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Cheers - AE

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Had to happen sooner or later.

A criminal trial without a jury has been given the go ahead because, as far as I can see, they can't keep the jury safe, unbribed and generally nobble free.
Three judges in London, headed by the lord chief justice, Lord Judge, gave the go-ahead because of a "very significant" danger of jury tampering. Lord Judge said the case concerned "very serious criminal activity" arising from a robbery at a warehouse at Heathrow airport in 2004.

Reporting restrictions ban the identification of four defendants. Their trial will take place "in due course".

Today's decision by Lord Judge, sitting with Lord Justice Goldring and Mr Justice McCombe, means the new trial will be the first crown court case in England and Wales to be heard by a judge alone since new legislation came into force in 2003.
Actually I'm not sure it's completely unprecedented. I seem to remember that some terrorist trials in Northern Ireland were heard without juries, but despite terrorists still being criminals this is 'only' armed robbery. That makes trial without a jury on the grounds of an inability to look after a dozen people a bit worrying if you ask me, and for a couple of several reasons. First is that with reporting restrictions in place there's an air of secrecy about it all. Who are the defendants? No idea, they won't say. Whether due to restrictions or sheer can't be arsedeness the Grauniad won't even specify the robbery, although they've said enough for anyone to Google with so I guess this would be it. Now there might be good reasons for it, and I certainly wouldn't want a trial by media situation buggering things up, but if justice is to be seen to be done then opacity doesn't help. Secondly there's the major point that we have trial by jury for a good reason, to prevent anyone being stitched up and jailed because they were convicted on the mind of just one person, however impartial they tried to be. How do we know the judge (or a judge - I hope to hell it'll be more than one) won't be 'got' in some way? One person is easier to protect than twelve I suppose but it's not just protection from intimidation but from influence.

But all that's besides the point. Look at what has been said about this:
In his written judgment, handed down in open court, Lord Judge said: "The case concerns very serious criminal activity, including possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, possession of a firearm with intent to commit robbery, and conspiracy to rob."

During a "carefully planned and professionally executed armed robbery", a firearm was fired at a supervisor. "The objective of the robbery was something in the region of £10m in sterling and mixed foreign currency. As a result of a misreading of a flight manifest, the proceeds amounted to £1.75m, which are largely unrecovered."
Serious criminal activity? Well obviously it's not petty crime we're talking about, but a conspiracy, a gun, the will to use it and the best part of a couple of million still missing do not make for anything unprecedented. Brinks Mat and the Securitas were both serious crimes involving enough people to be conspiracies, and involved firearms and plausible threats of violence. On top of which significant amounts weren't recovered in both cases. Yet the Brinks Mat and Securitas trials were held openly and in front of juries, so what the fuck is going on? We could be forgiven for thinking that someone felt it was about time to test drive that new legislation permitting trials without jury.
Lord Judge went on: "In this country, trial by jury is a hallowed principle of the administration of criminal justice. It is properly identified as a right, available to be exercised by a defendant unless and until the right is amended or circumscribed by express legislation."
Well that seems to be precisely the fucking problem. It has been circumscribed, and snow the precedent has been set so that hallowed principle can now be disposed of when convenient. Only time will tell if this is the thin end of the wedge, but with all the other authoritarian legislation brought in over the last few years... I know I'm not the only one to think the UK has been a soft police state for a while now, but it really looks like it's taking steps towards becoming much nastier.

The grinning mutation, the monocular maniac and the puppet master Mandelsnake have put all the tools in place. All that's needed is someone mad or evil enough to use them to the full and Air Strip One could be coming soon. I know it's been quoted plenty of times before but it's worth seeing it again:
"What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ... And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you - where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's, and if you cut them down -- and you're just the man to do it -- do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!"
Sir Thomas More  -  A Man For All Seasons

UPDATE 1: Shibby has a link to the Mouth's coverage of the story, where I read this (my bold):
Lord Judge told the court the cost of the measures needed to protect jurors from potential influence, such as the services of police officers, was too high and that such measures may not properly insulate them.
Fucking hell. It comes down to that then, does it? Money? Well if the bastards get their sentences - because regardless of their possible guilt in reality I don't give them a snowball's chance in hell of being found not guilty in the court - overturned on appeal we'll know what fucknuts are to blame for it.

UPDATE 2: ON reading a bit further I see that the new legislation that allows this is the Criminal Justice Act 2003 which came into force a month too late for the Securitas trial. Did I say test drive? Did I?

UPDATE 3: Bishop Hill raises a point that had occurred to me but which I hadn't really addressed. British citizens have had their means, if not their actual right, to defend themselves taken away piecemeal over the last century or so. A little here, a little there, and suddenly modern Britons are basically helpless. And this has been done on the grounds that the police are there to protect them and so the need for a means of effective self defence is no longer needed. It's crap of course, but when the police are apparently unable to adequately protect a dozen people how they hell do they expect us to believe they can protect 60 million? I suspect this might be another reason why the judgement talked about cost of protecting a jury and inconvenience to jury members. Saying that they doubted they could protect 12 people, whose whereabouts are largely fixed and known to the police in advance, might make the rest of the country sit up and say "Wait... what?"



JuliaM said...

"I seem to remember that some terrorist trials in Northern Ireland were heard without juries..."

Indeed - those will have been the Diplock Courts:

"Reporting restrictions ban the identification of four defendants."

Bound to work. Thre were so many warehouse robberies at Heathrow in 2004... ;)

And as you've pointed out, Google is your friend in these matters.

But I think you're right - this IS more about testing out the policy before ringing it in in full.

Angry Exile said...

Yep, couldn't remember the name but I knew it had been done in Ulster. I'm unsure whether the cost saving is a genuine issue, as shit an excuse as it is, or if it's just a bit of smoke to cover the test drive.

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