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Volume 404: debated on Monday 28 April 2003

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What plans he has to increase the protection of jury members from intimidation and threats. [109757]

The Government are making provision in the Criminal Justice Bill for trial by judge alone in cases involving jury tampering and the risk of intimidation. A number of measures already exist to protect jurors and the proposals in the Bill seek to deal with the very small number of cases that those measures cannot address satisfactorily.

I thank my hon. Friend for his response. Does he accept that the protection of jurors and witnesses is vital to the criminal justice system? What discussion has he had with the Labour-led Scottish Executive on providing secure, safe, separate witness areas in courtrooms? Does he believe that such a proposal should be universally adopted?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of providing effective protection for both jurors and witnesses. I have not had any such discussions because those matters are, of course, entirely for the Scottish Parliament. As I am sure he will know, we have already taken a number of steps to tackle the problem, including separate waiting rooms, although that is not always possible in all courts, and enabling people to give evidence from behind a screen or by a television link. The importance of the measures contained in the Criminal Justice Bill is that they will send out a clear message to anyone who thinks that there is benefit to be gained by trying to suborn a jury that it will not succeed. If they seek to do so, the criminal justice system will have an effective response to make sure that justice can be served.

Is the Minister aware of the comments of his noble Friend Baroness Helena Kennedy, who described the proposals in the Bill as a

"wholesale assault on civil liberties"
and a "knee-jerk reaction"? If he does not agree with her, what guarantee exists that the proposals in the Bill will not fundamentally undermine the right to trial by jury?

I do not accept that the proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill to deal with the intimidation of jurors constitute an assault on civil liberties. On the contrary, those who seek to suborn jurors are trying to undermine the criminal justice system, and it is right that we should have effective measures to prevent that.

The second point is that a very strict test has to be passed before the new provisions come into play. In the first instance, there must be a real and present danger that jury tampering would take place, and it must be the case that either the level and duration of the trial would be such as to place an excessive burden on the juror or that any other measures that could be taken, including 24-hour police protection, would not be sufficient, so that, in the interests of justice, the trial should be conducted without a. jury. The House will recognise that that is a strict test to deal with a small number of serious situations in which attempts are made to subvert the course of justice.