Ministers will overrule Lords on right to jury trial

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The Independent Online

The government will defy widespread opposition to its plans to abolish the automatic right for trial by jury and force through the legislation if it wins the next general election.

The government will defy widespread opposition to its plans to abolish the automatic right for trial by jury and force through the legislation if it wins the next general election.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has told colleagues that he will use the Parliament Act to overrule the House of Lords to ensure that the Trial by Jury (Mode of Trial No. 2) Bill reaches the statute book. He has privately made clear, however, that the measure will be delayed until after the next general election because this year's Queen's Speech is likely to be shorter than usual.

The House of Lords, including Labour peers such as Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws QC and Lord Ackner, the former law lord, threw out the legislation at second reading on Thursday night for the second time in less than a year. Campaigners warned the Government yesterday to listen. Lady Kennedy said using the Parliament Act "would be seen as a terrible display of arrogance".

Deborah Clark, of the pressure group Liberty, said: "If they are truly a listening government as Blair said this week, they should take heed and not force through the Bill under the Parliament Act."

But Charles Clarke, the Home Office minister, defended the Bill. "We certainly will proceed with legislation," he told BBC radio.

"We are considering how best to do that in the light of the Parliamentary timetable, but we do believe that legislation in this area is extremely important, and will make the whole criminal justice system much more transparent in the way that it operates."

The Trial by Jury Bill is one of a series of potential clashes between the Government and the House of Lords. Ministers fear that they could lose the Countryside Bill, which would introduce a statutory right to roam and the controversial Freedom of Information Bill.

One Tory source said: "So far the Government has given no sign that they intend to drop any of their Bills. But they may be forced to change their minds if not enough legislative progress is made." Ministers have privately conceded that they may have to push the Queen's Speech back to at least late November and peers are already facing unpopular all-night sittings.

"Once there are a few all-night sittings and a threat to the Queen's Speech, Cabinet ministers may start feeling worried and demand that some of the more tricky Bills are dropped," the Tory source added.