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Juries Bill Hl

Volume 30: debated on Tuesday 28 May 1918

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Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—( The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 5 agreed to.

My Lords, I move the insertion of a new clause after Clause 5. The object of it is to effect economy in labour and in printing in connection with the yearly list of men qualified to serve as jurors. At present the law requires that the list shall be in alphabetical order, and this involves the preparation of new lists and a great deal of reprinting. The law further prescribes that the mode of publication shall be by fixing the list to the church door. Great economy might be effected if provision were made in present circumstances, during the war and for the duration of this Bill, that alterations might be made by way of supplement to the existing list where copies are available, instead of reprinting the whole list. It would also be a great convenience if the publication were not always by fixing it to the church door. In country places no doubt this is a very convenient way, and the best way, of giving publicity; but in towns it is not, as the list is very soon destroyed. A notice on the church door that the list can be seen at the town hall or in public libraries would do all that is wanted, and in the judgment of those experienced in these matters it would be more effective. In the Amendment as it stands on the Paper some words should be inserted. I will read the proposed new clause—

"His Majesty may by Order in Council modify in such manner as he thinks advisable for the purpose of avoiding unnecessary expense and labour any of the provisions of the Juries Act, 1825—"
To that I wish to add "or the Juries Act, 1862"—
"as to the preparation of the lists of men qualified and liable to serve on juries so as to provide that any such list may be prepared by altering or supplementing the last previous list and as to the place and manner of publication thereof.
"(2) Any Order in Council made under this section may be varied or revoked by any subsequent Order so made and shall cease to have effect on the expiration of this Act."
The Act is to expire at the termination of six months after the war ends.

Amendment moved—

After Clause 5 insert as a new clause:

"Power by Order in Council to modify statutory provisions relating to the preparation and publication of jury lists.
".—(1) His Majesty may by Order in Council modify in such manner as he thinks advisable for the purpose of avoiding unnecessary expense and labour any of the provisions of the juries Act, 1825, or the Juries Act, 1862, as to the preparation of the lists of men qualified and liable to serve on juries so as to provide that any such list may be prepared by altering or supplementing the last previous list and as to the place and manner of publication thereof.
"(2) Any Order in Council made under this section may be varied or revoked by any subsequent Order so made and shall cease to have effect on the expiration of this Act."—(The Lord Chancellor.)

I understand, from the explanation of the Lord Chancellor, that the power of the Order in Council is limited to the printing and publication of the jury list, and that it does not in any way affect the general right of trial by jury.

Certainly not. It is not intended to affect the qualification of jurymen or their rights in any way, but merely to effect economy in printing and improvement in the mode of publication of the list.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 6:

Power to hold coroner's inquest without jury.

6.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, a coroner within whose jurisdiction the dead body of a person is lying, if he is satisfied that having regard to all the circumstances of the case it is proper so to do, may, in lieu of summoning a jury in manner required by section three of the Coroners Act, 1887, for the purpose of inquiring

into the death of that person, hold an inquest on the body without a jury:

Provided that

  • (a) the foregoing provisions shall not apply in any case in which the death has occurred in prison or in such place or under such circumstances as to require an inquest under any Act other than the Coroners Act, 1887; and
  • (b) if before proceeding to hold an inquest or in the course of holding an inquest without a jury there appears to the coroner to be any reason to suspect that the deceased came by his death by murder or manslaughter, he shall proceed to summon a jury in the manner required by the Coroners Act, 1887.
  • (2) The proceedings and the procedure at an inquest or at any part of an inquest, which is held without a jury shall be, such as the coroner thinks fit, and the inquisition on an inquest which, or any part of which, is held without a jury shall be in such form as the Lord Chancellor may prescribe, and, where the whole inquest is held without a jury, shall be under the hand of the coroner alone.

    (3) Where an inquest or any part of an inquest is held without a jury anything done at the inquest or at that part of the inquest by or before the coroner alone shall be as validly done as if it had been done by or before the coroner and a jury.

    There is a small Amendment to this clause which I am sorry does not appear on the Paper. I think, however, your Lordships will see that it is not a serious matter although it may be useful in practice. Your Lordships are aware that this is a clause giving certain discretionary powers to the coroner as to not summoning a jury where one does not appear in the circumstances to be necessary. Then there is a proviso—proviso (b)—which I will read before stating the Amendment—

    "(b) if before proceeding to hold an inquest or in the course of holding an inquest without a jury there appears to the coroner to be any reason to suspect that the deceased came by his death by murder or manslaughter, he shall proceed to summon a jury in the manner required by the Coroners Act, 1887."
    That is a very proper proviso; but it has been pointed out to me by a coroner of, I believe, very great experience that it is not desirable to confine it in that way, for this reason. If in the course of holding an inquiry—the clause being limited as it stands at present—the coroner said, "I think there had better be a jury in this case," it would be obvious that he must have come to the conclusion that there had been murder or manslaughter. He might shrink from coming to that conclusion, and he might shrink still more from expressing it Yet it is extremely desirable that if other circumstances have transpired which, though not leading him to the suspicion stated in the clause, lead him to see pretty clearly that a jury should be summoned, he may take advantage of the permission which I propose to give him by the Amendment I am about to mention, whereby he can call a jury if he thinks it expedient to do so. What I propose is to make the proviso run thus—

