Friday 3 August 2012

The Jury - It is the lamp that shows that freedom lives

Lord Steyn said in R v Conner (albeit in the criminal context):

Lord Devlin observed "that trial by jury is more than an instrument of justice and more than one wheel of the constitution: it is the lamp that shows that freedom lives": Trial by Jury, (1956), p 164. This was a reference to the candles that were lit in London in the windows of London houses following the acquittal of the seven Bishops in 1688: see Macaulay, The History of England from the Accession of James II, (1849) vol 2, at p 389.The jury is an integral and indispensable part of the criminal justice system. The system of trial by judge and jury is of constitutional significance. The jury is also, through its collective decision-making, an excellent fact finder. Not surprisingly, the public trust juries.

The Jury has been excelling as a fact-finder again.  This time in an inquest into the death of a male in police custody.  The Independent Police Complaints Commission  (IPCC) is alleged and reported by others to have botched its report and it is reported that the Coroner refused to leave unlawful killing or neglect to the inquest jury.

Nevertheless the jury have delivered a scathing narrative verdict which is available here

They found alongside other things:

Whilst Sean Rigg was in custody the Police failed to uphold his basic rights and omitted to deliver the appropriate care.

The restraint of Sean Rigg lasted approximately eight minutes whilst the hand cuffing took approximately thirty seconds.  Sean Rigg was in the prone position throughout the entire restraint.  The agreed view of the Jury is that Sean Rigg was struggling but not violently.  The length of restraint in the prone position was therefore unnecessary.  It is the majority view of the Jury that this more than minimally contributed to Sean’s death.  The majority view of the Jury is that at some point of the restraint unnecessary body weight was placed on Sean Rigg.

The IPCC said this:

The jury at the inquest of Sean Rigg has today (Wednesday, 1 August) returned a narrative verdict at Southwark Coroner’s Court.  The jury found that there were missed opportunities and a lack of appropriate care by both the police and the mental health services, and that the level and length of restraint used was unsuitable and unnecessary.
IPCC Commissioner Amerdeep Somal said:
“The death of Sean Rigg at Brixton Police Station on 21 August 2008 was a terrible tragedy for his family and many friends. It is clear from the many tributes to him that he lived a full and active life.
“Mr Rigg’s death is a symptom of a deeper problem: the link between mental illness and deaths in or following police custody. Sadly it remains the case that in 2011/2012, half of the deaths in police custody were of people with mental illness.  They represent a particularly vulnerable group, often, as in Mr Rigg’s case, failed by the people and systems that ought to protect them. As the IPCC has repeatedly stated, police stations are not, and cannot be, a ‘place of safety’ for people with mental health problems. 
“The IPCC is considering the jury’s narrative verdict and the further evidence which has emerged through the inquest process.
“I have no doubt there are lessons for the IPCC from the investigation into Mr Rigg’s tragic death. His family has demonstrated considerable determination and fortitude in seeking answers to the circumstances of his death and I acknowledge their sense of frustration with the IPCC investigation.
“We will ensure that the IPCC review of deaths which is due to begin in September takes into account the inquest findings and Mr Rigg’s family’s concerns to see what improvements we can make in our practices to ensure a greater level of public confidence in our work in this crucial area.” 

Lots more here and here and here.  I do not know whether the jury's verdict is a fair reflection of the evidence.  It is on any view brave, and that's what I like about jurys.

See my post on Tomlinson and whether Coroner's juries should get their powers to indict -


  1. And yet, "collective decision-making, an excellent fact finder" is being steadily eroded by the replacement of benches of magistrates by single judges.