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.