Lords stymies govt plans to bin fraud juries

The House of Lords last night wrecked the Government’s third attempt to scrap juries in fraud trials.

The attorney general Lord Goldsmith had threatened to overrule the peers if they did not vote with the Government.

This warning did not curtail the Lords which voted by 216 to 143 – a majority of 73 – to delay the second reading of The Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill.

Goldsmith, however, said the Government would now use the Parliaments Act to get the Bill through in the next session. It would only be the fourth time that the Government has been forced to use the Act since coming into power in 1997.

The Bill’s defeat comes as welcome news to the Law Society which, as reported by www.thelawyer.com (19 March), has been campaigning for the Government “to be stopped”.

The Law Society believes that trial by jury is a fundamental right and an essential safeguard for the rule of law.

Law Society president Fiona Woolf insists the propsals to scrap juries in complex fraud cases is a misguided attack on the justice system.

“We’re pleased the House of Lords has upheld this fundamental principle,” said Woolf. “It would be quite wrong for the Government to force through such a significant change to our system of justice by using Parliament Act procedures. Particularly when there was no manifesto commitment to justify that approach.”

Initially the Government hoped the bill would take effect from 1 January 2006. However, opposition has been so fierce that this third defeat effectively kills off the legislation for the time being.