensible, acceptable and all-embracing and they must be properly enforced. This Bill does not fulfil those criteria, in my view. The second indictable offence criteria, if I may say so without offence, is somewhat half-baked and amounts really to what I might call "the two milk bottles syndrome". In other words, if you steal a milk bottle when you are at college going home in the early hours of the morning and 10 years later you do the same thing in other circumstances, you are not fit to try someone for bank robbery at the Central Criminal Court. Indeed, under this Bill woe betide that person. Woe betide the postman who, on two occasions, fails to deliver a letter which he ought to deliver. Woe betide the porter on the railway station who, on two occasions, endangers the safety of a passenger. Woe betide the person on a census who, on two occasions, lets out some of the information which he has heard when taking the census and so on. These criteria are somewhat ludicrous.

Of course, as my noble friend Lord Harris said in his article, it is the person convicted of the serious crime who has to be kept out of the jury box. How do we define the serious crime? Should it be the conviction, should it be the sentence or both? Should it be a prison sentence, should it be a served prison sentence or a suspended one? Should it be a substantial fine and, if so, how much? Should it be a custodial sentence of a certain length? How many convictions? How long ago?

I do not know the answer. I want to hear the argument, I want to know whether my own views are practical and sufficiently administrable and whether they would stand up. But I want to hear that. Personally, I think that any custodial sentence when convicted on indictment, and any immediate custodial sentence when convicted summarily might be the sort of basis on which one might start, with a 10-years ban and a life ban for a sentence over so many years. But I do not myself have sufficient arrogance to believe that I am right about that until the matter has been properly argued, sifted out and considered.

As to monitoring, I suggest that on reporting for service at the Central Criminal Court, a juryman should be given a form requiring a signature to a formal declaration of his eligibility for service; in other words, a modern form of the questionnaire which was referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. These forms could easily be collected, a spot check could be made on them from time to time and, if it was found that someone had misinformed the court, he could be most healthily prosecuted. I understand that such a scheme might well be acceptable at the Old Bailey.

I do not like instant legislation on matters profoundly affecting this most sensitive part of the criminal process. I do not like tinkering with the jury, as we have heard already, about challenges, about vetting and about removing their occupations from the jury panel. I do not think that that is the way to deal with matters of this importance. If this Bill, which has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, will encourage the Minister to come forward with some properly thought-out proposals for reform, then I would give a gentle puff towards giving it a fair wind.

9.18 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, I am certain that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for bringing forward this Bill. He has given us an opportunity to debate a matter which is causing increasing anxiety to many people concerned with the administration of justice, and also an opportunity to listen to a remarkable debate illuminated by a concentration of legal wisdom and marked by speeches of not only a lucidity but also a brevity which I think are unusual even in your Lordships' House, and for which I myself am very grateful.

The noble Lord has explained, with his customary clarity and conviction, the disturbing developments which have led him to conclude that we should extend the criteria for disqualification from jury service. It is a conclusion with which—as noble Lords are probably aware—the Government fully agree, although our own approach differs somewhat from that in his Bill, for reasons which I shall explain.

The jury system is designed to be operated by people who believe in it—and who believe in it not as a means of swinging a case in which they identify with the accused, but as a means of holding the scales of justice impartially in their hands and declaring a verdict strictly in accordance with the weight of the evidence and the arguments presented before them. It also goes without saying—and yet it appears that it needs to be said—that they shall believe in the system of laws under which this country is governed, that they respect those laws and that, accordingly, they keep them. Peccadillos are one thing, but the commission of crimes is quite another. Very minor offences can be properly ignored—as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, proposes to ignore them in his Bill. But the commission of crime is an attack upon the very fabric which the jury system is designed to protect. The appointment of a serious offender as a juror would therefore seem to me to be the clear establishment of a contradiction in terms.

That may be too bald a statement, but it enshrines an important principle that already has its place in the Bill. To render it less bald, without adulterating the principle, it is necessary to add a qualification, and that is this: to say that a person who once commits a crime becomes a criminal for life and that he should therefore be disqualified from jury service for life is to go too far. It is to ignore what theologians call repentance and penologists call rehabilitation. I therefore entirely agree with the principle, which is also already enshrined in the Bill, that there should be a limit to the period of disqualification imposed.

