Law Review: Juries, jazzy and jam…

The Independent carried a story today about the dangers  of police officers sitting on juries. The law was reformed five years ago to widen the pool from which jurors could be called to include judges, lawyers, police and others.  I thought at the time that having judges, experienced lawyers and police on juries would, ultimately, not work – despite protestations to the contrary at the time that jurors with judicial or police experience would serve impartially.  I am not a criminal lawyer, but it is interesting when four senior Crown Court judges are critical.  One judge is reported as saying:  “I do think the notion of opening up juries to those actually involved in the legal system is a step too far. When I say the legal system, I include police officers.” Another said: “I think it’s too far to have judges and policemen sit on juries… In a criminal case police in particular are not who you would want on a dispassionate jury.”

With the middle and professional classes keen to avoid jury duty and, from what I have been told, fairly successful at doing so – inevitably, the intellectual ability, impartiality and enthusiasm of some jurors may well be a factor in the efficacy of that jury.

It would be interesting to hear the view of criminal practitioners who read this blog – assuming you have the time, energy or inclination to comment! – or, indeed, the view of readers generally.

So… it is not all bad news for lawyers
The former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, has predicted an explosion of ‘mega-litigation’ in the aftermath of this week’s collapse of Lehman Brothers. Legal Week reports “There is going to be litigation on a scale that we have not seen before,” he told the conference, predicting the emergence of “a new era” for litigation and dispute resolution. Falconer said Lehman-related litigation would follow three stages. First, there would be a series of disputes to determine the exact nature of the liabilities, then there would be a battle to determine how the bank’s remaining assets should be distributed and finally creditors would seek to identify institutions, advisors or regulatory bodies they could blame for their loss.

And it seems that London Lehman lawyers are going to be in work for some ‘months’. The Lawyer

While Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, has been in Vietnam and Pakistan building bridges and telling people how to run a justice system, Maria Eagle, has been busy over at The Ministry of Justice.  Her latest announcement (of several this week) : The law on assisting suicide is to be simplified to increase public understanding and reassure people that it applies as much on the internet as it does off-line, Justice Minister, Maria Eagle said today. Following a review of the Suicide Act 1961, the government has decided to reframe it in new, modern language that will make it easier for individual internet users and internet-based businesses, such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to understand. UK ISPs already take down any websites under their control when notified that they contain illegal material and are free to restrict access to harmful or tasteless material in accordance with their ‘acceptable use’ policies. Simplifying the law should help them in doing this.

It is pleasing to see that at least some MPs are at their desks instead of skulking in the shadows of The Senate, daggers under their togas, waiting for Julius Brown to pitch up.

It is also pleasing to see that local authorities are taking advantage of their limited understanding of the principles of (a) justice and (b) common sense by misusing legislation. The Telegraph reports that  Covert surveillance was used in a bid to catch independent punt operators collecting customers from undesignated spots along the River Cam in Cambridge. Cambridge City Council mounted two cameras under a pavilion roof to spy on punters and council staff took hundreds of photographs. The use of the cameras was authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). Labour councillor Lewis Herbert said the council was justified in using the cameras, for health and safety reasons.

Clearly, I misunderstood the purpose of the RIPA legislation.  I had understood it to be designed to assist in the war on terror and to deal with the need for covert surveillance of terror suspects.  Ah well….. that’s the problem with modern legislation… so much of it and not always that well crafted.

I shall resist the urge to say anything other than …. this is clearly a stunt with a punt.

And finally….

Is The Stig a High Court judge? Well… anything is possible and certainly, these days, our senior judges are very more closely in touch with daily life than perhaps once they were - but, no… it is unlikely that The Stig is a senior judge.  But…. if The Stig is a high court judge…  these will be his day job robes (without wig) from 1st October when the new look judiciary hits town in non-criminal cases. The learned friends, however, will continue to dress as they have done for centuries… although it has to be said… one does not see many blue and red bags around these days…it is  all stewardess style  suitcases on trolleys these days to cart the kit, laptops and files around.

More legal developments as they unfold….

3 thoughts on “Law Review: Juries, jazzy and jam…

  1. The juries thing…

    The Government a few years ago got pissed off at the ‘middle class opt-out’ as regards jury service and also – I’m quite sure – acted on the belief that middle class jurors would bump up conviction rates.

    Until then I was disqualified from sitting on a jury – and quite right too. I’d make the worst juror in the world. I know far far too much ;) To have people involved in the criminal justice system sitting on juries seems to me to be totally wrong. The police are an extreme exmple – even if they do their best to step out of their role and be fair (I suspect this is variable at best but we don’t know because there has been – and presently can be – no systematic research on juror behaviour, how can Johnny Criminal feel he is getting a fair trial with the old bill on their jury? Justice should not only be done but be seen to be done….

  2. Andrew

    I’m with you on this one….. I seem to recall one case where a High Court was sitting on the jury. Could be mistaken….

    It places far too much of a burden on ‘those in the know’ to act as if they ‘don’t know’ and be impartial….

  3. I felt extremely uncomfortable sitting on a jury as a lower-than-whale-pooh 3rd year undergraduate – I cant begin to imagine what learned counsel or a high court judge would feel like……

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