Coalition of peers defeat Bill to cut defendants' right to trial by jury

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The House of Lords threw out Jack Straw's Bill to curb a defendant's right to trial by jury last night.

The House of Lords threw out Jack Straw's Bill to curb a defendant's right to trial by jury last night.

Rebel Labour peers and Liberal Democrats backed a Conservative move wrecking the Bill, defeating it by 184 votes to 88. The Home Office admitted after the vote that the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial No 2) Bill was now dead but said the Government would introduce new legislation.

Last night marked the second time the Lords had rejected the Bill, which is fiercely opposed by civil liberties campaigners because it would end the right of about 18,000 defendants a year in England and Wales to elect trial by jury. After the first defeat Mr Straw, the Home Secretary, introduced a new Bill, which went through the Commons in the summer and last night the Attorney General, Lord Williams of Mostyn, told peers it should be passed to cut delays and save money.

The Liberal Democrat Lord Thomas of Gresford, a Crown Court recorder and deputy High Court judge, told the Lords not one Labour backbencher had spoken in support of the Bill, which passed the Commons only when debate was cut short.

"When this House rejects the Bill again, Mr Straw will himself awake and realise the full implications on the ancient liberties and freedoms on the people of England and Wales that his measure represents," he said.

A Home Office spokeswoman said later that the Government remained committed to the reform. "The courts are best qualified to reach a view on what is the right venue for trial, not the defendant. We will not be deterred by the opposition of the House of Lords. We have already introduced this Bill twice this session and we will bring forward further legislation when parliamentary time allows. The Bill represents a modest but important modernisation of the criminal justice system."

The Leader of the Opposition peers, Lord Strathclyde, said: "This was an utterly decisive verdict. The House of Lords has again refused to accept the erosion of what is a fundamental English liberty. Jack Straw must make clear tomorrow that he will not proceed with this proposal."

The defeat was the first in a series of expected clashes between the Government and the Lords, which still has to pass controversial legislation introducing the right to roam, RUC reform and part-privatisation of National Air Traffic Services.