    After the word "reason" in proviso (b). I will read the proviso again, as it will stand with the Amendment which I wish to move—

    "(b) if before proceeding to hold an inquest or in the course of holding an inquest without a jury there appears to the coroner to be any reason—"
    Then come in the new words—
    "for summoning a jury he may, and if there appears to him to be any reason to suspect that the deceased came by his death by murder or manslaughter, he shall proceed to summon a jury in the manner required by the Coroners Act, 1887."
    I think your Lordships will see that the provision in the Amendment is thoroughly innocuous, but it might be very useful, because a coroner might often shrink from intimating by his action that he was suspicious that there had actually been murder or manslaughter, although he might see that the circumstances were such as to make a jury very desirable.

    Amendment moved—

    Page 3, line 39, after ("reason") insert ("for summoning a jury he may, and if there appears to him to be any reason").—(The Lord Chancellor.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    On Question, That Clause 6, as amended, stand part of the Bill,

    I have put down an Amendment to omit Clause 6. I will explain quite shortly why I think it should be omitted. I do not desire to go into the general matter of the Bill, although in my opinion the jury system ought not to be interfered with except under conditions of necessity, either from its judicial value or its general value on constitutional lines. I am a great believer that the best of all trials is that of a jury directed by a competent Judge, and I also think that the general jury system has played a great part in building up our constitutional liberties.

    On the general ground I accept what was said by the Lord Chancellor on the Second Reading of the Bill—namely, that there was a difficulty in existing circumstances of providing jurymen, and therefore for the period of the war the new provision as regards trial without jury might be justified. I think that a difference arises with regard to Clause 6. In this clause we are dealing with coroners' juries. In the first place, a coroner has not the same qualifications as a Judge. I do not wish in any Way to depreciate what a coroner dries or his qualifications, but as far as I know he has no necessary qualifications to enable him to be appointed a coroner. In the first part of this clause it is said that in all cases—
    "if he is satisfied that having regard to all the circumstances of the case it is proper to do so, he may, in lieu of summoning a jury in manner a required by Section 3 of the Coroners Act, 1887, for the purpose of inquiring into the death of that person, hold an inquest on the body without a jury."
    The result is to give an absolute discretion to the coroner in all cases to dispense with a jury in holding inquests upon the body of a dead person. If the Lord Chancellor tells me that the jurymen who have to be summoned for coroners' inquests are of such a number that it is difficult to obtain them I would assent to the proposal in the clause, but I think nothing can be worse than this principle. It is a safeguard against improper deaths, murders, and homicides, that on every body found under suspicious circumstances an inquest should be held by a coroner and a jury. In this clause you substitute for that the discretion of the coroner alone, and I think that ought not to be allowed without some very strong reason for it. It is entirely different from the case where you have a Judge who is acquainted with judicial procedure and specially competent as regards judicial matters.

    In subsection (2) it is provided that the proceedings and procedure at an inquest which is held without a jury shall be such as the coroner thinks fit. You might have private inquests, or any form of inquiry which in a particular case the coroner thinks right. In other words, you have taken away the whole constitutional safeguard which demands an open inquiry by a coroner with a jury. To my mind a provision of that kind may be open to very serious abuse. Every one knows that at the present time there are cases where people interested seek to avoid an inquest by a coroner's jury. Here you permit the inquest to be closed at the coroner's own discretion, and you allow him to take any form of procedure he thinks right. I do not want to delay your Lordships upon this point, but I certainly hope that this clause will not be sanctioned unless the Lord Chancellor can say that the number of jurymen necessary for coroners' inquests is so large that it really is impossible to form the juries. I have no means of knowing what the statistics are. I should have thought that the number of jurymen required was infinitesimal as regards the man-power of the country, but that is a matter on which the Lord Chancellor should give your Lordships some information. This clause is a serious inroad on our constitutional practice, and to my mind is a matter of great importance.

    It will be recollected that a coroner's jury consists of not fewer than twelve and not more than twenty-three men, and the drain upon our man-power at present, and the difficulty that is found by business men in keeping pace with the necessary engagements owing to the absence of great numbers of their staffs on business connected with the war, is such as to make it important to save every jury which can be fairly considered as unnecessary.

    I am not able to give my noble and learned friend statistics on the subject. My attention was called to this matter by a letter from a coroner stating what he considered to be the great hardship, under existing circumstances, of holding inquests by a jury in many cases where it really was quite unnecessary to have a jury. I am informed that there is a considerable feeling on this point, and I dare say in some cases it may lead to the coroner taking the law into his own hands and saying that he really did not think a jury was the least necessary and that he was not going to put a number of gentlemen to the inconvenience at the present time of attending. A coroner wrote to me asking whether he could dispense with the provisions of the Act. I was obliged to have him directed that the provisions of the Statute are imperative; wherever a body is found within the district of the coroner, where there has been violence, or the death is not due to natural causes, or where the death was sudden and the cause unknown, there must be an inquest with a jury of the size I have mentioned.

