Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation


Wednesday 28 February 1996



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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Arnold, Mr. Jacques (Gravesham)

Barnes, Mr. Harry (North-East Derbyshire)

Evans, Mr. Jonathan (Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department)

Faber, Mr. David (Westbury)

Gapes, Mr. Mike (Ilford, South)

Hawksley, Mr. Warren (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Hodge, Ms Margaret (Barking)

Hood, Mr. Jimmy (Clydesdale)

Howell, Sir Ralph (North Norfolk)

Key, Mr. Robert (Salisbury)

Livingstone, Mr. Ken (Brent, East)

Maginnis, Mr. Ken (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

Mellor, Mr. David (Putney)

Prentice, Mr. Gordon (Pendle)

Rumbold, Dame Angela (Mitcham and Morden)

Streeter, Mr. Gary (Plymouth, Sutton)

Viggers, Mr. Peter (Gosport)

Winnick, Mr. David (Walsall, North)

Worthington, Mr. Tony (Clydebank and Milngavie)

Mr. D. W. N. Doig, Committee Clerk

3 Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation Wednesday 28 February 1996


Draft Juries (Northern Ireland) Order 1996

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Jonathan Evans): I beg to move That the Committee has considered the draft Juries (Northern Ireland) Order 1996. May I say what a great pleasure it is to be under your assiduous chairmanship, Mr. Winterton? It is my first time in Committee under your chairmanship in my ministerial capacity, although I have on many occasions had the benefit of hearing your erudite wisdom on so many issues.

The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman has started well.

