I have never sat on a jury. Indeed many decades ago I received my one and only summons for that purpose but I had to request an exemption owing to my professional undertakings. Now my intellectual and/or physical capacity according to the MOJ renders me unfit for such duties. I must be content with voicing my opinions here and occasionally elsewhere. A three person bench of lay magistrates is in effect a mini jury. Its members have been trained how to consider evidence in a structured fashion supposedly simplified by the introduction of Sentencing Guidelines introduced over a decade ago to remove the effects of a perceived post code lottery in outcomes. In some matters, as I have written previously, it seems only a matter of time until algorithms take over much of the human function but for the present most people`s experience of a court is in a magistrates court and their futures, for better or worse, in the hands of those selected for their apparent abilities to satisfy a selection process written by civil servants in the MOJ.
Last month Grant Roberts JP was castigated by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office; his [crime] misdemeanour was improper use of the internet insofar as, "had conducted an independent internet research on the defendant to assist him in reaching a decision." The full statement is available here. From the report a couple of points emerge in addition to the matters of principle which I will address. It would seem that the legal advisor must have been present in the retiring room to hear the then "innocent" admission by Mr Grant. From My earliest days on the bench following the examples set by those senior to me whose abilities impressed me I would request legal advisors to leave the bench in private to discuss any matter which required a decision after of course we had been advised of any facet of the law which was or could be pertinent to the matter in hand. Once I had assumed the middle chair most L/As were content except one newbie who insisted she must be present as she had always been at her previous court. After much reluctance she left us to discuss a post trial decision. She was never to repeat her interloping whilst I was sitting. Of course the situation re Mr Grant might have hinged on an absent L/A being informed by the other winger or the Presiding Justice of his junior colleague`s supposed inadvertent error.
Now let me offer a "what if" scenario which must occur at some if not many post trial decision making sessions. Every person in some form or another has specialist knowledge of something. At my former bench there were people from all backgrounds and occupations from bus driver to jeweller to teacher to builder to health professional etc. each with his/her own specialist knowledge; knowledge that others might need Mr Google to verify. The scenario continues: discussion centres around a witness`s oral statement which a bench member knows categorically is untrue. Does the magistrate inform his colleagues that with his undisputed knowledge the erroneous or lying evidence is false? If s/he does not and is questioned as to why he has come to a conclusion that perhaps is the minority conclusion a misjustice might have occurred. If, on the other hand, he does make his specialist knowledge of the topic a basis for bringing the false testimony to the discussion how different is that [in a particular case] much different from ascertaining a fact from the internet?