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article imageOp-Ed: 'The Jury' — Analysis of a TV mini-series — and a rant

By Alexander Baron     Nov 14, 2011 in Entertainment
London - Last week, ITV screened a mini-series called 'The Jury'. In spite of a number of improbable side plots, it raised some important issues relating to the criminal justice system.
Maurice Chevalier may be best remembered for singing Thank Heaven For Little Girls but in his twilight years he came out with a gem: being eighty years old isn't so bad when you consider the alternative.
Old age brings with it all manner of undesirable traits including frailty; the jury system is not only frail but laughable, but it's only when you consider the alternative that you realise what a wonderful institution it is.
I write those words with as much pain as wisdom, having had more experience of the corrupt criminal justice system than most. Fourteen years ago, after spending six months on remand, I stood in the dock at Southwark Crown Court where three Pakistani cricketers recently stood, and watched a vile conspiracy play out in front of my eyes. A conspiracy involving a frightened little woman, corrupt police officers, a small army of liars, and a narrow-minded, bigoted judge who as good as told me he was going to send me down for ten years for writing a few words on a piece of paper, one sentence containing an off the cuff remark that was twisted into a threat to kill. One sentence in a fifteen page document the police claimed was a tissue of lies from beginning to end. Except that one sentence, of course.
Out of that one sentence they also concocted a charge of witness intimidation, against a woman who was a witness to nothing at the time it was written. Additionally, they concocted a charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, again out of that one sentence, the basis for this charge being that a senior detective had given it to his subordinate, who had faxed it to the so-called victim, who was so distressed at the contents of this document that she suffered serious psychological damage and spent six months off work.
Believe me, I am not making this up; that third charge was too much even for the bigoted old bastard of a judge, who instructed the Crown not to proceed with it.
Then I watched this frightened little woman - read evil, little tart - walk into court holding hands with her paramour and trembling like a schoolgirl who had just been felt up by an old man in a dirty mack, clearly for the benefit of the jury. Then I watched her testify to her trauma, how her supervisor was so concerned for her safety that “she gave me a mobile phone”.
She was of course backed up by her supervisor, another frightened little woman, though not quite as disgusting. “I was so concerned for her safety that I gave her a mobile phone”. And of course I was going to jump over the prison wall and snatch it from her.
I could write a lot more in this vein, suffice it to say that the jury ignored what was arguably the most biased, bigoted and inaccurate summing up in English criminal history, and acquitted me of both charges. No, it didn't end there. Since then I have seen what the people who run the system are capable of without the jury to keep them in check. I have had a magistrate threaten to have me removed physically from his courtroom for trying to bring a summons against a corrupt police officer. I have watched Crown prosecutors laugh at me, and even had a judge laugh in my face, not any judge, a High Court judge.
It is only when you have been up close against these people you realise just how badly they stink of corruption. However much I have suffered at their hands, the suffering of other, totally innocent people beggars belief: Stefan Kiszko, Donald Treadaway, the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, the Tottenham Three...the list goes on and on. And so to The Jury.
If you've read enough already, or even too much, you will find it on iplayer at the moment, though it will probably find its way onto YouTube shortly. Copyright is dead, remember?
The Jury follows the retrial of a man whose conviction for the murders of three women was quashed by the Court of Appeal. The Home Secretary of the day was intent on abolishing the right to trial by jury, period. Jurors are too dumb or too unsophisticated, or don't understand the law. We need professionals to do the job. Right? There was also the cost argument, the system was and is terribly expensive. How much nicer it would be if a judge sitting alone were to hear criminal cases, or perhaps a panel of judges. Come to think of it, why bother with a judge at all, why not just throw people in clink when they've been arrested, after all, if they hadn't done anything wrong, the police wouldn't have their beady eyes on them.
The Jury has a number of sub-plots, including a rather improbable attempt to nobble the foreman by a woman posing as the foreman of the previous jury. Or perhaps that should be foreperson, as in our future jury-less dystopia, sexism will be a capital offence.
Needless to say, justice prevails in the end, although the poor bloke has spent the past five years in gaol partly it must be said due to bad fortune. And of course, there will always be those who said he did it and got off on a technicality, as he did the last time, when his case went to the Court of Appeal.
