Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Can a jury undermine the rule of law?

Just listening to Moral Maze - Radio 4 and Melanie Phillips has just said that the jury in the Hawk jet case undermined the rule of law when it acquitted 4 women of criminal damage after they had smashed up the jets believing them to be destined for supply to Indonesia, who they thought would use them to commit alleged genocide in East Timor.

Whatever you think of their verdict, the Jury were not undermining the rule of law; they were carrying it out.

The jury is the lamp which shows that freedom lives (Lord Devlin).  It is the jewel in the crown of our liberal state is the jury which can ignore the prosecution, ignore the Judge, ignore the law and acquit where they see fit.  The jury is independent and truly free.  Since Bushel’s Case (1670) 124 E.R. 1006, even if it is directed by a Judge to convict or acquit (and few lawyers believe it can be directed to do the former), it has the right to do as it sees fit.  It can even return no verdict and be discharged.  If the jury acquitted then it used to be the final word.  That right has been eroded; as has the right to always have a jury in a trial on indictment.  Juries are expensive.  They are to some extent at risk (see previous post).  This is not the time to be accusing them of undermining the rule of law; this is the time to demanding their preservation in defence of the rule of law.

1 comment:

  1. A post with which I respectfully agree and I would not ghave expected anything else from the opinionated Melanie Phillips of Daily Mail fame. The jury system ought to be strengthened and not eroded by a process of reforms.

    Also, whilst it is often said that 'juries are expensive', we should note that jurors (like Justices of the Peace) receive only minimal expenses. The real costs in criminal cases are the lawyers, especially when Queen's Counsel become involved. Are juries really all that expensive in the vast majority of Crown Court cases?

    The legal costs in civil proceedings are also massive. That was one reason (though far from being the main reason) why the government has settled the Al Rawi case.