Wednesday, January 13, 2010

One Good Man and (hopefully) True

For the first time in 350 years Englishmen face a trial without the benefit of a jury, the case presided over by a judge.

Will this mean an end to justice? Is it the first step away from our adversarial legal system toward the European model?

The men concerned are charged with serious crimes. (I'm not going into the details as I want to concentrate on the principles. You can read more detail HERE). Three trials have collapsed, the last of which was halted because of suspected jury fixing.

But should we remove the right to jury trials? I believe this to be a dangerous precedent. Better, in my view to house the jury securely so that here can be no question of interference and give the men a fair trial.

There are also the dangers inherent in leaving guilt and legal procedure and precedent in the hands of one judge.

I also suggest that if a jury can be omitted from the legal process on the grounds they may be at risk of being influenced, how long before a jury trial is suspended because a defence counsel may adversely affect the outcome of a trial by persuading a jury a defendant is not guilty?

The case is well put in the conversation between William Roper and Thomas More in 'A Man for all Seasons':

"William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!"

And there lies the danger. If we dismantle the law to convict the guilty, how will the law protect the innocent?


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