Bilingual juries put off again ... and again ... and again ...

Alan Trench has posted here about Jack Straw's speech to the Law Society in Cardiff last night.

The full speech is here, but I'd like to highlight just one part of it, since I've raised the subject before on this blog.

I could not discuss bilingualism in the context of justice without mentioning the longstanding issue of bilingual juries. I am conscious that we consulted on this some considerable time ago, and it would have been reasonable to expect a response by now. But the issue has not been easy to resolve.

The main difficulty is that this would involve interfering with the fundamental principle of random selection of juries from the population at large. Random selection guarantees the diversity and representative nature of juries on which so much of the authority of the jury system is based. Of course, in strong Welsh speaking areas random selection will already tend to produce Welsh-speaking juries, but I acknowledge the strength of feeling among some in Wales who would like to see bilingual juries everywhere. I hope I will be in a position to make an announcement on this shortly.

Jack Straw has been repeating this line for quite some time. This was his position back in April this year:

29 April 2009

Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the use of bilingual juries in courts in Wales. [270729]

Mr. Paul Murphy: I have discussed this issue with the Secretary of State for Justice and with the First Minister and an announcement will be made shortly.

Hansard

And this is what he said way back in July 2008:

22 July 2008

Hywel Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice when he plans to publish his response to the consultation on bilingual juries in Wales. [211285]

Mr. Straw: The Ministry of Justice will make a statement on bilingual juries shortly.

Hansard

Jack Straw now says he "hopes to be in a position" to make an announcement on this shortly. He is Secretary of State for Justice, therefore he is already in a position to do so ... the only real problem is that he's too weak and indecisive to do it.

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As for the so called "problem" of being able to choose random juries, the straightforward answer is to put a question on the annual electoral registration form about ability to speak Welsh, in the same way as we already ask a question about age on the very same form for jury selection purposes.

From then on, it's just a simple administrative matter to arrange for a pool of bilingual jurors to be called when trials that need a bilingual jury are required. In areas with higher percentages of Welsh speakers, trials that involve critical evidence in Welsh can probably be heard at any time. In areas with lower percentages of Welsh speakers, the number of such trials will of course be very much lower anyway, but trials that involve critical evidence in Welsh would simply need to be grouped together every month or couple of months. For more, see here.

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