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Jury Vetting

Volume 975: debated on Monday 10 December 1979

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asked the Attorney-General if he has concluded his consideration of the guidelines on jury vetting.

No, Sir. One aspect of the practice has been dealt with in the Divisional Court today. I shall consider the implications of this and then consult further with my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary before reaching my own conclusions.

Does not the Attorney-General consider that the best course might be to abolish this dubious practice, rather than spend a lot of time considering how it might be perpetuated?

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind approaches other than those that have been made from Left-wing organisations? Is he aware that there are many who believe that it is important that we should have a balanced and proper jury to consider trials, particularly political trials? Does he agree that there has certainly been a degree of success with jury vetting in the past? My right hon. and learned Friend should consider that as well as the opposition to it.

All these matters will be considered when I have discussions with my right hon. Friend.

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that this would have been a good subject for discussion by a Select Committee, had it not been that the Lord Chancellor was frightened of appearing before Select Committees and persuaded the Cabinet that he and the right hon. and learned Gentleman should not do so? Is it not true that the Lord Chancellor, in spite of the fact that it is the Home Secretary's responsibility to deal with the criminal law, has been talking all over the country about matters which he is afraid to deal with before Select Committees of the House?

I know that this subject is the hon. Gentleman's pet hobby horse and that he never misses the chance to make the point. I reject utterly the assertion that my right hon. and noble Friend is in any way frightened of anything or anybody.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind, on the whole of this question, that quite apart from what may be proper in the case of ordinary criminal trials, it is inevitable that there will be trials from time to time involving the safety of the State in which some form of jury vetting is absolutely essential for the protection of society?

Yes. This is one of the matters that will have to be considered.

Will the Attorney-General give an assurance to the House that, pending his further consideration of this important matter, there will be no further authorisation of jury vetting without the right hon. and learned Gentleman informing the House and placing a report on it in the Library?

No, Sir. What I can say is that there will be no further jury vetting, if it should prove necessary, except under my direct approval.