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Jury Checks and Crown's Right of Stand By

Volume 554: debated on Tuesday 27 November 2012

I have today published revised guidelines on jury checks and the exercise by the Crown of its right of stand by. In 1988 the defence right to challenge jurors without cause was abolished; the prosecution right to do so was, however, retained. In effect, this means that the prosecution can object to a potential juror without giving any reason. It is, however, a right which should be used only sparingly and in exceptional circumstances. It is because of the exceptional nature of this right that my predecessors have previously issued guidelines to prosecutors on its exercise and that I do so today.

The guidelines identify those classes of case in which it may be necessary to conduct checks of a juror which go beyond the investigation of criminal records. Broadly speaking the cases in which this would be appropriate are those in which national security is involved, and part of the evidence is likely to be heard in camera; and security and terrorist cases in which a juror’s extreme beliefs could prevent a fair trial.

The checks, which are termed “authorised checks”, are checks which go beyond criminal records and for purposes wider than the mere discovery of previous convictions. I consider that it is in the public interest that the prosecution should continue to make use of its right to make inquiries about a jury panel with a view to exercising its right to stand by a potential juror.

The guidelines were last revised in 1989, shortly after the implementation of section 118 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which abolished the right of peremptory challenge. Since 1989 there have seen significant developments in the law relating to disclosure; and also changes to the structure and organisation of the police and Security Services. Over recent months consultations on the content of the guidelines have taken place with interested parties, these have included the Court Service, the senior judiciary, the Ministry of Justice, the police and Crown Prosecution Service. The new guidelines are intended to reflect the changes to the law since 1989 and the observations of the various organisations consulted.

The previous guidelines also included an annex, completed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which provided guidance to police officers on the conduct of antecedent checks on potential jurors. The modern-day practice of Her Majesty’s Court Service when selecting jurors has now rendered the ACPO guidance otiose. Having consulted with ACPO it has been agreed that their guidance is no longer required and, accordingly, it is not included in the revised guidelines.

A copy of the revised guidelines has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.