    I venture to think that, guarded as the clause is, no mischief can result from it, and it is improbable, and I think impossible, that it will in any way countervail the great advantage of relieving those who have now to serve on these juries from attending cases where their services are not really required. It is in the highest degree desirable to make seine provision of this kind. Although coroners have sometimes been lightly spoken of in former days, from the time of Shakespeare downwards, I think we have now got a very effective provision in the way of coroners who are able to discharge most efficiently their duties, and who are thoroughly familiar with the practice. As a matter of fact, juries are a good deal guided by the coroner as regards their duties, and there is every reason to suppose that coroners, in the cases such as those to which the clause is directed, will be able to do the work with thorough efficiency.

    May I call your attention to the manner in which the provision is guarded. My noble and learned friend alluded to the provision which enables a coroner, if he is satisfied that having regard to all the circumstances of the case it is proper to do so, to hold an inquest on a body without a jury. Then the clause goes on to provide that—
    "(a) the foregoing provision shall not apply in any case in which the death has occurred in prison or in such place or under such circumstances as to require an inquest under any Act other than the Coroners Act, 1887."
    Then comes the provision to which I have called your Lordships' attention, that—
    "(b) if before proceeding to hold an inquest or in the course of holding an inquest without a jury there appears to the coroner to be any reason for summoning a jury he may, and if there appears to be any reason to suspect that the deceased came by his death by murder or manslaughter, he shall proceed to summon a jury in the manner required by the Coroners Act, 1887."
    My noble and learned friend referred to the second subsection which provides for proceedings and procedure. You must give a certain amount of elasticity in regard to procedure when you are turning what was an inquiry with a jury before a coroner into an inquiry by a coroner alone. But I call the attention of my noble friend to the manner in which the subsection is guarded, because it goes on to say—
    "And the inquisition on an inquest which, or any part of which, is held without a jury shall be in such form as the Lord Chancellor may prescribe, and, where the whole inquest is held with-out a jury, shall be under the hand of the coroner alone."
    I submit to your Lordships than there is no ground for thinking that there will be any abuse under the provision of that clause.

    The third subsection is this—
    "Where an inquest or any part of an inquest is held without a jury anything done at the inquest or at that part of the inquest by or before the coroner alone shall be as validly done as if it had been done by or before the coroner and the jury."
    That is to preserve the validity of what has been done, and to render it unnecessary, after the body had been viewed by the coroner without a jury, that the body should be again disinterred in order that the jury might begin de novo. I submit to your Lordships that, guarded as it is, this clause does not go too far, and that as it will afford some sensible relief upon the time of business men it should farm part of the Bill.

    My Lords, I assent to a great deal of what the Lord Chancellor has said. But may I call his attention to one point. Subsection (2), in which, as he pointed out, a certain provision is made in order that the procedure may come under the direction of the Lord Chancellor, ends in these words—

    "And, where the whole inquest is held without a jury, shall be under the hand of the coroner alone."
    I understand subsection (2) to mean that the coroner would have absolute discretion as to the form of the inquest if he first of all exercised his discretion that the whole inquest should be held without a jury. It certainly might modify my objections to a considerable extent if I thought that where an inquest was to be held on the discretion of the coroner without a jury the form was to be such as might be directed by the Lord Chancellor. That would give con- siderable security, but I do not myself think that that is the reading of subsection (2). I do not know whether the Lord Chancellor agrees with what I am saying or not, but if subsection (2) could be altered so that the proceedings, whether before a jury or not or where the coroner exercises his discretion not to have a jury, should be under the direction of the Lord Chancellor, I think that would give a substantial security which does not appear to me to be given now.

    I might again point out to my noble friend that in subsection (2) of this clause it is provided that "the inquisition on an inquest which, or any part of which, is held without a jury, shall be in such form as the Lord Chancellor may prescribe." But if my noble friend will send me any definite proposal that may occur to him, I will, of course, treat it with the respect that anything coming from him commands, and give it that consideration which it deserves, but at present I submit that the clause is in a safe form.

    On Question, Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

    Remaining clause agreed to.

    Title:

    An Act to limit the right to a jury in certain civil cases, to raise the age for jury service, and to enable coroners' inquests in certain cases to be held without a jury.

    An Amendment is wanted in the Title of the Bill in consequence of the clause which I moved and which your Lordships have inserted as to the manner of preparing and publishing the jury list. I propose that after "age for jury service" there should be inserted the words "to amend the law with respect to the preparation and publication of jury lists." The amendment is merely to bring into order the points to which your Lordships have already agreed.

    Amendment moved—

    Title, after ("service") insert ("to amend the law with respect to the preparation and publication of jury lists ").—(The Lord Chancellor.)

    On Question, Amendment agreed to.

    Title, as amended, agreed to.