July 15, 2003

The Verdict on Trial By Jury

Tonight the Government suffered a defeat in the House of Lords. Even though Tony Blair has stripped the chamber of the hereditaries and stuffed it with his own cronies, he has been unable to get a rubber stamp of approval on one of his key reforms to the legal system, the abolition of the automatic right to trial by jury.

Why does the Government want this? As the Minster of State for Criminal Justice System and Law Reform told the BBC tonight, “We are providing the guilty an opportunity to be found guilty”. As unbelievable as that seems, I can tell you that I typed those words even as I heard them and watched them come out of her mouth.

Even though peers voted 210 to 136 against the measure, the Government is determined to force it through. This was their third shot at it, but they will not be refused. The Government line on this has been that jurors are just too thick to understand fraud trials. This time, they have also tried to cast it as a move which will protect jurors, saying in a statement from the Home Office, "This is a bad day for jury members, who would continue to be intimidated by dangerous criminals if this vote were allowed to stand. We shall reverse this defeat in the House of Commons."

It makes more sense to me and to the Tories that more needs to be done to actually deal with the crime of jury intimidation rather than giving into to intimidators by taking away the jury trial for whomever the Government decides shouldn't have it. But as one Tory spokesman said, "The knobblers will go from knobbling juries to knobbling judges."

The real issue is control. The Government can control judges and make sure it gets acceptably high conviction rates. Because they are free of political pressure, juries have bad tendency to deal with the facts and arrive at less acceptable conclusions.

Posted by david at July 15, 2003 10:58 PM | TrackBack