Thursday, February 21, 2013

Twelve Good Men And True

Obiter J says most of what needs to be said on the subject of juries in the light of the mistrial of the former Mrs. Huhne. A couple of papers make the valid point that Southwark's catchment area for jurors is substantially inner-city multi-ethnic and multicultural (apparently only two of the jury were white).. Looking at the latest figures for the demographic mix of London and other towns and cities it is a probability that a significant proportion of jurors will not have been born or educated in the UK.

At present this is a mercifully rare problem, but we will need to keep a careful eye on how things work out in future.  

36 comments:

  1. Those papers are wrong - I live on Kent/London border and have been called to jury service at Southwark

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  2. Does it really matter where they were born/educated, or what colour they are?

    Do the Pryce jury's questions really imply a fundamental misunderstanding, as the judge suggests? The former DPP and others suggest that it indicates that they were taking their role seriously.

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    1. "Does it really matter where they were born/educated, or what colour they are?"

      Yes, it does matter. The whole principle of trial by jury is that guilt or innocence is decided by one's peers. The presumption is that the members of the jury will represent a broad cross section of the society in which the defendant lives and share a similar cultural background.

      If the jury has a disproportionate number of members who have a cultural background and education that is very different to the defendant, can we reasonably expect them to think and act in the way that was intended when we first established trial by jury?

      I'm not expressing a discriminatory or racist view, just a practical one based on observation. Reading the antics in the Pistorius case, for example, where a police officer that is facing murder charges is still on duty and conducting a high profile investigation shows how different attitudes to justice can be in some cultures.

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    2. Bowstreetrunner21 February 2013 15:22

      No, it is supposed to be a random selection of the local populus, not hand picked. Look at the trouble the American courts get themselves in to. Having said that it is troubling that the incidence of dense jurors is on the increase. The use of weegie boards, internet any psychics does not boad well. But one bad case does not make bad law!

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  3. @Samual,
    it depends on whether the law they were trying to apply was the Sharia?

    We assume too readily that jury members have a common understanding of the laws they are supposed to apply to the respective cases.

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    1. Oh dear. Islamophobia is deeply engrained, isn't it.

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    2. Sharia is a barbaric system. You would not want to be a woman under that system, trust me.

      Criticizing it is not Islamophobia and while we're on the subject, criticizing the crimes of the Israeli regime is NOT antisemitic.

      I'm getting more than a little tired of any criticism being interpreted as racism. It's wrong and it's lazy, it's just an excuse for people to not bother to think.

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  4. Asking 'can we make our decision based on something that was not presented as evidence or commented on by either legal team?' does imply a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the jury.

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    1. I tend to the view, expressed by others, that the jury foreman was seeking unequivocal confirmation (with this and other questions) that the stance espoused by one or other jury member was not permissible, which doesn't mean that s/he shared that view (quite the contrary in fact), or that this demonstrated a collective lack of understanding on the part of most jury members.
      Kate Caveat

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  5. Formerly Penguin: Had a little titter over this:
    http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/society/are-we-the-jury-jury-asks-judge-2013022160487

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  6. Having recently served two weeks as a juror I can say that I was struck by two things. One was the enormous care with which everyone tried to make sense of the evidence, and to relate it to the requirements of the law. The other was the poor quality of the evidence we were given to work on.

    That is perhaps the clue. If the evidence is of good quality the experienced professionals can see it points one way or the other, and the trial doesn't happen or is a formal "Guilty" plea. The inexperienced amateurs get only the difficult grey area cases, and naturally they sometimes struggle.

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    1. i'd certainly agree with much of that - if the evidence had been compelling enough then presumably the jury wouldn't have needed to be worrying about matters outside the evidence? Does this suggest then that at least 3 people were inclined strongly towards a not-guilty verdict? What then is the prospect of getting 10/12 to agree to a guilty verdict after a retrial? Is it therefore in the public interest to retry?

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  7. Isnt Southwark the CC with the highest amount of Not Guilty verdicts after Snaresbrook?

    Would make sense of the above then

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  8. Reports on the news show that white, English natives are leaving London and some boroughs are dominated by immigrants and their descendants. It is natural that most of these will have little knowledge of the UK in general, especially regarding jury service and so there is a chance it will be harder to find suitable candidates for juries if this trend continues.

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  9. An interesting point is that lawyers/solicitors/police officers are now able to sit on juries. Generally that is a good thing as they know what is expected of them, what isn't allowed and have some legal knowledge.

    Although I am personally aware of several cases that had to be dismissed and a retrial ordered as my colleagues were on the jury (PCs). One saw another juror chatting away happily to the defendant on a fag break. The other spoke to a fellow juror who flatly claimed he didn't believe in the jury system and will find any case put before him 'not guilty'. Or the trial starts and in walks in the defendant or witness and the PC recognises them due their work and knows of their previous convictions.

    In each case, pass a quick note to the judge. Jury dismissed > re-trail needed.

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    1. As well as police officers and lawyers, judges and JPs too are expected to sit on juries if summonsed for jury duty. Usually, they will sit 'out of area', given the likelihood of their seeing regulars, advocates they frequently see in court, etc.

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    2. I don't think police officers should be on juries. It must be very difficult to remain impartial, having been involved in investigations and seen the work that goes into getting a case to trial.

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  10. All London Crown Courts should draw from the whole of London as does the CCC. But of course that would mean more travelling costs . . .

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  11. The questions sounded to me like most of the jury understood what they were meant to be doing but there were a few that didn't and kept trying to bring up irrelevant points. The rest therefore asked those questions to try and get the judge to explain to the problematic jurors what they refused to believe when told by their colleagues.

