I trust Robert Buckland when he says that he would only consider curtailing jury trials as a ‘last resort’ and a ‘temporary measure’ to clear the backlog of trials. But abandoning jury trials in favour of a single judge or a judge sitting with two lay magistrates shouldn’t be a resort at all. It is wrong. It is unfair. It is monstrous. It discriminates against BAME at a time when we are trying to restore trust. And it effectively demolishes the cornerstone of our crumbling justice system.
The forty one thousand Crown Court trials in suspended animation has precious little to do with COVID-19. The backlog was well over thirty seven thousand before lockdown and rising. The appalling reality is that this was a particularly pernicious way of saving money. The cunning plan? Close the courts and we save cash. This is the accountancy of the insane and the morality of an Algerian brothel keeper. So when the public are being softened up for this constitutional outrage by that great organ of truth, the Daily Telegraph, do not believe a word of it. This is meant to be the government of law and order. In a chilling way it is. Their law. Their order. But this is the government’s own mess. They must sort it without destroying what is left of British Justice
And don’t believe a single utterance from that nest of vipers and that nursery of traitors in the MOJ. Anyone who has had any dealings with that lot sleeps with one eye open and a gun under the pillow. They have an Agenda. And it has precious little to do with justice.
And where is the leadership from the judiciary? To be fair the LCJ has been vocal about government underfunding. But now he is a purveyor of the ‘temporary measure...last report’ death wish mantra. He should grow some cojones and say to the government that there must be no curtailment of jury trials under any circumstances. And don’t talk to me about the saintly Brenda Hale. The most generous I can be is that I am deeply disappointed.
The bar, solicitors and the overwhelming majority of Crown Court judges are totally and unconditionally against the temporary ( not that I believe it would be temporary as it would be heralded as a world beating, turbo charged success) replacement of juries with a judge sitting with two lay magistrates.
Let me just explain why this is unconscionable, unworkable and just plain wrong.
Argument one. ‘We have to clear the backlog’. Yes. We can have social distancing and good hygiene in courts. It is starting already. But we need to use recorders more. We need more buildings. Buckland has just signed of the first ten Blackstone courts. These must be the first of many more. Ironically, the MOJ has made significant savings to their budget because of lockdown. We can do this.
Argument 2. ‘A judge sitting with two magistrates would keep the lay element and have none of the challenges of social distancing’.
Dangerous nonsense. The appeal of the jury system is that it is totally random. Which makes it fair for everyone. And seen to be fair to everyone. There is precious little diversity in the lay magistracy. Just 12% are BAME. 5% are under 40, 52% are over 60. How does this restore confidence in justice to a young black lad of good character accused of an either way offence? Remember, he has already chosen jury trial because he doesn’t feel he will get justice in the magistrates court. The state would have cancelled his wishes at a stroke. And then he appears before a case hardened judge and two white middle aged men. Don’t we have enough racial tension without pouring petrol onto the smouldering embers of discontent?
Argument 3. ‘Most people are guilty. They bamboozle juries with dodgy defences. The new tribunals will see through this and dispense speedy justice’. It is because of views like this that people chose to be tried by a jury. Because it is fair.
I didn’t go to the bar or into politics to be party to the dismantling of our criminal justice system. I and many others will refuse to take part in trials which are not only seen to be unfair, but will be unfair.
We must not allow this country to sleep walk into the curtailment of jury trials. We must be united in our unconditional opposition.