Trial By Jury : Time For Us All To Rant

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Receiving some small media attention is the decision to allow the first criminal trial to be decided by a judge alone – that of 4 alleged armed robbers due to start this week – as the Lord Chief Justice decreed last year that jury tampering in this case was a real threat. This is the thin end of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 whereby those nice NuLabour types decided that a right enshrined by Magna Carta was a tad too difficult for them to manipulate and oh so terribly expensive – leaving them less millions to squander on Infrastructure UK, Partnerships UK or some other bloody quango-money-pit-do-nothing jobs-for-the-Labour-boys.

I only spotted this from an article by Lord Jezza (Jeremy Clarkson, for it is he) hidden away in today’s Sunday Times’ News Review. It was also reported again by Marcel Berlins in the Guardian. Perhaps there are too many other crises vying for our limited attention these days to warrant getting any airtime but this for me is a terrible turn of events.

As Clarkson says, Jury Duty is a pain. Having done it when I was a single parent, it could not have come at a worse time for me. However, there was a feeling of ‘the system works’ and ‘having done one’s duty’ on its completion. It is good that it takes effort; that it is out of the dirty hands of politicians and away from the whim of the nutter. Above all, it is crucial that the presence of a jury means that the ‘executive’ has less chance to influence the ‘judiciary’ – and the result of a trial – unduly. That independence is potentially more under threat – although it would be interesting to hear the views of Britain’s judges on the matter. I know there has been some discussion on the presence of juries in complex technical cases – such as fraud in the financial markets or hacking/technological crime. Perhaps we could adopt a Grand Jury approach ? A group of 12 wise-and-true are at least called upon to decide whether a trial is eligible for judge-only decisions (of course then those chosen to serve may well plump for judge-only to get themselves off the hook to serve in the trial-proper…). Tricky stuff.

Sure, the right to a jury was withdrawn in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. I am not sure it was a fine day for freedom but the circumstances may well have been appropriate. Dunno. For sure, the trial of allegedly gun-toting thieves in London sounds like run-of-the-mill stuff and, protection of jury members aside, no reason to forego one of King John’s key come-uppances.

I doubt this issue will hit the radar in any big way in the run up to the election but I will be looking to see what the parties have planned for Criminal Justice reform, if anything. Perhaps those nice people at 38 Degrees might look into it ?

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