As readers may know, some in “New Labour” have suggested that the jury system is done away with in certain cases. The reasons they put forward are as follows:
- avoids the problem of jury fixing and the intimidation, blackmail and or bribery of jurors.
- will speed up the justice system and reduce costs as trials could be conducted quicker and cheaper for council will not have to take the time it takes to explain things to a jury of laymen.
- the “costs” are considerable – lawyers are expensive and the cost of keeping prisoners on remand who are acquitted or who receive non custodial sentences is high.
Against this however the greatest protection against state tyranny is the jury. If jurors refuse to convict the accused under a tyrannical law tyranny is defeated. The importance of the jury CANNOT be overstated. It is OUR protection against tyranny and has been needed for centuries. Are you Dear Reader about to put your trust in such as Messrs. Brown, Blair, Straw & Miliband ?
However, notwithstanding the absolute importance of retaining the jury, there are other factors to be taken into consideration, chiefly the sheer workload now placed upon the courts due to increased criminal activity.
Before continuing, let us take a look at how and why juries are so important. It is to guard against tyranny. This can be demonstrated in certain trials. The case of the Metric Martyr, the late Steve Thorburn is an important one. As many will know, Steve was taken to the Magistrates Court charged with selling to his customers in the weights and measures they wished to be served in – pounds and ounces and NOT kilos and grammes. Steve did not get his jury trial as not all defendants can demand a jury trial. Certain minor summary offences are dealt with by the magistrates and are not referable to the Crown Court.
This MUST change. The Declaration/Bill of Rights give us, the British People, the RIGHT to be tried by our Peers (equals). Therefore, ALL defendants charged with ANY criminal offence, however minor, MUST be able to have the case heard by a jury. NO IFS. NO BUTS.
Let us however also be practical. How do we ensure that the British People can exercise this most basic and fundamental right without causing the criminal justice system to be completely overwhelmed by the sheer weight of workload ? Is there a way ? You ask. Yes there is.
The conundrum is this: how do we gain the cost and workload advantages of non jury trials (that are very real) whilst protecting our fundamental right of jury trial ? In other words: Can we have our cake and eat it ?
The answer is Yes.
This is because MOST criminal trials are completely unlike that of the late Steve Thorburn. Steve was not a criminal. He was making a stand on a point of principle. This situation DOES NOT arise with your average criminal – the burglar, the drug dealer, the fraudster. In these cases, which comprise the vast majority of cases before the criminal courts, there are no great issues of state -v- prisoner to be argued over.
Effective reform of the justice system can be achieved by bringing back the Courts of Assize to run alongside the existing Crown Court system. To do this effectively both systems would have to be radically overhauled and altered.
We suggest the following:
For the Crown Courts: the New Labour agenda ought to be carried to its logical extreme here: Have the justice secretary appoint the Crown Court judges and have the Crown Court judge sit with two “assessors” – who would be stipendiary magistrates. In the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland the judge sat alone. We do not think justice should be dispensed by a single person. For summary offences in the Ministry of Justice system the Magistrates would be full time Stipendiary Magistrates – these are full time professional lawyers doing this job. This system would result in great savings as trials in both the Magistrates and the Crown courts would be much quicker. The accused persons would spend much shorter periods on remand as well.
For the Assize Courts: The Lord Chancellor’s traditional role would be restored. However, there would be an important difference: he or she would appoint those judges that had been elected by the people. This is how it would work: a Queen’s Council (barrister) wishing to be a Justice of the Assize would apply to the Lord Chancellor’s Office to be placed on the County Panel. The County Panel would be a list of judges who would be elected by the public on Midsummer’s Day every fourth year. To be placed on the panel the lawyer would have to demonstrate the necessary legal expertise – which for most Q.C.’s should not be a problem. The one rule that would apply would be that the Q.C. wishing to become a Recorder or Crown Court Judge could not be nominated for a County Panel. They could be one or the other but not both. This would introduce a system somewhat similar to that which pertains in the U.S.A. So far as summary offences are concerned, the Magistrates would be entirely lay-persons. Again however, democracy would be introduced and this would work similar to the elections of judges. The lay person would have to apply and show that they had suitable “life experience” – these people are not lawyers. All defendants charged with summary offences would be able to opt for trial by jury at the assize.
Finally, the jury: the really big reform would be made here. Currently, juries decide on the guilt or innocence of the accused. Under the new Assize system they would not only decide the guilt/innocence of would stipulate the sentence the judge would impose. This would take place in two sessions: This is how it would work: the trial would conclude with a decision on the guilt or innocence of the accused. If found guilty, the convicted person would be remanded on bail or in custody. The decision to grant bail would be the judge’s. Not the jury’s. The court would then sit in second cession where the victims would be allowed to give evidence – under cross examination by both counsel. The convicted person would be allowed to make a plea in mitigation to the jury however the judge would be able to rule whether the convicted person would be in the court at the same time as their victims. At the end of the session the judge would retire with the jury and the jury would advise the judge of the penalty. Clearly the judge would be there to counsel them. Those convicted under the Assize could appeal, but this would be split. Under the existing Crown Court system the convict can appeal the verdict, the sentence or both. When this occurs appeals (all categories) from the Magistrates are heard by a Crown Court Judge and appeals (all categories) from the Crown Courts are heard by the Court of Appeal.
Under the reformed Assize appeals would be split. Appeals of the verdict would be heard by a judge in Assize (in the case of appeals from the Magistrates) and the Court of Appeal in the case of the Assize. The big change would be the introduction of the Grand Jury – which would have a totally different function from the original Grand Juries in the English system. The Grand Jury would be composed of twenty four randomly selected persons on the electoral role would have the job of re-sentencing the convict. They would be free to impose a new sentence either more lenient or more severe than before – thus the convict would have to seriously consider an appeal against sentence.
The reason why all this democracy is injected is paradoxical. To encourage most criminals to opt for the cheaper (and quicker) Crown Court route.
Finally, the accused person would have the absolute right to elect to be tried at the Assize or Crown Court. The Crown Prosecution Service would have no say in the matter. However, if a judge considered there to be evidence of jury fixing the judge can halt the trail and transfer it to the Crown Court.