    No-one would phrase the questions the way they were unless they were intentionally asking a ridiculous question.

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  12. Once heard from a barrister in London: 'Juries do daft things because jurors are either zealots or too daft to get out of jury duty.'

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  13. Nerd for Justice21 February 2013 21:02

    The Daily Mash has done an amusing (though maybe not entirely fair) summary of the case:
    http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/society/are-we-the-jury-jury-asks-judge-2013022160487

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  14. We are supposed to be tried by a "Jury of our Peers", which I always understood to mean that they were similar people to ourselves. I would hardly think that a jury of which 10 of the members belonged to ethnic minorities, possibly with different cultures, fulfilled that requirement in this particular case.

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    1. That wouldn't work as scrotes would be judged (and let off) by their equally worthless peers. As for those scary "ethnic minorities", that represents the population of Britain these days. Suck it up.

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    2. They are all citizens. Or do you have a problem with citizens of different coloured skin?

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    3. Trevor Grove, who wrote The Magistrate's Tale, also wrote The Juror's Tale. I have found both books very informative (if perhaps now rather out of date).

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    4. Briar wrote: "They are all citizens. Or do you have a problem with citizens of different coloured skin?"

      This isn't about race at all, it's about the meaning of the original term that set out the principle of trial by jury, that of being tried by one's peers.

      Are a jury made up from, say, a majority who were born and educated in a country with a wholly different justice system and rule of law going to behave as we would expect a jury made up from people born and educated here in the UK? I strongly suspect that they may not.

      Colour of someone's skin has nothing to do with it. I would personally be concerned about a jury made up from, for example, a majority of former white South Africans, given the massively different approach to justice we're seeing from that country.

      We expect members of a jury to have a basic understanding of the way the British legal system is structured and of their key role as decision makers. Can we reasonably assume that all those born and educated in far-flung parts of the world will fully understand the duties of a British jury?

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    5. We expect members of a jury to have a basic understanding of the way the British legal system is structured

      No, we don't. We expect jurors to do what they are told, which is to assess the evidence presented in court, and decide based on that whether the accused is guilty or not. The average juror knows nothing about the "structure of the legal system" beyond that which he has picked up from watching "The Bill" or CSI.

      It is not uncommon, when an immigrant is in the dock, to hear a claim that such-and-such a behaviour is normal in his culture of origin, as either a defense or a plea for mitigation. A jury does not need a supply of jurors from the same cultural background to be able to assess this claim.

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  15. Thank you for the link to my blogpost on this. I am waiting to see what transpires at the Pryce retrial and may then have more to say.

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  16. Why refer to Vicky Pryce as "the former Mrs Huhne"? She has said she wants to be known by the name Vicky Pryce (Pryce being the family name of her first husband), and is just as widely known under that name as by the name Huhne.

    As for the composition of the jury, it is curiously appropriate that it should apparently have been so ethnically diverse, given that Vicky Pryce herself is an immigrant to this country from Greece.

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  17. i) To be honest I wasn't sure how to spell her name and I couldn't be bothered to look it up. I would be surprised if even one of the 2000+ people who looked here yesterday was bewildered.

    ii) A jury of your peers means a jury of your equals. Given the complexity of even a straightforward criminal trial what is needed is nothing to do with ethnicity but simply an understanding of English and of the prevailing social and cultural attitudes.

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  18. "Can we reasonably assume that all those born and educated in far-flung parts of the world will fully understand the duties of a British jury?"

    Bizarre. The whole point about the jury process is that they are instructed clearly by a judge in their duties. I am therefore trying to understand what special aspect of British education and upbringing means that potential jurors become de facto qualified to sit on a British jury, (in a way that someone born abroad is not) and I am failing.

    Unless you mean they have been exposed to Rumpole of the Bailey a bit more than those who are born abroad, I'd appreciate clarification.

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  19. Golly, how clever you must all be, to find the 10 questions of the jury in the Hune case "daft".
    Most of them are points regularly raised in appeals to our Supreme Court: can the judge draw inferences from facts that are in themselves uncertain? Can the judge draw inferences from the defendant's failure to run a specific defense? Or any defense? Can the judge rely on speculation about unknown facts? ( that , btw,was one appeal motive in the Meredith Kercher case, the first court having invented out of thin air a hypotetical story of how the alleged murder weapon came to be in the house at all). Not to mention the unending hassle about what is -reasonable doubt-.

    Our upper court judges are kept busy writing decisions the lenght of not very short short-novels, to answer them.
    And how they pride themselves on the choice learning they display in the task.
    Perhaps we lawyers are not the right people to keep it simple. If you say they're daft questions, well, I won't argue with that. But do not flatter yourself, as the Guardian's commentator seemed to do, that they 'd go away if you got rid of juries and put it all in the hands of lawyers. That is not going to happen, quite the reverse.

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  20. The truth is the whole system is about donald-ducked

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  21. On paper it looks mad! In more serious cases we drag 12 untrained strangers together, give them a legal lecture and leave them to it - no reasons are given and we only permit an appeal if the lecture was wrong. In less serious cases we use 3 people with training and experience, with access to live legal advice as they deliberate, giving brief reasons but with an automatic right to a full rehearing on appeal.
    Nevertheless it is part of our heritage and by and large it works.

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  22. Can anyone hazard a guess as to why the journalists in the case cannot be called as witnesses? They declined to write statements - fair enough, but surely they can be subpoena-ed and questioned in "the box"?

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    1. Journalists are properly shy of disclosing their sources, and in any event much of their evidence would be hearsay, thus inadmissible.

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