Saturday, 3 February 2007

Ranting about stupidity

I should warn you: you'll often get rants appearing on here, probably against the Government's legal reforms as much as anything else. Since I've never claimed to be normal, I won't object if you call me a freak. (Others post about theology; give me some credit for contemporary relevance).

Anyway, rant number 1 coming up.......

'You will be aware that section 321 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 came into force on 5 April 2004. The effect of section 321 is to bring into effect schedule 33 which removes the entitlement to be excused from jury service, as of right, for a number of people. Judges are amongst the categories of people who are no longer entitled to be excused from jury service, as of right.'

'So what's the relevance of that?' you ask. If you understood.

The problem is this. Juries are vitally important to the role of our legal system. They determine guilt. They are the keystone of our legal system, since Magna Carta was signed in 1215. (No doubt I'll soon rant about its pending abolition, but that's altogether another story). Consider the words of Blackstone, as early as the 1765:

'Trial by jury has been, and I trust ever will be, looked upon as the glory of English law... it is the most transcendent privilege which any subject can enjoy, or wish for, that he cannot be affected either in his property, his liberty, or his person, but by the unanimous consent of twelve of his neighbours and equals' [Commentaries, III, 397]

Sometimes, juries are excluded from parts of the trial. A judge, for example, could be called to rule upon whether evidence can be put before a jury, such as a defendent's past convictions. For the jury to be privy to the whole of a trial would prejudice their verdict. They are protected, being laymen, from the things that they're not able to rule on.

Again, you might not see the importance of this. But juries do not know what's going on in their absence. Judges, or barristers (now sitting in juries) would be able to guess. This could affect their judgment.

The point was so important that The Rt. Hon. The Lord Phillips C.J. had to issue guidance to members of the Judiciary about it. The intreoductary quotation is his. He also said this:

'Nothing in this guidance detracts from the ability of judges sitting as jurors to bring their general knowledge of life to bear on the deliberations of the jury.'

Given that the government have now allowed previous convictions to be put to the jury (another rant there, I think), if the judge allows, we have clear reason to mourn the loss of legal exemption from jury service.

That was rant number 1. Do comment, 'so I feel loved', and that my argument can be attacked. That would be good fun. And I might have made an error of spelling somewhere.....


1 comment:

Francis said...

Blimey, now I've got a headache! I'm sure this is a very well constructed argument but try as I might I'm never going to be able to follow it fully - obviously I don't have enough court experience.

Where's that bat...