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September 10, 2008

Collapsing justice?

The lengthy trial of the eight men accused of plotting to blow up airliners has been much in the news these last days. It seems that the jury could not, despite the evidence of videos declaring their intent, make up their minds that they actually meant what they said. To me this simply means what I have long suspected. Its time to scrap the jury system. It would seem that a section of the jury (and I suppose we have to remember that the trial lasted three months) lost track of the evidence and only allowed themselves to remember the defence teamns repeated question "Was there an intent to ....?"

The final piece that members of the jury decided supported this (the ONLY piece in fact) was the "proof" that none of the accused had actually bought a ticket to fly. Big deal, so because they were caught before they could do that, they are, according to at least six members of the jury, Not Guilty. As I said, time to scrap the jury system - you simply can't get anyone intelligent enough to serve on them anymore. Certainly not in cases like this one.

Of course, the Liberal press has gone to town declaring that the Prosecution "failed" because the evidence was "flawed". I'm pretty sure it wasn't, but some morons who serve on juries now insist on levels of "proof" that are almost impossible to achieve. Particularly when it is a case against anyone from a "disadvantaged" or "minority" background. The same idiots would convict and single white male of rape or pedophilia in the blink of an eye on far less evidence if the "victim" was from a minority group, so you see my case.

Time to scrap the juries and adopt the continental system.

Posted by The Gray Monk at September 10, 2008 08:18 PM

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The jury systems is not ready for scraping. Juries are put in place to balance out the power of judges and law makers. I don't know about the UK but some states in the US the Judge can override the jury verdict, also the jury can return a verdict that the defendant violated the letter of the law but the law is unfair. Plus there is always appeals. Justice is a deliberate process designed to limit the possibility of a innocent person going to jail. It never works the way we like but it does a decent job 90% of the time.

Posted by: skipjack at September 11, 2008 03:42 PM

And I would argue that if you cannot get those who are not automatically on the side of the criminal or who are not of sufficient intelligence to override their prejudice and ideology, then the Jury system must end in being discredited. That is what has happened here. Seven of the accused now must be retried in a case that has already cost almost £20 million.

Justice can be served without a jury and is already served very well in the Magistrates courts here. The key is that the Judges must be selected and trained and there have to be a number of checks and balances in place to ensure that when a case is brought to court it is fair and unbiased. Juries merely encourage grandstanding from the Defence Barristers, something I find distasteful and frankly is enough to make me vote for the Prosecution. I am not interested in the emotions or the excuses, give me the facts. Too many Juries here are swayed by emotive grandstanding and obfustication of facts. It has become a commonplace event for a jury to decide its verdict on the "Best Actor" rather than the best presentation of fact.

Having been on the receiving end of too many attempts to rubbish my evidence with flippant distortions or attempts to put words in my mouth - or worse - to attempt to get a "Yes/No" answer to a question where the answer is a lot more complex and the Defence doesn't want the jury to hear something which may damage their client, you may forgive my contempt for the average jury member. Especially those who can't separate their prejudices from the realities.

If juries worked 90% of the time in this country I might support them - the fact is that they don't. I have heard a member of one jury comment that the prosecutions facts didn't matter, the accused was "such a nice boy he can't be guilty." On another a member of the jury expressed the view that the plaintiff must be crooked, "No one with a house like that is short of cash." Or the one who caused a case to collapse because she argued that the expert evidence was too confusing.

Our courts are no longer places in which justice is served - they have become theatres for Barristers and Solicitors who should be required to carry Equity cards. Remove the juries and we might - just - get Justice back into them.

Posted by: The Gray Monk at September 11, 2008 10:09 PM

You right about jury swaying by the lawyers. But is a problem with lawyer system. Maybe a military tribunal where the juries are selected have at least a basic understanding of the law and the crime committed. For example a trial about arson would have firemen on the jury. Lawyers should be only allowed to ask questions, the one thing I have always hated was the lawyer dictating the type of answer can give. If they ask a question they have to deal with the answer the witness gives. Having a judge only scares me, I have a serious problem with trusting one person with so power.

Posted by: skipjack at September 13, 2008 06:13 AM

The Jury-less system doesn't rely on a single Judge, you have a panel of at least three, Judge President and two (or more in a really complex and serious case) Assessors who weigh all the facts presented in the court. You still have each side trying to pick holes in the other sides evidence, but there are no histrionics and it is a trial of facts, not of acting performance. Of course, the Judges need to be qualified and trained to do this, but once you have the system to deal with that in place it works reasonably well and the Judiciary remains independent of the political system.

Having seen both systems in action, I am of the view that the Jury-less system ends up more balanced and reliable in actually administering justice.

As for the lawyers dictating the answer, that can be overcome in our system, by simply asking the Judge if you may explain the answer to him/her. The answer from the Bench is almost invariably "Yes", and you can then qualify what has been said. As long as the witness knows this, you can play havoc with the defence (or prosecutions) method of questioning. Once, in a Juryless court I was forced into the corner on a leading question, but before I could ask, the Judge demanded that I explain the answer properly - and that got me the opening to qualify the response satisfactorily - in fact it was mentioned in the Judge's summing up that the explanation had been most helpful. It really blew away the Defence case on that point, but it illustrates the point nicely.

Posted by: The Gray Monk at September 13, 2008 10:48 AM

The jury-less systems sounds alot like our appeal system in the U.S. It's a panel of judges which determine if the trial followed the law.

Posted by: skipjack at September 13, 2008 05:24 PM

In this case, it's quite likely that the jury were confused about what "intent" means. This week I discovered that someone sorting post for a major company that I regularly send lots of documents to, thought that anyone working in the probate department was automatically dead. I received several returned envelopes marked "deceased", suggesting that the entire probate department had been killed in a freak accident. The only explanation I could come up with is that someone told them that probate was something to do with death and had a "durrr..." moment where they decided that all dead employees were transferred to the probate department.

Several months before that, I was told by a native Brit who was really old enough to know better, that she thought London was North of Birmingham. Right...

Posted by: Postulant at September 20, 2008 11:06 PM

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