Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, has warned the Government that its new Criminal Justice Bill will fail to tackle crime and compromise legal freedoms. Speaking in a debate in Parliament last week, Mr. Lilley highlighted a number of measures that will weaken jury trial and undermine important safeguards in the criminal justice system.

    Peter Lilley said:

    “I fear that the Government?s proposals will undermine the protection of the innocent, which is fundamental in our system of justice. Over 4,000 convictions every year for the last ten years have been quashed ? which means 4,000 innocent people were wrongly convicted and the 4000 criminals who really committed those crimes were left at large. Far from seeking to remedy this appalling situation this Bill will make it even more likely that innocent people will be convicted.

    “Despite having failed twice to attempt to restrict jury trial, the Government continues to undermine the use of jury trial by stealth. By increasing the sentencing powers of magistrates courts from six months to 12 months it is anticipated that the number of jury trials will fall by 6,000 a year. The Government also intends to give prosecutors the option to ask for trial by judge alone, should they consider the case to be too complex a burden for a jury. This gives the prosecutor an incentive to make a case long and complex (with reams of documentation) in the hope that the judge is more likely to convict than a jury.

    “Earlier this year I argued in a pamphlet that we should be trying to speed up and simplify trials that are likely to be long and complex. By removing the Double Jeopardy rule ? which protects us from repeated prosecution for the same offence ? we also remove an incentive for the Crown Prosecution Service to make sure cases are watertight before bringing them to court.

    “The Government?s measures are all moving in the same direction ? to reduce the use of juries in the criminal justice system. I believe that we should be strengthening the use of juries through practical measures that enhance the trial process.

    “In the absence of a safeguard that entrenches jury trial in our Constitution, it is vital that the House of Commons acts as a break on any further attempts to remove the right to trial by jury. I shall continue to defend the jury system as the Bill passes through Parliament.?