The test of a satisfactory jury system is, therefore, that it should embrace people who support our framework of laws and who observe it—those, in the words of Blackstone, quoted indirectly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, who are superior to suspicion—and that conversely it should exclude those who commit more than merely trifling offences against it, whom the sadly late Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest described, in a quotation by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, as respecting neither law nor order.

There is another reason for disqualifying such people from jury service, one that bears directly on the anxiety to which recent disturbing cases have given rise, and it is this. We have all read of, and your Lordships have recently referred to, attempts to nobble jurors—that is, to influence them in their verdicts by threats, or intimidation, or the offer of bribes. This has been amply illustrated by many of your Lordships, including the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, from whom I learned that St. Paul's is on the road to perversion rather than Damascus: whether the motive lies with the defence, following most of your Lordships, or with the prosecution, following, if I understood him correctly, the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington. According to the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, it seems that necessarily there is much prejudice in all juries. The noble Lord referred to many cases and my noble friend Lady Faithfull referred to others. It would almost seem, from them, that what one needs to find is a balance of prejudice, but I do not want to be drawn down that path at this stage.

It is the case that such attempts have come to light because the jurors concerned are in no doubt about their public duty and immediately report the matter to court staff or to the trial judge. But it must (must it not?) be open to question whether jurors who do not wholeheartedly support our framework of laws would be so quick to report such an approach or to refuse to take advantage of money, if it were offered, or to resist íntímídatíon directed against them. It is with these criteria and considerations in mind that we should look at the system that at present exists. Here we find that the existing categories for disqualification do not exclude all those whose history of offending clearly renders them unsuitable to sit as jurors. There is indeed provision in Part II of Schedule 1 to the Juries Act 1974 which excludes some of them and does so permanently. They, in effect, are those who have received either indeterminate sentences, or sentences of more than five years' imprisonment. There is also a provision which disqualifies anyone who, at any time within the last 10 years, has served any part of a sentence of three months' imprisonment or more.

These provisions were originally introduced in 1967. They followed the report of the Departmental Committee on Juries which has been referred to as the Morris Committee. They were intended to disqualify, and at the time when they were introduced I am sure that they did disqualify, those in the habit of committing other than the most minor offences. Since then, as noble Lords have already made very clear, there has been an important change in sentencing practice. I refer to the trend towards the use, wherever possible, of non-custodial disposals. The 1967 Act, which instituted these disqualifications, also provided, for the first time, for the suspended sentence. Since the suspended sentence was introduced, an average of slightly more than 10 per cent. of adult males convicted of other than purely summary offences have received this sentence. Many of them would previously have been sent straight to prison and might therefore have been disqualified from jury service. As it is, they are not. Then we had, in 1972, the introduction of community service orders. They do not disqualify but they, too, in many cases are imposed in place of immediate prison sentences, which do.

This is all part of a pattern. Successive Governments have encouraged the use of non-custodial disposals by the courts in cases they consider to be appropriate, and the present Government have been at pains to do so too—not least by means of the Criminal Justice Act which was so recently passed by your Lordships' House. The intention has been to prevent people being sent into custody when that is thought not to be necessary either as a deterrent or for their own treatment, or for the protection of society. However, an unintended effect has been that, overall, many people now escape disqualification from jury service who were never intended to be eligible for it.

I have a list of examples, but your Lordships have exceeded and excelled me, both in this House and in the press—and therefore I will not bring out my own catalogue. But these are, of course, individual cases; the sort of information that it is fashionable to dismiss as anecdotal if one happens to be on the other side of the argument from the person providing it. There is no doubt in the minds of those responsible for the criminal justice system that there are many similar cases. Surely, it cannot be right that people with the kind of histories described by your Lordships should be eligible to serve as jurors just because the courts have found it possible to avoid sending them to prison.

