The anomaly of either way offences has once more reached the higher echelons of our justice system. This time the intervention is by "Lady Justice Hallett, who sits on the Court of Appeal,(and who said) that a full jury trial could cost £20,000 for defendants accused of offences such as stealing sweets from a supermarket. She said the Government should ""remove the right to elect trial by jury in cases that simply do not warrant it"". Since the publication of two of my posts from 2009 and 2013 copied below, theft of items with a value of £200 can be tried summarily only. However the right to elect jury trial for either way offences remains. It would appear that it is to this anomaly that the Hon. Lady is referring. As far as I know there is no similar availability in any other jurisdiction. She even refers to a case on which I commented below in 2009. At this proposal no doubt most of the legal profession will be up in arms and will take to the barricades crying justice or death. This display of support for the common man, however, is barely skin deep. The secretary of the Criminal Bar Association in commenting on a case he was defending says in the article, "The time taken over a summary trial can be a lot quicker - and things came out over that longer process which utterly exonerated them." What a fatuous self serving argument.
Barristers from the highest and most respected QCs to the newest pupils in their rush to denounce such proposals conveniently forget the situation in the numbers of ever increasing trials that take place in magistrates` courts before a District Judge(MC) sitting alone. Their memory lapse includes the underlying fairness in these lower courts of three Justices of the Peace sitting as a tribunal where a majority verdict is required for conviction; a jury of peers albeit limited in number but more highly qualified than any jury supposedly randomly selected where "randomly" can include those with English as a very poorly understood 2nd or even 3rd language, where reasoning ability is not tested, where prejudice can exist and who do not even need to be citizens of this country.
Lady Justice Hallet would not dare to entertain this point of view. She is likely to be amongst those who in their heart and soul might pay lip service to the magistracy but would not object to its being relegated to a peripheral role allowing a professional cadre of full time government paid District Judges to preside and adjudicate unhindered by supposedly unqualified J.P.s. But as usual there is obfuscation.
Most people could not give a damn whether or not the lay magistracy is eased out and an effective system of summary justice founded nearly 700 years ago and developed to cope with the requirements of a 21st century democracy survives. Senior judiciary are not "most people". The least they should do is make their opinions known before they retire to their country cottages on their civil service pensions safe in the knowledge that government can`t chastise them.
Is it time to say goodbye to either way offences?