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Jack Straw, Home Secretary
"This is about modernising the criminal justice system"
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Prime Minister Tony Blair
"It is a vital measure of reform."
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Baroness Mallalieu QC
"People of this country like to retain trial by jury"
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Liberal Democrat, Simon Hughes
"The government are foolish."
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The BBC's Emma Udwin
Back to the Commons
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Friday, 21 January, 2000, 14:10 GMT
Straw presses on with jury plans

Jack Straw: Criticised for continuing with the defeated bill

Home Secretary Jack Straw has pledged to continue with his plans to restrict the right to trial by jury despite the original bill having been heavily defeated in the House of Lords.

An all-party alliance of peers joined forces on Thursday to vote against the proposal in the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill, defeating it by 222 votes to 126.

The bill proposed would allow magistrates in England and Wales to decide where certain cases, which can currently go either before a magistrate or a jury in a crown court, should be heard.

It included a right of appeal to the crown court against magistrates' decisions to try the case themselves.

'Wreck the bill'

Opponents of the proposals said they would restrict a fundamental right and undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system.

The Conservatives have now called on the government to drop the bill altogether.

Ann Widdecombe: "Drop the bill completely"
But Mr Straw dismissed the defeat as no more than a setback, describing it as "a bare-faced attempt by unelected peers to wreck the bill" rather than a proper debate.

The home secretary will now introduce a so-called "number two" bill which can be introduced into the House of Commons - unlike the original bill which had its first airing in the Lords.

Prime Minister Tony Blair added his support for the move during a speech at a London school on Friday, confirming: "We will now reintroduce the bill in House of Commons and get it through." He went on to say that "the bigger the reform, the greater the opposition".

Mr Straw has come in for heavy criticism from all sides for the U-turn the government made on the issue of restricting the right to elect jury trial.

It is not remotely about taking away the right of people to jury trial in appropriate circumstances.
Jack Straw
In 1997, as shadow home secretary he said "cutting down the right to jury trial, making the system less fair, is not only wrong but short-sighted and likely to prove ineffective".

Mr Straw acknowledged he taken a different view in opposition, but continued: "This is one of those issues where many people at first blush take the view I did.

"But the more you go into it, the more you can see overwhelmingly the case in its favour.

"This is about modernising the criminal justice system. It's about ensuring it is rebalanced in favour of victims and witnesses as well as defendants, whilst protecting the rights of defendants.

"It is not remotely about taking away the right of people to jury trial in appropriate circumstances."

'Massive blow'

But Conservative home affairs spokeswoman Ann Widdecombe urged the government to "drop the bill completely".

"After all, it is this government which has said that the current House of Lords has a greater democratic legitimacy than the previous House of Lords," she said.

Defendents would have a right to appeal
"This is their reformed House of Lords. It has delivered a massive blow to them.

"It wasn't by a few votes last night. It was by nearly 100. They should accept that verdict now and drop this idea."

Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes criticised the government for pursuing the bill: "The government are foolish, because they are already looking illiberal and intolerant and arrogant and this will make them look far worst if they persist with it."

Later, Home Office Minister Charles Clarke accused the Tories of mounting "opportunistic" opposition to the bill and risking diverting resources away from tackling crime.

The Conservatives "must now answer to the public and the police as to why they are prepared to play Parliamentary games in order to hinder the fight against crime.

"The Tories must also make clear whether they are committing themselves to reverse this change at the next election."

The home secretary has also been strongly criticised by civil rights organisations such as Liberty, and the Law Society.

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See also:
20 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Lords reforms 'not shelved'
20 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Peers 'kill' trial reform bill
19 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Straw's nightmare fortnight

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