Trials Could Be Heard by Welsh-Speaking Juries; Justice Secretary Straw Has 'An Open Mind'

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Byline: Tomos Livingstone Political Editor

CRIMINAL trials could be heard in front of juries made up entirely of Welsh speakers under plans being considered by the Government.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has an open mind on the idea of amending the current rules - which only require jurors to understand English - after representations from Welsh MPs and from lawyers.

But some MPs expressed concern yesterday that the move could undermine the ancient principle that a jury should be selected completely at random.

At present defendants can insist on giving evidence in Welsh, with the court providing simultaneous translation.

But a change in the law would allow legal teams to insist the 12 men and women on the jury understood Welsh - a move its supporters say is necessary to give some defendants a fairer hearing.

Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy discussed the issue with Mr Straw at a meeting last week, and has raised the proposal in talks with First Minister Rhodri Morgan.

Speaking during a session of the Welsh Grand Committee at Westminster yesterday, Mr Murphy said, "It's plainly an important matter, where we have to consider people's right to be heard in their own language, the implications for random selection of juries and the practicalities involved.

"The situation is that Jack Straw is still looking at the issue and he has not closed his mind to it."

The practical implications of a change were still being explored, he said.

In 1993 Plaid Cymru MPs moved an amendment to the Welsh Language Bill in an attempt to establish the principle of bilingual juries. That move was defeated by a single vote.

Last year Plaid MP Hywel Williams introduced a private member's Bill on the same issue, but despite cross-party support failed to gain government backing. …