22 October 2001
29 April 2013
17 June 2013
25 June 2013
12 February 2014
21 October 2013
It is vital that the bar should respond to the challenges set down in the report in a spirit of positive and constructive engagement. All barristers should see it as their duty to make a reasoned contribution to the debate on how we can make the courts work better for our country.
However, it was clear at the recent Bar Conference that judges, non-lawyers and the bar had the most serious reservations about the report's attack on jury trials. Senior Appeal Court judge Lord Justice Kay was notably unequivocal in his condemnation. Lord Auld's terms of reference were laced with fairness, streamlining, efficiency, effectiveness and the interests of victims and witnesses. But crucially, they culminated in the goal of promoting public confidence in the law. The given aim is to put the courts in touch with the communities they serve, and to make them cooperative in their relations with other criminal justice agencies.
Lord Auld's calls for greater public participation in juries are welcome. They reflect the fundamental point that lay participation in the justice system will naturally tend to increase public confidence in it.
For too long, the system has been dogged by the judicial equivalent of draft-dodging by a largely middle-class and professional elite, which has not considered jury participation as 'something for them'. For juries to work, their composition must, in the long run, reflect the class, gender, race and broader social mix of our country.
Juries should have more help in the execution of their responsibilities: less trying, so-called 'Maxwell hours' for hearings, the use of pagers, and more notice in jury selection for long trials would all serve to ease the burden jurors bear.
Any ultimate moves by the Government to remove the right to trial by jury would meet strong public opposition. In dangerous times, our basic freedoms need protection more than ever before.
The proposal for changes in the role of juries would be the result of moves to create a unified court structure. Lay magistrates may find themselves having to sit with professional stipendiary justices presiding over an increased number of trials.
Whatever the outcome, more should be done to support judges' training and development. Magistrates carry a huge burden in our system already, and they should be entitled to expect real support in the valuable work they do. But I am also hopeful that Lord Justice Auld's concern over the future of juries should not affect the issue of investment in our court service infrastructure. Much more could be made of technology across the board to strengthen both the management of cases and the conduct of trials themselves.
There is equally wide concern, highlighted by my predecessor Mrs Justice Hallett some three years ago, at the failings of the present system of disclosure established under the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996. It cannot be right that there is so much room for the prosecution to avoid disclosure of material that has a real bearing on the case.
No one is calling for costly and damaging 'fishing trips', which see the defence tie up a trial with speculative attempts to find new evidence. But the fundamental requirement to ensure that material that could weaken a prosecution should be disclosed is something which we should be eager to reaffirm.
The Government has committed itself to a major reinvestment in the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). These measures deserve strong support. A properly funded CPS, supported by an effective investigative approach by the police service, will aid substantially the workings of the criminal courts.