The noble Lord's Bill, therefore, is concerned with a major point of principle; the need to maintain the integrity of the jury system. The Government share this objective and agree that action is needed. Against that background we should applaud the intentions of the noble Lord's Bill. The fact that the Government have reservations about its detailed provisions should not obscure the common ground that we do share. There are, however, points of substance on which we differ.

The first and most fundamental of these is that we doubt whether the noble Lord's proposal goes far enough. I have noted the reservations about marginality expressed by the learned and noble Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and the "two milk bottle syndrome", quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington. I have also noted the remarks of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has already indicated in another place that our own preferred approach would, broadly, be to add to the present list of disqualifications another category. This would comprise those who, within the last 10 years, have been convicted of any offence punishable with a sentence of imprisonment, whether or not such a sentence of imprisonment was actually imposed.

Offences which would count towards disqualification under our proposals, but not under the proposals in the noble Lord's Bill, are only those triable summarily which are punishable with imprisonment. These include such offences as assault on a constable and aggravated assault, which carry a liability of up to six months' imprisonment and must in my view, and I believe in any view, be regarded as potentially serious offences. Another example is trespass with a firearm, for which the maximum penalty is three months' imprisonment. I suggest to your Lordships that it is very desirable that any disqualification provision should cover offences of this nature and that the distinction which the noble Lord seeks to draw between indictable and non-indictable offences is not perhaps sufficiently sensitive for this particular purpose.

Another respect in which this Bill may be too narrowly drawn is that it could not disqualify those who have been convicted of just one serious offence, but who have received, say, a suspended sentence. In 1981, for example, more than 1,800 people received a suspended sentence having been convicted in the Crown Court of wounding offences, as did nearly 200 people having been convicted of robbery. More than 6,000 people received suspended sentences that year in all courts for various burglary offences and, under the proposals in the noble Lord's Bill, such people would remain eligible to serve. They would not be disqualified unless they were caught and convicted of another indictable offence—the second milk bottle, my Lords. But offences such as these are hardly committed on impulse in a moment of indiscretion, and they are hardly liable to figure in an otherwise blameless life. They will not, to use a phrase I used earlier, be committed by people who support and observe the framework of laws by which the country is governed. We therefore think that such crimes should disqualify their perpetrators from jury service for a time, regardless of whether or not another conviction ensues. I recognise that this is harsher than what the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, proposes, but I think it is right. We do accept, nonetheless, that that disqualification could be allowed to lapse after a time, provided that the time was sufficient to allow for repentance or rehabilitation.

I think I have made it clear that we generally approve the noble Lord's Bill. I hope I have also shown how our preferred approach differs in certain aspects from that of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and his noble ally Lord Harris, if I may so term him. Those differences do not suffice to make us wish to stand in the way of this Bill tonight. The Bill draws timely attention to a problem which is a source of concern to all who are concerned to preserve the integrity of our judicial system, and I welcome this opportunity to take the views of the House as a whole on this subject. I have listened with very great interest to the wide range of views your Lordships have expressed, and I know that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will give careful consideration to them himself.

Before—if I may coin a phrase—I sit down, I would respond to a couple of points raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, as to what goes on at present. He was kind enough to give me an indication of his general interest shortly before this debate, and as a result I have in my hand a jury summons in the Crown Court. In it there is a note that, You —that is the person to whom the form is addressed— are ineligible if you are or have been employed in certain occupations —and I will not read them out— and you may be disqualified if you have served a sentence of imprisonment or detention. See list 2 on the back of this form". On the back of this form we have something remarkably like the questionnaire referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning: A person who has at any time been sentenced in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man (a) to imprisonment for life . . . and so on. I will not read it out. It is there for all these noble and learned Lords who frequent the courts to pick up at their leisure.

