Jury service set to be made compulsory for all

Click to follow

A system of compulsory jury service is being drawn up by a senior judge advising the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, on radical changes to criminal justice in England and Wales.

A system of compulsory jury service is being drawn up by a senior judge advising the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, on radical changes to criminal justice in England and Wales.

Lord Justice Auld, in preliminary recommendations published at the weekend, proposed following the American model where no oneis allowed to be excused from jury service.

In this country there are many categories of ineligibility for jury service which meant juries were not "truly representative of the wide skills and experience of the community", said the High Court judge.

Recent research by the Home Office has found that even among those who are eligible for jury service two thirds used other excuses not to attend court. Lord Justice Auld, who presented his paper at the annual conference of the Bar, cited the case of a defendant who was pessimistic about his chances of a fair trial because he was to be tried by 12 men and women "too stupid to get out of jury service".

Under the proposals no profession would be exempt, and all those with a valid excuse would have to elect an alternative date for service.

Lord Justice Auld told the audience that he was also concerned that some ethnic minority defendants were being tried by all-white juries. He said he favoured moving trials to areas where the jury pool would be more representative of the defendant's ethnic minority background.

Last week a judge in Sheffield stopped a trial following fears that some members of the jury might be racist.

Lord Justice Auld said his proposals meant "we could trust our juries more than we do now to evaluate the weight of the evidence rather than keeping it from them by elaborate rules of inadmissibility".

To establish whether juries were the best forum for determining guilt he was considering recommending research into how juries reached their verdicts. But he acknowledged there was danger in such a proposal. "If the results of the research were bad it could result in the destruction of a long and trusted system for which we might not be able to substitute anything better," he said.

However, proposals for removing the right to trial by jury for a greater number of offences than that contained in the Government's controversial Mode of Trial Bill, drew criticism from senior lawyers.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, a Labour peer who has voted and spoken against theBill, urged the judge to think again. Professor Lee Bridges, director of the Legal Research Institute at the University of Warwick, told Lord Justice Auld that his proposal would result in more people being sent to prison, leading to overcrowding and deaths in custody. He said the idea of an "interim tribunal" where magistrates had the power to send people to prison for up to two years was the kind of court that was popular in communist Europe.

Lord Justice Auld will present his findings to Lord Irvine at the end of the year.

* A survey of solicitors undertaken by the Bar has found that half have made a complaint about a barrister. The survey also found that 43 per cent of the complainants were not satisfied with the way their complaint had been dealt with.