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The BBC's Norman Smith
"The bill is an attack on civil liberties say Labour MPs"
 real 28k

The BBC's Norman Smith
"The home secretary had an uphill struggle"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 8 March, 2000, 12:26 GMT
Straw unmoved by Commons rebellion

Labour wants to restrict the right to a jury trial
The Government will press ahead with legislation to cut the right to trial by jury in England and Wales - despite a backbench rebellion in the House of Commons.

Mode of Trial Bill
For: 314
Against: 214
Government majority: 101
Twenty-nine Labour MPs voted with Liberal Democrats and Conservatives against the proposals to allow magistrates to decide whether defendants accused of lesser offences should be entitled to jury trial, cutting the government's majority to 101.

But critics of the legislation predict that it will face a second defeat in the Lords unless Home Secretary Jack Straw drops the controversial changes - meaning that the entire Bill may run out of parliamentary time.

Downing Street has declined to comment on whether the government will invoke the Parliament Act to force the legislation through the Lords.

Bob Marshall-Andrews, the Labour MP leading the rebellion, condemned the legislation as unjust, describing the Bill as "one of the worst pieces of legislation to come before this House for many years".

Defending the legislation, Mr Straw said that it would streamline the criminal justice system save 128m-a-year and prevent some defendants from "working the system".

It will cause real and perceived injustice

Robert Marshall-Andrews
Labour MP
But Mr Marshall-Andrews said: "This Bill will cause real and perceived injustice. It will cause immense delay and anxiety to victims, defendants, witnesses and their families.

"It will create vast expense and that view I hold in common with every single institution and organisation which is concerned with civil liberties."

For the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes said accused the Home Secretary of trying to score populist election-winning points.

"You underestimate the criminal justice affinity and the liberal instincts of the British people," he warned.

"And I have to say that I hope you learn your lesson soon."

'Modest' change

Mr Straw said that while he had once shared the views as many of his opponents, he recognised that change had to change to prevent too many defendants from choosing trial by jury for "trivial" offences.

I've never brought a bill before this House that has not been improved as a result of debate

Jack Straw
But Mr Straw said altering rights of defendants in middle-ranking cases was a "modest" change.

The bill, revised since its defeat in the Lords, had "strengthened safeguards" including the removal of a clause that would have forced magistrates to consider sending a person for trial by jury if a conviction would damage their reputation or livelihood.

Peers had condemned that clause as bringing in a two-tier system in which the rich would be able to defend their reputation but the poor would not.

Mr Straw told MPs that their concerns were being taken into account.

"I am very happy that I've never brought a bill before this House that has not been improved as a result of debate and that may well be the case with this bill.

"The measure threatens no hallowed rights - it is just, fair and proportionate."

He said the bill gave defendants the right to appeal against a magistrate's decision not to send on a case for jury trial - and he expected most decisions to be made within 48 hours.

In a further concession made in response to the Lords defeat, magistrates will now be required to state the reasons for their decisions.

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See also:

20 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Peers 'kill' trial reform bill
21 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Straw presses on with jury plans
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