Law: Are Expert Juries Fair? ; New Rules Mean Judges and Police Officers Can Be Called for Jury Service. Critics Fear the Move Could Put Justice at Risk. Robert Verkaik Reports
Verkaik, Robert, The Independent (London, England)
John Dyson is one of this country's sharpest legal minds. After a distinguished career as an advocate at the bar he was appointed to the bench where he became the presiding judge in the technology and construction court. He now sits as a Court of Appeal judge and has delivered judgements on a number of landmark cases. But last month he made legal history in his own right when he became the most senior member of the judiciary to be called to do jury service under government reforms aimed at compelling the middle classes to play a bigger part in the criminal justice system.
As a judge, no one has ever questioned Lord Justice Dyson's impartiality but there is growing concern that the very presence of a judge or barrister sitting among 11 lay jurors could lead to a miscarriage of justice. This unease is widely reflected among the judiciary and the Bar. The new rules abolish traditional restrictions on people in certain professions who were once thought unable to deliver impartial verdicts when trying a criminal case. These included judges, police officers, lawyers and almost anyone else who knew too much about the workings of the criminal justice system. Senior judges and barristers want to know what has changed suddenly to make it acceptable to sweep away this safeguard.
Last week a judge discharged a senior barrister from a jury at the Old Bailey because he believed his presence might be prejudicial. Judge George Bathurst-Norman said the QC's knowledge of court procedure would allow the lawyer to understand a legal matter that other jurors would not pick up. He warned that the same might apply to anyone with specialist knowledge sitting on a jury and said he did not know how new legislation allowing barristers and judges to sit on juries was expected to work. "Where do you draw the line?" he asked. "I have to ensure a fair trial. I don't know how this legislation is going to work if judges are to sit on juries."
Judge Bathurst-Norman's comments may apply just as well to other professionals who work closely with the criminal justice system. For example, police officers not only understand some of the mechanics of the criminal law, they also work in a profession whose raison d'etre it is to secure convictions. What policeman can honestly say that he or she will be able to leave their prejudices outside the jury room? Many crown court judges and criminal barristers and solicitors may also have a jaundiced or cyncial view of the case for the defence. After all, they sit through dozens of trials each year listening to very similar lines of defence delivered by the same old faces. The attrition rate of guilty verdicts must eventually take its toll on the objectivity of even the most fair-minded of judges.
Judge Barthurst-Norman is not the first to raise this concern. Other judges are also known to oppose these new rules and Judge Stephen Clarke, who sits on the North Wales and Chester circuit, recently described the idea as unworkable.
Defence lawyers have quickly woken up to what is a potentially rich seam of appeal points. While some will now undoubtedly challenge the juror and apply to have him or her removed on "specialist knowledge" grounds, others will wait until after the verdict before deciding whether to rely on the complexion of the jury as a point of appeal. This means that the new reforms are creating ready-made challenges to defendants who want to appeal their convictions.
Judges who are summoned for jury service are also being placed in an invidious position. What if they know the judge presiding in the case in which they are called to …
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Publication information: Article title: Law: Are Expert Juries Fair? ; New Rules Mean Judges and Police Officers Can Be Called for Jury Service. Critics Fear the Move Could Put Justice at Risk. Robert Verkaik Reports. Contributors: Verkaik, Robert - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: June 14, 2004. Page number: 7. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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