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Jury Service

Volume 656: debated on Thursday 29 March 1962

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that eligibility for jury service varies, so far as it concerns the joint tenants of a house with a qualifying rateable value, in different cities and towns in the United Kingdom, and that in some places both such tenants may be eligible, in others neither, and in yet other places only the husband; and if he will give consideration to this matter with a view to introducing clarifying legislation.

I am aware that the present law relating to qualification for jury service is open to criticism, and that difficult questions of interpretation sometimes arise. As I have indicated in previous replies to the hon. Member, and to other hon. Members, any changes in the law would require very careful consideration, and I can hold out no prospect of early legislation. I have no evidence that there is any general difficulty in obtaining sufficient qualified and suitable persons to serve.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the ridiculous position that exists? Will not he give an opinion as to which of these systems is correct? Are joint tenants to be regarded as two people eligible, or as one person eligible, or as no person eligible? Is not he aware that in consequence of this kind of thing, in my constituency, with 50,000 voters, only 2,800 are eligible for service, including only 164 women? Is not this ridiculous? Does not he think that in view of these anomalies he should change his mind?

I said that there was no prospect of early legislation and that the present law was open to criticism. I am aware of these facts, and I am at present collecting voices on the subject.

Before my right hon. Friend considers any possible legislation, will he remember that the important factor is the administration of justice and not the question of whether more or less people should serve on juries?

My hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) was refused leave last week, by a very small majority, to bring in a Bill dealing with this matter. In view of that, will the right hon. Gentleman promise to look at this again and introduce legislation of his own?

We have the difficulties very much in mind and I have here the speech of the hon. Member for Lanark and the reply to it. I am fully aware of the difficulties but I cannot promise early legislation.