Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Trial By Jury - Or By Prejudice?

For many, trial by jury has long been the most important part of our judicial system. Those accused of a criminal offence, it is argued, have a right to be tried by 12 of their peers, who are selected at random from the community. But, as the decades have passed, I have become increasingly convinced that the jury system has become anachronistic and is now fraught with problems.

My doubts started when I, myself, sat in a cage in a crown court in 2014 and a liar who had accused me of having touched him inappropriately 30 years earlier was allowed to give his 'evidence' from behind a screen. Those 12 jury members, most entering a court for the very first time, would not be human if they didn't feel some bias against me in my cage, and empathy towards the 'vulnerable' liar, being protected from my view. Thus, we have a natural bias against the defendant to overcome from the start.

When it comes to alleged crimes perpetrated against children, ordinary folk are programmed to feel disgusted and will be most reluctant to acquit if they feel there is even a smidgen of doubt that the accused may be guilty. Everyone knows that 'guilty beyond reasonable doubt' is unlikely to come into many jurors' decision making, but rather it is a case of  'are the chances this person might well be guilty?'

Recently, I sat through a criminal case in a crown court in which a man was on trial for alleged historical abuse perpetrated against three young women in the 1970s. I watched the jury eagerly as the evidence was presented and I was shocked that only one of the twelve was bothering to take any notes at all. If I'd been on that jury, I would have been unable to come to an informed decision back in the retiring room based solely on memory. I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that some of them might well have been bored.

And how can the system prevent certain jury members from making decisions based on their in-built prejudices? What was it that juror Kasim Davey posted on Facebook after a trial at which he had been adjudicating....'Woooow, I wasn't expecting to be in a jury deciding a paedophile's fate. I've always wanted to fuck up a paedo.'

Can we really be sure that all jurors will start listening to the evidence being presented to them completely open-minded about the defendant sitting in his or her cage? It is foolish to assume so. Is the present system an expensive and dangerous way of placing incredibly important decisions in the hands of 12 ordinary citizens, some of whom might well not understand the complexities of the case?

I do concede that judges can also be biased against certain tranches of the population but if we had a system in the crown court similar to that at a magistrates' court, i.e. three trained judges prevailing, I think it would be likely we would have fewer miscarriages of justice, particularly where historical allegations are concerned, as these usually are based on one person's word against another. Three judges would also be wary of the police's m.o. of trawling for complainants when the initial complaint has no evidence to support it... quantity replacing quality 'evidence', as is often the case nowadays.

I know a professional, hitherto distinguished, man who was recently sent down on the allegation of an ex-con. The jury was unaware the complainant's criminal history and that he was facing another jail sentence as he gave his 'evidence'. The defendant was subsequently found guilty based on prejudice rather than any actual evidence. Had three highly trained, informed judges been in charge of proceedings (there is a good reason why judges have to undergo such rigorous training), they would have been better equipped to come to the correct decision and, as according to our innocent until proven guilty system, this person would have been rightly acquitted.

I dread to think the number of innocent people serving time in jail - the national figure doesn't bear thinking about. I can state without hesitation that, with the growth of social media, if anyone thinks that the long established rule of jurors not checking out the background to defendants (to avoid bias thinking) still exists, he or she is living in cloud cuckoo land.


  1. My husband had a trial by jury and was convicted to 3 life sentences for aggravated rape of his natural children ages 2,4, and 5. We know that there was a lot of exculpatory evidence withheld. Like the fact the children had actually accused over a dozen adults and so much more. The 2 yr old remembered absolutely nothing and only recalled someone teaching him words. The 4,5 yr olds said what they were told. The 2 kids have recanted and told their story in Court as well as affidavits and another boy who was 11 at the time did an affidavit telling of his being threatened and coerced. 25 years later, we've recently learned a lot of new evidence. I was somewhat shocked to find out that 1 of the jurors said he had his mind made up before the trial and a 2nd one said he voted the way he was told. We are trying to go back to court, we don't have funds for an attorney. How do we fight Actual Innocence by ourselves?

  2. Julie Healy

    My partner was convicted in October 2014. Before all this, we had complete faith in the justice system, but I have discovered how corrupt the justice system is, how the CPS/police work to ensure that people are charged - with many being wrongly convicted.

    Many cases are not investigated properly, with no evidence needed to secure a conviction - just words. I have also discovered that some people use their police friends to make ensure that people are arrested then charged. In our case the statements were full of flaws , even the judge stated (only when the jury were not present) that "It looks like they have all sat around the kitchen table to get their stories straight". when the verdict came I was in total shock. Our complainant did not attend court for the verdict or for sentencing. Surly if you really had been "abused" you would want to see justice done. I know I would. Things are starting to change and the public are now being made aware of how many people are being falsely accused. Like so many others, I am fighting to be heard !