ABOLISH TRIAL BY JURY

Just when I thought it was safe to go back into the water, Alison Saunders bobs yet again to the surface.  I remind readers, as I remind myself, that she is the Director of Public Prosecutions, and in this role, she is responsible for serious prosecutions and when they are brought. A heavy responsibility you may think, and  one not to be undertaken lightly.

Whilst the role is an onerous one, the pressures on the incumbent are lightened in great measure by an annual salary of £200,000 together with the usual absurdly generous civil service pension.  Her predecessor in title, Keith Starmer, is now Lord Starmer of Horlicks, so Ms. Saunders has much to look forward to.  In the meantime, she blunders on.

The latest blunder to be laid at her door has been the disastrous decision to prosecute two doctors allegedly involved in female genital mutilation, or FMG, popular in many countries east of Suez but having no place in a civilised society.  In the United Kingdom, it is illegal, but then so is child trafficking by Pakistani gangs, and vote rigging, and honour killing, and slaughtering animals by slitting their throats.  Once embedded, it’s the devil’s own job to root out these evil practices.  But that’s another story, and with this ridiculous political correctness where you can’t call a spade a spade, it will remain unaddressed for the foreseeable future.

If this prosecution should never have been brought, what was the judge doing?  He does have a role to play in the conduct of the trial, and the rules are clearly defined.  If he is of the opinion that the jury, properly directed by him no doubt, could not convict on the evidence presented by the prosecution, it is his duty to stop the case.  He didn’t, so in fairness to Ms. Saunders, there was at least a case to answer.

Sad to say, I blame this and other similar cases on the judge.  Time and again, when the case cries out for judicial intervention the judge remains silent, passing the buck to the jury.  And time and again, the jury are found wanting.

The students of our legal system will know that in days of old, the jury were all male, and until recently, over the age of 21 and property owners. This last prerequisite was to ensure that jurors were respected citizens within their own community, knew something about life, and as important, could read and write.  Successive governments watered down these prerequisites, presumably in the interests of political correctness, so today we have a jury of both sexes, Joe, Jane, and even undeclared, swinging both ways, and as important, bringing to the jury box all the gravitas of a comprehensive education, which means they can neither read nor write.  The age qualification has been reduced to 18, so today’s jury can be a frightening assembly of gormless halfwits, all wearing football shirts, sitting in judgment of their peers, and receiving very little help from the judge when they desperately need it.

I have said it before, and I say it again, trial by jury no longer inspires confidence within or without the criminal justice system. It is also expensive and adds considerably to the cost of the trial, which becomes protracted beyond measure.  Trial by Judge, together with two lay assessors, is far preferable, more efficient and likely to produce the desired result, which is to ensure a fair trial and the right verdict.  It works perfectly well in the civil law, so why not the criminal law?  As now, any verdict that is deemed unsafe can be referred to the Court of Appeal, and the icing on the cake would be a reasoned judgment from the judge and his assessors explaining why they have decided to convict or acquit.  At present, nobody outside the jury room is entitled to know how the jury reached their verdict.

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david

David is an English barrister, writer, public performer and keynote speaker. His full profile can be found on his website.

8 thoughts on “ABOLISH TRIAL BY JURY”

  1. Oh how I wish I had known you a few years ago! You comment on intoxicated consent make so much sense. I thank you so much for speaking out , no doubt in full knowledge that you would be attacked by many. May I contact you directly?

  2. I can agree that trials by jury could be abolished for some offences but that would be where the agreement ends. I don’t agree with your reasons for abolishing trials by jury.
    Jury’s are made up of people who reflect the community they live in and can see things from a balanced perspective on both the prosecution and defence. They don’t look down on people from Ivory towers and show any prejudice towards either.
    However, say in complex fraud cases or as in the recent phone hacking trials, I think a trial by judge is a better way forward.

  3. I applaud your honesty regarding the rape situation. You are only giving voice to what a lot of people are thinking. There are genuine rape cases which should be dealt with severely, but those who go out and become inebriated are aware that there are predators out there and as such they need to be careful. Do not get yourselves in these situation then cry rape because you exercised poor judgement

  4. Dare I say that if you so called helpless men were raised appropriately that you would learn to control your so called overwhelming urges and act like civilized folk. To blame any act of assault on the victim (yes David) ‘victim’ is ludicrous and shows a real lack of insight, life experience and ignorance. If an individual (men included) is so inebriated that they cannot consent then it’s rape. Casting judgment against women for the act of rape is backward .. There are no words

  5. I agree. A judge assisted by lay assessors is more likely to arrive at the right verdict in many, even most, cases, not necessarily only for the reasons you argue ( I give you for example a case where a friend who sat on a jury where extreme violence was involved told me that it was made clear to members of the jury by associates of the accused that some of the same would be meted out to them or their families or their property should they return a guilty verdict, so they didn’t). In cases of complex financial fraud especially it is likely that the average juror will be totally at sea.
    Are we however in criticising the jury system at risk of losing sight of something of value? Namely (pace J E R Stephens, 1896) that “the very essence of trial by jury is its principle of fairness. The right of being tried by his equals, that is, his fellow citizens, taken indiscriminately from the mass, who feel neither malice nor favour, but simply decide according to what in their conscience they believe to be the truth, gives every man a conviction that he will be dealt with impartially….” But when Stephens wrote those words, “the mass who was not a property owner. Not sure that I support the male bit, but that’s irrelevant to your case, David, which is convincingly made.

  6. Sorry, accidental deletion of part of final sentence. Should read “the mass” to whom he referred excluded anyone who was not male, who was under 21, and who was not a property owner.

  7. Dear sir,
    Late comment and maybe not for posting…… but it has been my personal opinion for many years that the jury system appears tired, old fashioned, out of date, dangerous and at the very least needs a complete overhaul. I understand the reasoning behind selecting the general public across the board with varying life skills to carry out a duty and service but it did not sit right with me.

    I was called for jury service in Oxford many many years ago for rape. The accuser, a white young lady and the accused, a young black gentleman, both appeared decent sorts and I will not give any further details for obvious reasons.

    Amongst the jurors chosen were, myself,:
    2 prejudiced men against blacks.
    1 bag lady (complete with bags and very wiffy) who could not converse.
    Others had no idea why they were there had no interest, complained and yawned throughout, but thought the time off work, food and money was good!
    I was shocked and appalled by the fact that with all the years it takes a legal professional to fully qualify, build up experience only to then allow a jury of 12 ill qualified strangers with varying unknown prejudices with their own ego’s and backgrounds to decide on a person’s fate…it’s not right and potentially dangerous. If it takes the legal profession xxx years how could a juror totally and completely understand in a matter of days.
    Eventually we reached a 10 – 2 innocent verdict which the evidence led us rightfully to with the 2 prejudiced jurors being the 2.
    Still chills me at what the outcome could have been.

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