Research should be carried out into how and why British juries reach their (sometimes clearly flawed) verdicts. So says a former Director of Public Prosecutions and a former Lord Chief Justice. As with previous administrations however and amid a sea of provocative ‘historic’ abuse allegations, David Cameron’s government is fighting hard to resist any possibility of change.
Ministers know only too well that by leaving difficult decisions to a jury, criminal laws can be drafted ambiguously, thus increasing the likelihood of convictions and increasing popular and political support.
The trial of Vicky Pryce was unceremoniously ditched last week after the jury was proved to be worse than useless. Because of its political connections with former minister Chris Huhne, this case has attracted media attention but TheOpinionSite.org believes that in reality, most British juries are not fit for purpose.
The really smart people who actually would make good jurors are clever enough to avoid jury service, leaving uninformed, often illiterate individuals to fill the spaces in the jury room.
In the last year alone, jurors have been removed from trials for reasons that one would expect to find in a satirical sitcom. Such reasons include:
- Listening to music on an MP3 player instead of listening to the evidence
- Using a Ouija board to determine whether or not the defendant was guilty
- Failing to turn up and going to a musical or shopping instead
- Researching defendants and witnesses on the Internet after being told not to
- Asking for the defendant’s star sign in order to decide innocence or guilt
- Finding the defendant guilty because ‘he looks like he did it.’
- Prejudice: One man convicted the defendant because ‘He looks like a nonce so he must have done it.’
These are just a few of the reported reasons that juries should never be trusted to reach a fair and impartial verdict but TheOpinionSite.org knows that the fundamental problem with juries is much more fundamental:
Most of the people who become jurors know nothing about the law, are incapable of following the evidence and judge’s directions, would rather be somewhere else and are so badly educated that they make decisions based on emotion rather than evidence.
Former DPP Lord Macdonald told the BBC:
“We perhaps ought to allow a bit more access to jury reasoning than we do.”
Macdonald suggested that Britain should follow the example of other jurisdictions and allow research to be carried out, though not too much. He would not, it seems, want to change the system even if there are faults with it.
At present, absolutely no enquiry is permitted into how juries reach their decisions.
In addition, at present jurors are not supposed to discuss their verdicts (even if they think it is wrong), are not permitted to access the Internet during trials (really?) and should not discuss the case with anyone outside the jury room, especially friends and family. If jurors are caught breaking these rules, they risk conviction under the Contempt of Court Act and a possible charge of Perverting the Course of Justice.
The problem is that ‘justice’ is already perverted – and nobody wants to change things for the better.
For example, ‘jury vetting’, as carried out in other countries – even the United States – is virtually non-existent in the UK. The limits on objections to jurors in UK proceedings are such that defence barristers very often face an impossible task trying to secure a fair trial for their clients.
The former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf was even more cautious in his support for research into juries:
“I wouldn’t rush into doing anything, I would think about it… Some very carefully organised, responsible research may be a good thing, but it would have to be treated with great care.”
Clearly, neither of these two individuals have ever had to stand in the dock and realise that their fate lies with 12 people who usually have no idea of what is going on in the court, often cannot read properly or speak English and most of whom are weak and make decisions subject to peer-pressure rather than on the evidence.
Both Macdonald and Woolf have both previously declined to discuss the thorny problem of what to do about the jury in cases involving sexual assault, especially where children are involved; probably the easiest type of case in which to secure a conviction.
Where the alleged victim is or was a child at the time of the alleged offence, the conviction rate is almost 100%. something that should be impossible if jurors were truly making decisions based on the evidence.
TheOpinionSite.org must point out – again – that in most such cases, there isn’t any real evidence to speak of. The prosecution rely on ‘similar fact evidence’ or, to be blunt, enough people saying more or less the same thing about what supposedly happened to them but without being able – or being required – to prove anything.
The jury in these cases secretly comes to its conclusion, very often based on how jurors feel rather than what has been proved ‘beyond reasonable doubt’; a phrase that can mean anything an individual wants it to mean and which is entirely subjective.
In two recent child sex cases where jurors have confidentially (and courageously) spoken out about the problems they faced in the jury room, both said that they were pressured by the foreman into ‘going along with the others’.
