HL Deb 04 December 2002 vol 641 cc108-10WA
Lord Campbell-Savours

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to publish the responses to the consultation exercise in the Criminal Justice White Paper. [HL426]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The Criminal Justice Bill was published on 21 November setting out radical legislation to re-balance the Criminal Justice System in favour of victims, witnesses and communities. The Bill was preceded by the White PaperJustice for All, and we are today publishing the responses received in relation to the consultation exercise. Justice for All invited comments on three specific issues: a trial by judge alone, trial of 16 and 17 year-olds in Crown Courts and new measures to tackle domestic violence.

Two hundred and forty-two responses have been received by the Home Office, Lord Chancellor's Department and Crown Prosecution Service. The majority of these responses went wider than the three consultation issues and commented generally on the proposals contained in the White Paper. Copies will be placed in the Library.

Of the 242 responses, 53 commented on the issue of trial by judge alone in long and complex cases other than serious fraud and in cases where there is a risk of jury interference.

As previously stated, jury trial will continue to be the norm for the vast majority of serious cases. The Criminal Justice Bill safeguards this central principle of our justice system. What we are doing is recognising and seeking to deal with a small number of cases where there are clear difficulties in conducting a trial by jury. Our proposals deal with the very real problems of managing trials in certain fraud and other complex financial cases and in cases involving jury tampering and the risk of intimidation. Some fraud trials can last for months; police protection, which the court orders in cases where there is a serious risk of jury intimidation, can be extremely intrusive. Such trials can and do place an excessive and unreasonable burden on the members of the jury. Our proposals, which are based on the recommendations of Sir Robin Auld, address these problems by giving the judge the discretion to order a trial to take place without a jury. After careful consideration we have decided to legislate to give them effect in the Criminal Justice Bill.

Seventy-nine of the respondents commented on the strengthened youth courts proposals. The majority of these favoured the government option to allow the Crown Court the discretion to try 16 to 17 year-olds in the Crown Court. There was a strong opposition in principle to the removal of trial by jury for juveniles and strong support for the creation of a specialised youth court and for the training of magistrates, judges, defence lawyers, prosecutors and other staff. The Government are now considering how best to take this forward.

Ninety-one of the responses commented on the domestic violence proposals but not all of the 91 commented on all of the proposals. For each proposal the majority who gave a view were in favour. The proposals were: reviews following domestic violence murders, extending the use of restraining order, making breach of non-molestation order a criminal offence, anonymity for victims of domestic violence and improved liaison between the civil and criminal courts.

The Government intend to publish a consultation paper on domestic violence by spring 2003 which will build on the initial consultation in the Criminal Justice White Paper.

Alongside the main consultation exercise outlined in the White Paper, we consulted with the legal profession on possible legislation to require the defence to disclose, in advance of trial, unused expert witness reports and lists of witnesses that they propose to call to give evidence. The consultation ran from 15 August until 16 September.

Twenty-five responses were received. Of these, five favoured the Government's proposal on the disclosure of unused expert reports, 15 were against and the others made no comment or were undecided. On disclosure of defence witness lists, nine were in favour, 10 were against and the others made no comment or were undecided.

As a result, the Government have modified our proposals. We now plan to require the defence to disclose only the names of experts who have been consulted and not the content of their report. The defence will also be required to disclose witness lists as proposed.