§ Lords Amendment: No. 5, in page 10, line 33, after "verdict" insert "of guilty".
§ Mr. Taverne
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.
This is an Amendment of some importance. The Government have reconsidered the question of revealing a majority verdict where there has been an acquittal. Accordingly, they accept the Amendment which was moved by Lord Brooke in Committee in the House of Lords. In the past, the main reason for including subsection (2) in the Clause was twofold. It was felt that the announcement of the voting figures would be a check to ensure that the right proportions of majority were obtained and that, secondly, it would provide desirable data on the use which is generally being made of majority verdicts. As against this, it was recognised that there was always the disadvantage of some people who were acquitted being given, as it were, a second-class acquittal.
The Government accept the Amendment. They believe that it is less important where there is a majority acquittal than where there is a majority conviction to make sure that the voting figures are correct. Although in accepting the Amendment there will be the disadvantage of the loss of certain information and statistics, nevertheless this seems a reasonable price to pay to allay the fears which some have felt, obviously with justification, that the Clause as it stood would prejudice the work of innocent people.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
I would like to ask my hon. and learned Friend a question arising from his opening remarks in explanation of the Amendment. His opening remarks appeared to suggest that it would be only in the case of a majority verdict of guilty that the fact of a majority verdict would be announced. I do not follow how that would operate in the 763 light of the provisions of subsection (1,b). Can my hon. and learned Friend explain the procedure which will enable paragaph (b) to operate without its being generally announced that the verdict is a majority verdict?
§ Mr. Carlisle
I welcome the Government's change of heart in this matter, although I do not believe that it goes the whole way. I still think that it would have been better if the subsection came out entirely, as several of us argued in Committee, when we were strongly opposed by the Government. At least, the Amendment will get rid of the feeling, which a majority acquittal would cause, that there has been a second-class acquittal.
I should like the Under-Secretary to explain how, in practice, he envisages that this will work. Whilst the Lords Amendment represents an improvement to the Clause, although it will not be as good as it would be without subsection (2), undoubtedly it will lead to difficulty in the matter of interpretation of the Clause about what advice will be given to the jury when they make their verdict.
One is now in the position of having three or four separate stages. Am I right in assuming that, first, the jury will be sent out and told that they must be unanimous, but that after two hours they will be sent for and then told that they can agree by a majority? What happens when the jury comes back? If they agreed either unanimously or by a majority, the whole purpose of the Amendment would be defeated.
What are the terms of words which judges are to use? Will they use those to which the Lord Chief Justice referred in the House of Lords, or what? If, by misfortune, on a number of occasions due to a misunderstanding the foreman says that the jury have agreed by a majority and then announces a verdict of not guilty, the whole purpose of the Amendment will be defeated.
hope that the Home Secretary has considered the form of words to be used when putting the charge to a jury to ask them for their decision. I would be grateful to know what those words are.
§ Mr. John Lee
This is, I suppose, just one more anomaly arising from the most unsatisfactory situation as a result of the decision to introduce majority verdicts 764 for the first time. I, too, wish to know from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary what procedure is to be followed and how there is to be any concealment of the fact of majority verdicts. Has any suggestion been made that any of this information would be passed up to the judge in written form? If so, how does he propose that this should be authorised? I cannot see that the Bill provides for anything of that kind.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Taverne
With the leave of the House, I will reply to some of the points. All of them relate to the complicated procedure which in some cases may have to be evolved, because it may be that the court will have to follow a different procedure if a jury returns with a verdict before two hours have elapsed from the one which would be followed in a case where it returned with a verdict after two hours. The same would apply depending whether the verdict was one of guilty or one of not guilty.
The Lord Chief Justice was consulted about the way in which the new Clause with the Lords Amendment inserted would be operated. He was satisfied that, although it would not be easy in particular cases, the courts could operate the Clause as amended in a satisfactory manner. The procedure for obtaining a verdict when there are a number of counts in the indictment may be more complicated than at present, but he does not consider that any real difficulty should arise.
The point raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) is another which was put to the Lord Chief Justice. He was asked whether he considered that a practice could be agreed which satisfied Clause 11 (3), which is the one to which my hon. and learned Friend referred, and yet which concealed a majority acquittal. He is satisfied that it can be done and that an appropriate practice direction can be given to the judges. I do not think that I should go further and say exactly what procedure should be followed by the judges. When the Lord Chief Justice says that it can be done satisfactorily, that is good enough for me.
§ Mr. Weitzman
But how will it be done? If it is a majority verdict of not guilty, what is the court to do? Is it to 765 inquire what is the majority, order a new trial, or what? Surely it cannot be sufficient to say that the Lord Chief Justice is satisfied. We ought to have some information about this.
§ Mr. Taverne
Obviously the court will not inquire what the majority is or whether, in the case of acquittal, there is a majority. That would reveal that there had been a majority acquittal. I can assure my hon. and learned Friend that that will not happen. However, what form the practice direction will take, I cannot say.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
On that point, I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend will have very much in mind that in an indictment containing a number of counts there might be unanimity on some but not on others, and that that in itself will increase the practical difficulties.
§ Mr. Taverne
I have already mentioned that. I have said that the greatest complications will arise where there are a number of counts. As I say, the Lord Chief Justice says that it is workable, and that is sufficient for me.
§ Question put and agreed to.