As to the jury vetting which the noble and learned Lord asked me about, I would refer him to the statement made in another place on 6th July 1981 by my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General in which he sets out at greater length than I will his general satisfaction with the way in which this is proceeding. I return now to the theme which I was bringing to a conclusion.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question. He has dealt very adequately with the various points raised in the debate. He may be about to come to this particular point, and if so I apologise. The noble Lord has indicated the Government's general approach to this issue. Is he going to indicate whether the Government propose to introduce legislation in this Session of Parliament to deal with this matter?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord's noted eloquence is never absolutely matched by his patience. I hope he will be able to get the knowledge he wants from what I am about to say. If the Bill were to proceed to its further stages we should, of course, wish to propose amendments to it. Whether it should proceed to those later stages is a matter for later judgment, as the noble Lord has himself suggested. There is, I think, general agreement that legislation broadly on these lines is needed. There is also general agreement that its best chance of success is if it is launched in another place by a Member successful in the ballot for Private Members' Bills. So far, although the ballot has taken place, it is not yet apparent what Bills the successful parents will adopt and table. In the happy event of the noble and learned Lord's progeny being picked by an adoptive parent in another place, placed with at least a reasonable chance of completing the course there, I hope that he will not pursue his own Bill beyond Second Reading in this House; and that is, I think, what he has indicated his intention would be. Our aims and those of the noble Lord are so nearly the same that I think under the circumstances he would agree to stay his hand. Having said that, I think the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will have gathered that it is our intention to proceed by a Private Member's Bill rather than a Government Bill.

In the meantime, I should like to thank him for his timely action. The weight of the authority that he has attracted to this debate cannot go unmarked by those considering private legislation. I thank him for this timely action and also thank your Lordships for the advice which you have been able to give the Government in this important matter, due note of which will be taken in due course by myself and by my right honourable friend.

9.35 p.m.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, I am most grateful to everyone in your Lordships' House who has contributed to this interesting and fascinating discussion. There appear to be three separate strands of opinion. There are those who believe that the proposal in the Bill is about right. There are those who believe that it goes somewhat too far, and there are those who, like the Government, apparently believe that it does not go far enough. I would only say on the very helpful observations of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that the proposals of the Government, as they stand, appear to involve disqualifying a very large number of people who on a single occasion have committed a motoring offence of no great gravity. I cannot believe that that would be a proper approach to this problem.

I said that there were three strands. There was nearly a fourth, because my noble friend Lord Hutchinson of Lullington with that persuasive ingenuity with which he has charmed so many jurors in the past, of both good and bad characters, appeared at one time to be suggesting that there was a formidable case against having any sort of disqualification whatever for any form of jury.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, not for the first time I seem to have misled the jury.

Lord Wigoder

I am happy to be able to report, I hope accurately, that the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, made it clear later that there was perhaps a case for strengthening the law to some extent, although perhaps not in quite the way that this Bill now proposes.

It is not unfair to say that there was a general consensus in the House that the law needs strengthening. I entirely accept the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, that there is the whole question of enforcement of such provisions to be borne carefully in mind. It may well be that the existing provisions of the present Act are not being adequately enforced. It is, of course, vital that any new proposals should be enforceable.

I had pondered in advance the difficulty which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, raised as to whether using the phrase "indictable offence" might cause practical problems. I can only make two comments about that. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, pointed out, there is a form sent out with the jury summons explaining the circumstances in which a juror may be disqualified. It seems to me that there would be no difficulty in saying on that form that a person is disqualified if he has had two indictable convictions recorded within the last 10 years. The meaning of "indictable offence" can be given, broadly, on the form and a statement to the effect that if the person is in any doubt he should telephone a given number or address for information. Nor do I see any problem in due course in the clerk to the court notifying a defendant after conviction that, as a result of that conviction, he has now committed two indictable offences within such-and-such a period and that he is not eligible for jury service until such-and-such a date. I believe the problems of enforcement can be surmounted, perhaps largely by administrative means, although they would perhaps require a separate discussion.

Having heard all that your Lordships have had to say and, in particular, the view that the Government have formed about this matter, I hope your Lordships will agree that it would be desirable that the pressure should be kept up by your Lordships' House and that public opinion should continue to be drawn to this matter until such time as action is taken, as I hope it will very speedily be taken, in another place. I accept that there are differences of opinion between us that might appropriately be resolved at a later stage in this Bill, but for the moment I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.