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.

MERCIFUL RELEASE

The law on assisted suicide is now a complete shambles. Within the space of a week, one woman is convicted of murdering her terminally ill son, and has to serve at least nine years behind bars, the other woman is acquitted of attempted murder, to spontaneous applause, and the judge criticises the Crown Prosecution Service for bringing the charge in the first place. So why didn’t he stop it?

For those who had thought that Keir Starmer, the ‘quiet’ and all but invisible man in charge of the CPS, would shine his light into the dark recesses of the law on assisted suicide, there is a genuine sense of disappointment. His attempts at clarification have been anything but, leaving the CPS and the courts to square the circle and failing miserably.

The problem with this unholy mess is that nobody is willing to stand up and be counted. In the two most recent cases, the grief of caring mothers nursing their terminally ill children cannot be overstated, and yet they, and not the medical profession, must shoulder the burden of mixing the drugs and administering the fatal dose. Where is the qualified doctor when you need him? If recent events are anything to go by, he’s in Germany, in possession of a smattering of English and only three hours sleep. Why can’t they take the lead and actually help, instead of washing their hands?

The CPS also has to take its share of responsibility, and not shift the decision making to the judge and jury. In the case of the woman charged with attempted murder and gloriously acquitted, why didn’t the CPS heed the strictures of the judge? A classic case of buck passing, which simply shouldn’t happen. The responsibility for seeing that justice is done rests in the hands of twelve men and women who have no legal or medical knowledge, and who are as likely as not to reach their verdict with the toss of a coin.

And what about the judge? Another classic case of buck passing. The rules state that if there is a case to answer, then it must be answered by the jury. But there are weak cases which cry out for judicial intervention, so why not intervene? The trial judge was eminently placed to do so, and yet he fudged it. Why? He must have been aware of the criticisms of his learned colleague. In the name of humanity, stand up and be counted!

So this unholy mess is dumped back into the laps of the politicians, who have bigger fish to fry, and in the case of this dying government, plans to make when they are thrown out of office. If ever there was a case for assisted suicide, this government would come high on the wish list of most of the electorate. But with Jack Straw, the Minister for Justice, his silence is underwhelming.