UK Liberty

Another attack on juries in the Times

Posted in law and order by ukliberty on September 15, 2008

Sean O’Neill, crime and security editor at the Times:

Why is it considered an ancient liberty that must be defended at all costs, to have guilt or innocence decided by a dozen people who would rather be anywhere else than stuck in a stuffy courtroom being in turn bored and bamboozled by barristers?

Who says that those 12 jury members – open to intimidation, vulnerable to romance and faction fighting, susceptible to corruption or simply to listening to their iPods under their hijabs – can guarantee that justice will be done.

As for as I know, no-one claimed that justice was “guaranteed” with a jury trial, and rightly so.  Nor should anyone claim justice is guaranteed with any technologically feasible trial.

Much has been said about the “maverick” nature of the jury that returned a mixed bag of verdicts last week in what the Crown thought was an open-and-shut case against eight men accused of plotting to blow up transatlantic aircraft. A retrial is on the cards, so it would be unwise to discuss the possible foibles of that jury. But there are many cases in which the jury system has been found lacking.

I have reported on dozens of important criminal cases in the British courts, including every high-profile terrorist trial since 2003, and have seen jurors who approach their duty with great diligence.

But he doesn’t balance the article with a discussion of them – he writes instead about about how incompetent jurors are.

And later,

While jurors can be of questionable quality, a greater problem still is that the criminal justice system sets out deliberately to handicap them. Long before a case gets to trial, lawyers and judges spend months weeding out elements of the evidence that the jury cannot hear. When the 12 men and women take their seats in the jury box they do not know that they will hear only a partial version of the case.

Oh!

Take the ricin trial in 2003. Most of the defendants were acquitted of plotting to conduct a terrorist attack by spreading home-made ricin and other toxins. But the jury was not given the full story: it was not told that a key defendant had murdered a police officer while on the run, nor about the protective clothing, knives, replica weapons and gas masks found inside Finsbury Park mosque during raids connected to the investigation.

Crucial evidence was withheld from the jury in last year’s fertiliser bomb case. Jurors were not told that two men with the defendants in police surveillance photos were Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, the July 7 London bombers. Was that association not relevant to deciding whether the men in the dock had terrorist intent?

I wouldn’t say so, no.

But the more important point here seems to be that evidence is withheld from trials and therefore justice isn’t served, not that jurors are incompetent.  So why is he having a go at jurors?

Juries have also played their part in some of our worst miscarriages of justice, such as the cases of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four.

What?!

That is an extraordinary statement.

The Birmingham Six won on appeal, after sixteen years in prison, because there was evidence of police fabrication, that the police had suppressed evidence, and that the forensic evidence presented at the original trial was incompetent and wrong, and their confessions were discredited (also interesting to note Lord Denning’s controversial statement on their attempt to prosecute the police, essentially that they must not be allowed to proceed because if they were successful the police would have been proved to be perjurers and torturers).

The Guildford Four won on appeal, after fourteen years in prison, because there was new evidence of police fabrication and manipulation of evidence.

In other words, the police lies result in guilty verdicts from juries.  Quelle surprise!

In Sean’s world, that is a problem with the jury system, not a problem with  dishonesty.

Quite, quite bizarre.

But a judge sitting alone in one of Belfast’s Diplock courts threw out the ill-prepared Crown case against Sean Hoey,

Um, not so much ill-prepared as “a deliberate and calculated deception by police“!

accused of the Omagh bombing, and a district judge in London called a halt to the fit-up job in which Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian pilot falsely accused of training the 9/11 hijackers, was almost extradited to the US.

Hmm, let’s see: the destruction and fabrication of evidence by either the police, CPS, or US authorities, and an abuse of the process of extradition proceedings, led to the incarceration for over four months of a man innocent of unsubstantiated allegations relating to terrorism.

How would juries have performed in such emotive trials?

We will never know, but I imagine they would have probably believed the fabrications of the police and CPS – but judges do too, for example the judges in all the cases he mentions above.

Is that really a problem with the jury system, or is it a problem with the authorities being dishonest?

Sean’s reply: the jury system!

The jury system is broken. In long and complex cases it no longer passes muster. Dedicated panels of assessors, respresentative of society and committed to trying cases independently, should be appointed in their stead. A not dissimilar model functions in employment tribunals. And where the jury remains, for shorter, simpler cases, its members should be properly recompensed for loss of earnings, firmly reminded that they are carrying a hefty civic burden and entrusted with the whole truth.

So let’s see:

  • if exculpatory evidence is withheld from juries, juries will wrongly deliver guilty verdicts;
  • if the authorities lie to juries, juries will deliver wrongly guilty verdicts;
  • if the authorities withhold inculpatory evidence from juries, juries will wrongly deliver not guilty verdicts;
  • therefore we should get rid of juries?

Shoddy and unconvincing. Surely the Times’ crime and security editor can do better.

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