“You don’t get a choice because if you want to vote not guilty, you get accused of being a paedo-lover.”
For the last 50 years, there have been calls for jury reform and for that entire period, successive government have refused to carry out the recommended measures, knowing full well that if juries had to justify their decisions, the conviction rate in Crown Court trials would fall dramatically.
Some years ago, Lord Justice Robin Auld was asked by a heavily leant-on Tony Blair to make recommendations to improve fairness in cases involving child sex offences.
When Auld LJ suggested that in child sex cases and other ‘sensitive’ proceedings the defendant should have the choice of being tried by a judge instead of a jury, Blair categorically refused to implement such a measure.
At present, particularly in so-called ‘historic’ cases of abuse – the only type of ‘historic’ offence that is ever guaranteed to be prosecuted – the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) really can bring whatever charges it likes, safe in the knowledge that in almost every case the jury will find the defendant guilty, despite there being no corroborated evidence and only the word of the alleged victims, all of whom will back each other up.
If the case of jimmy Savile had come to court, he would not have received a fair trial. The ‘evidence’ as published by the police and the NSPCC is nothing more than a list of accusations, nothing else. There is still no corroboration or proof; only gossip.
Yet TheOpinionSite.org has no doubt whatsoever that the jury would have convicted Savile, once more substituting emotion for evidence and peer-pressure for fairness.
British juries really are ignorant, incompetent and dangerous and will remain so until the government orders proper research to be carried out. Research that would in fact demonstrate jut what a failure the current jury system really is.
The fact that no other European democracy uses the British model of juries says it all.
Regarding reform, threat of exposing one of the biggest frauds in the British criminal justice system is of course the single reason why much needed research and reform will never be carried out.
Macdonald said that the jury system “…has served the country well and juries usually come to the right decision most of the time”.
Those words are of course from the mouth of a prosecutor. He knows that the flawed jury system in Britain will go on delivering injustice and dishonesty every day of the week for the foreseeable future, much to the delight of the politicians and other individuals and organisations who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
Neither the government, the police, probation, the CPS or the protection charities that support the aforementioned want any change to the jury system. Therefore, they will all continue to block any meaningful research.
The judge in the Pryce case, Mr Justice Sweeney – a High Court judge, not a regular Crown Court ‘referee’ – said:
“Quite apart from my concern as to the absolutely fundamental deficits in understanding which the [jury’s] questions demonstrate, I wonder, given that it is actually all there and has been there the whole time, the extent to which anything said by me is going to be capable of getting them back on track again. In well over 30 years of criminal trial I have never come across this at this stage, never.”
In non-legal language, the jury was thick, stupid and utterly incapable of understanding the evidence, had no idea about how the law operates and was in short, utterly useless.
TheOpinionSite.org would however point out to his Lordship that he omitted three other important observations:
- Juries are as they are because the government and its agencies want them that way
- Juries do not understand the law because unlike other countries, Britain never teaches such things in schools
- Juries are the single biggest threat to a fair trial and should never be allowed anywhere near sensitive, emotional or publicly emotive cases, such as child sexual offences.
So if juries are so bad, what of ‘British Justice’?
One might seriously argue that ‘British Justice’ has nothing to do with ‘justice’ at all. It is in fact a device invented 500 years ago by the rich and powerful to keep everyone else in their place. It is still doing just that – and is doing so as effectively as when it was first introduced.
Given that the jury in the Pryce case was so utterly flawed, why then did the clearly fed up Mr Justice Sweeney not report the fact to the Lord Chancellor?
Oh, sorry…we must not forget that the Lord Chancellor is also the Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling; the man who wants to lock more people up for longer and make it even easier to convict people on no evidence.
How disgustingly British then that the man in charge of the courts and the judiciary is also a cabinet minister; a politician interested only in his own ambitions.
Unfortunately, the apparently homophobic, right-wing, ambitious Mr Grayling is also responsible for juries and how they function and does not believe in reform of Britain’s jury system.
But then in this now insignificant, broke, vindictive, revenge-filled little island, why should anyone ever expect anything else?
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