Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.




Comments are usually moderated. However, I do not accept any legal responsibility for the content of any comment. If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Monday, 9 February 2015

JURY TRIALS//WHEAT AND CHAFF




The first ever post of this blog  had as its subject the practice of police applying excessive cautions to those admitting similar offences. The next post was entitled "Is it time to say goodbye to either way offences”. I`m pleased to note that there has been some movement on the former disposal and J.P.s now have an input in the situation. In addition some common sense has prevailed in the matter of either way offences and a defendant`s right to choose jury trial.


I have no great respect for those M.P.s of whatever shade who have been in control of our justice system since Jack Straw left the office of Secretary of State. He had the intellect and consistency which demanded respect even if there were thought a lack of consensus around some of his policies. So when Damien Green, former Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice addressed the subject of either way offences I read with interest. Conservative MP  Nick de Bois, a member of the Commons justice select committee, has warned against removing the right to a jury trial. "However attractive such a move might seem to magistrates it does challenge one of our most basic rights – to be judged by our peers.”


Around 80% of all trials are dealt with by magistrates and only one in five goes before a jury at a crown court. Two or three years ago the former director of campaign organisation Justice was quoted as saying  "We would stand by the right to choose and that's because it's still the best mechanism we have for ensuring a fair trial.”


These statements indicate the lack of clear logical thinking on the part of those with a vested interest in retaining the status quo. Nick de Bois M.P. seems to imply that trial by a single professional District Judge (MC) is being judged "by our peers”. Perhaps District Judges have not just split personalities; they have multiple personalities....well at least three to equate with a bench of three lay magistrates. Sad to say I have rarely heard a criminal lawyer able to argue logically in defence of jury trial and simultaneously justify trial by a single judge except for the most unusual circumstances eg difficult legal argument or points of law or a trial of some days` length.  Restrictions on research into the workings of juries and their manner of reaching a verdict do not assist serious inquiry.  Revelations such as recently made by a jury foreman persuade me and should persuade others that researchers should be admitted to jury rooms to provide a basis for future discussion. 


In order to qualify for jury service today, a person must be: 

  • Between the ages of 18 and 70 years old
  • Registered to vote on the government electoral register
  • A registered citizen in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for at least 5years since their thirteenth birthday  

And a person must not be: 

  • A mentally disordered person, or,
  • Disqualified from jury service for a particular reason

When members of juries do not even have to demonstrate competence in the English language  considering recent rates of immigration something is far wrong.

There were 407,913 criminal cases completed in magistrates' courts and 34,098 completed in the Crown Court in the third quarter of 2012.  Even allowing for the time difference these figures  show very clearly that we Justices of the Peace are more than competent at distinguishing the innocent wheat from the guilty chaff. 

 

1 comment:

  1. What happened to Damian Green's raising of the age limit for jury service to 75, announced with much fanfare by HM Government in August 2013? I refer you to:
    https://www.gov.uk/government/news/upper-age-limit-for-jury-service-to-be-raised

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