Mr. Evans: In accordance with the normal procedure applied to affirmative resolution Orders in Council under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974, the order was the subject of a useful consultation process before being laid before the House for approval. The order is designed primarily to consolidate the current statutory provisions that regulate service on a jury in Northern Ireland. Currently, the law is distributed through a number of legislative instruments dating back as far as 1828 and the order represents a valuable opportunity to rationalise and bring together the various statutory provisions into a more comprehensive and accessible code. The order affords also a useful opportunity to modernise and make adjustments to the current arrangements where experience has suggested that some alterations might sensibly be made. I shall explain in more detail in due course, but do not intend to delay members of the Committee for too long. It will be helpful if I broadly outline where the changes are to be made. The amendments have been included to ensure that Northern Ireland is brought more closely into line with the equivalent arrangements in England and Wales, while in other cases the order addresses certain distinctive considerations relevant to jury practice in Northern Ireland. Given the fact that the order is largely a consolidation of established and well-understood practice and the degree of prior consultation to which I have referred, I hope that it will not be necessary for me to proceed in detail through each provision. I shall, however, explain the main provisions which will effect a change to the existing practice. There are also several respects in which the contents of the order have been adjusted in light of helpful comments made in the course of consultation. 4 I turn to the order's provisions. Article 3 sets out the conditions for service on a jury. The details of those who may not serve, whether because of a compulsory disqualification or because it is considered right that they should not be eligible to serve, are set out in the associated schedules 1 and 2. Article 10(2), together with schedule 3, specifies a third category—it is new to Northern Ireland—of persons who, although not absolutely prohibited from service, may nevertheless choose as of right not to do so. The Committee may recognise that that revision and re-categorisation will bring the essential structure of jury qualification in Northern Ireland more closely into line with that which obtains in England and Wales. The purpose is to draw a clear distinction between those who should not serve on a jury under any circumstances, for example, because of the nature of their criminal record; those who should not serve because of a particular reason, such as a connection with the administration of justice or even mental incapacity; and those who should not serve because of vocation, profession or age, which permits them to claim excusal from jury service. Currently in Northern Ireland, there are two categories, described as disqualified and exempt. The nature of the latter category, which effectively prevents a range of persons, such as senior public office-holders and members of the caring and education professions, from serving on a jury is unnecessarily restrictive. Accordingly, the creation of that third category will maintain the identification of certain offices, occupations and professions which have been established in Northern Ireland as non-compellable potential jurors, while removing the absolute bar on jury service as regards those persons. The lists of those who fall into the three revised categories have also been subject to some modest adjustment and rationalisation. In the course of public consultation a number of issues were raised, which are now addressed in the articles and schedules before the Committee. Several consultees drew attention to the recent changes to the law on juries in England and Wales effected in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, and suggested that equivalent changes might be considered for inclusion in the order. The Government consider that those suggestions have merit, and so the draft of the order laid before the House incorporates two further adjustments to the arrangements for jury qualification and service. First, in future in Northern Ireland—as in England and Wales—members of religious societies or orders the tenets or beliefs of which are incompatible with jury service will be entitled to be excused from jury service as of right. This specific recognition of the right to be 5 excused on grounds of religious conscience was recommended by the royal commission on criminal justice and subsequently approved by Parliament. The Government consider it right that if members of such groups can be excused jury service in England and Wales, those in Northern Ireland with similar beliefs should have the same entitlement, and I hope that the Committee will agree. Secondly, the 1994 Act amended the arrangements in England and Wales under the Juries Act 1974 to place a positive obligation on the judge to affirm a jury summons in circumstances where a potential juror, although physically disabled, may none the less be capable of acting effectively as a juror. Where the judge forms the opinion that the person cannot act effectively as a juror, the judge retains—and, of course, must in the interests of justice retain—a discretion to discharge the jury summons. In order to reflect the same policy in Northern Ireland, article 11 of the order has been adjusted by emphasising the responsibility of the judge to affirm the jury summons unless he forms the opinion that the person in question is incapable of acting effectively as a juror. That provision was widely welcomed on both sides of the House in debates on the 1994 Act, and I hope that hon. Members will welcome this parallel amendment for jurors in Northern Ireland. The provisions set out at articles 13 to 17 will consolidate the present arrangements for the various types of challenge to service on a jury that may arise in civil and criminal trials. In doing so, they leave unaffected the present arrangements for challenge without cause—commonly known as peremptory challenge—in both civil and criminal cases. The Lord Chancellor and I recognise that there are arguments for and against the present arrangements. We have concluded that, in the absence of a conclusive argument for change and given the well-documented support for retention of the present arrangements for both peremptory challenge and Crown stand-by, there is no compelling reason to interfere with the long-established practice at this time. Article 27 of the order will empower the Lord Chancellor by secondary instrument made subject to the negative resolution procedure to prescribe the oath to be taken by jurors. I mention that matter because I know that it has been of concern to at least one hon. Member from Northern Ireland. In recent years, the oath taken by jurors in England and Wales and in Scotland has been modified considerably, and the more modern form of oath now in use would, I think, be generally recognised as more concise, appropriate and intelligible than the previous oath. In Northern Ireland, by comparison, the form of oath remains in its older and arguably more archaic form, and the enabling power contained in the order is designed to allow a new oath to be prescribed by the Lord Chancellor in due course. I think it is fair to say 6 that the need for change to the oath has been widely acknowledged but, given that the modernisation is likely to involve the removal of a specific reference to the sovereign, it would be wrong of me not to recognise that there may be some who attach what I believe to be an unwarranted significance to this aspect of the proposal but none the less strongly hold that view. As I have explained, the retention of a reference to the sovereign is not thought to be an essential part of the jury process elsewhere in the country. In fact, it does not obtain in England and Wales. The Government do not see that there can be any reasonable objection to aligning Northern Ireland with the rest of the United Kingdom in this respect in the context of the primary objective of effecting a due and sensible reform of the juror's oath. The final provision in the order to which I should draw specific attention is article 31, which makes certain adjustments to bring juries in coroners inquests within the overall statutory framework. At present, the statutory provisions on juries do not apply to coroners juries, although the procedures for selection and summoning of juries from the relevant divisional jurors list has, in practice, been employed by the coroners in making arrangements for inquests. The underpinning purpose of article 30—and the associated modifications set out in schedule 4 to the order—is to formalise the extra-statutory arrangements and to recognise the position of the juries officer as the official responsible for the maintenance of the appropriate panels and the selection and summoning of jurors for coroners' purposes. Although I have detained the Committee, I hope that I have given an explanation of the purpose and the principal provisions of the order. By identifying any substantive issues that may arise, I hope that I have assisted the Committee in its consideration of the order. As I said in my opening remarks, the order provides a valuable opportunity to put in order the current statutory arrangements for jurors in Northern Ireland, to review some of the present arrangements for jurors in Northern Ireland, to review some of the present arrangements and to make some modest but beneficial adjustments in other respects. I believe that this is a useful consolidation. It is a measured and appropriate improvement of the law in this area. I commend the order to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Juries (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.

Committee rose at twenty minutes to Five o'clock.



Winterton, Mr. Nicholas (Chairman)

Arnold, Mr. Jacques

Evans, Mr. Jonathan

Faber, Mr.

Hawksley, Mr.

Howell, Sir Ralph

Key, Mr.

Rumbold, Dame A.

Streeter, Mr.

Viggers, Mr.