Patrick Ground – 1986 Speech on the Roskill Report

Below is the text of the speech made by Patrick Ground, the then Conservative MP for Feltham and Heston, in the House of Commons on 13 February 1986.

I agree with those hon. Members who have said that most of the Roskill recommendations in the first six chapters of the report should be implemented. I especially mention the proposal for a fraud commission, case controllers and the importance of legal advice at an early stage of the investigation.

There is much scope for sensible relaxations of the rules of evidence and for greater measures of disclosure. I agree with the comments on that matter of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. ​ Carlisle). The position mentioned by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), could be coped with within the proposals. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred to better facilities for judges. I remind my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of what was said by Lord Edmund-Davies in the debate in the other place about facilities for juries, which is especially important when considering jury trials.

Lord Devlin said that the right to trial by jury has come to be regarded as a constitutional right for trials on serious criminal charges. Recently, several leading judges have suggested that jury trials should be restricted in cases of less serious crime. Lord Roskill suggests a substantial restriction at the serious end of the criminal scale. I agree with the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) that the majority of people in Britain believe that juries bring a valuable element of good sense and human experience to the legal system. That is generally appreciated throughout the country.

If a major change is to be made to the jury system, such a change should not be made as a result of a side wind in this report, but as a result of a thorough investigation ranging across the board of jury trials. It would be wrong of the Government to seek to restrict jury -trials on the basis of a report on fraud.

There are more serious and detailed reasons in the report that should lead the Government not to accept the recommendations in relation to juries. The only research in the report is mentioned in paragraph 8.11, which shows that

“in almost six cases out of seven there was no serious complaint about the jury’s verdict from most of the participants contacted. None of the questionable acquittals in their sample of cases involved complex fraud and very few were the result of lengthy or involved trials.”

Regarding the operation of the jury system in fraud cases, paragraph 8.12 of the report states:

“We think that, in general, the public believes that juries provide a satisfactory method of trial and this view is held by many of our witnesses.”

Another factor to be considered is the number of trials that fall in the category defined in the Roskill report. It is clear from paragraph 8.3 that there are relatively few cases involved. It states:

“In the five years from 1979 to 1983 there was a yearly average of 26 fraud trials each lasting for longer than 20 working days … The longest single fraud trial lasted 137 working days.”

The number of trials and the length of cases are inadequate to justify a radical change in the jury system, especially when the perception of the performance of juries is that generally they work satisfactorily.

We have sometimes received complaints about judges and lawyers, but the number of complaints by members of the public, who have served on juries, about their experience of the length and hardship of trials is small in relation to other complaints about the Legal system. That demonstrates the fact that far from being overwhelmed by the so-called hardships mentioned in the report, most members of the public who are required on jury service, even on long trials, treat them as a duty of citizenship and a contribution that they are willing to make to the administration of justice.