The first thing an international audience will notice is the difference between the American and English systems. I say English rather than British because Scotland has its own legal system. There are fifteen jurors rather than twelve, and there are three verdicts: guilty, not guilty and not proven.
In the USA, there is a Grand Jury. In England, the Grand Jury was abolished partially in 1933, and completely in 1948. Something that was abolished much more recently is the Old Style Committal, something I had the dubious pleasure of experiencing, but is a committal on the papers any better? Again, this is presented partly as a cost cutting exercise, but when the price is measured in human misery, it is obviously too high.
The criminal justice system in the US is much more open, in some respects far too open. In Britain, it is a criminal offence for jurors to discuss their cases with the media; in America, well, see for yourself.
This case, that of Casey Anthony, which resulted in acquittal on all counts and massive public outrage, is one of the arguments against the jury system, and ostensibly a powerful one, but Anthony got lucky, she had the dumbest jury in America. The other outrageous acquittal was of course that of OJ Simpson, but there have been others.
I have witnessed personally both an outrageous acquittal and an equally outrageous conviction, although I wasn't in the courtrooms when the verdicts were delivered, but you can read about them here.
Two of the most ludicrous convictions I have ever seen are those of Michael Stone, who was convicted of the Chillenden Murders, and after his conviction was quashed, was tried and convicted again, the first time on the strength of three confessions he was alleged to have made to other inmates while on remand, the second on the basis of one confession he was alleged to have shouted through a prison wall. Both juries returned majority verdicts, but ludicrous though these convictions were and are, we should never forget that Stone would not have been convicted of these heinous crimes if the thoroughly evil men and women who control our so-called criminal justice system hadn't brought the prosecution in each case.
This ludicrous miscarriage of justice involved police officers, CPS lawyers who were venal enough to bring charges, prosecuting barristers who were prepared to argue the case in open court, and judges who were prepared to admit this non-evidence. If Michael Stone can be convicted on the evidence that was adduced at both his trials, then anyone can be convicted of any crime on no evidence whatsoever. Removing the jury from the equation does not reduce the possibility of error, it compounds it, and that is assuming there is no ill-will or bias against the accused, which is often not the case. Magistrates and judges have an unsuperable blindness to police and prosecutorial misconduct, as my own personal experience, the historical record, and indeed academic studies have demonstrated time and time and time again.
Another point I should make, it is widely and erroneously assumed that miscarriage of justice affects only certain types of defendants, poor and black, and others the people who control the system regard with contempt. Alas, the truth is far worse than that. If “the system” is out to get you, it doesn't matter how wealthy you are, in fact, sometimes wealth and privilege can be a disadvantage rather than an asset for the man in the dock.
One final but important point before I return to The Jury, while a judge when delivering a verdict will usually explain his reasons for so doing, and even a humble magistrate will usually give, if not a narrative then some sort of indication as to why he has so found, a jury has absolute discretion to convict or acquit, and is not obliged to give any reason(s) for so doing. This can be traced to the 17th Century Penn Quaker sermon case.
Finally, back to the ITV mini-series, one highly topical issue that was raised here is how far new technology has impacted on trial by jury. Here, the woman who attempted to nobble the jury was unmasked because having passed herself off to the foreman of the second trial as the jury foreman from the first, it was brought to his attention that the real foreman - a woman who had emigrated to Canada - had spoken out against protocol about the quashing of the first jury's verdict by the Court of Appeal.
There has been at least one case where a juror visited a crime scene on his own initiative, and more recently there have been cases involving Facebook. In view of some of the lies that are peddled about criminal cases - the names Satpal Ram and Mumia Abu-Jamal spring to mind - there are serious concerns that jurors who research cases themselves will be influenced by facts, opinions and outright lies that should have no consideration in the courtroom. For the sake of balance, I should also mention the innuendo that was dished out in the Joanna Yeates case against the innocent Chris Jefferies. If Vincent Tabak had not come onto the police radar, they may just have opted for putting the second best suspect in the dock, with catastrophic results for both Mr Jefferies and justice.
Fortunately, The Jury has a happy ending, an innocent man walks free - the actual murderer had committed suicide sometime before - so justice has been done, and on top of that, the House of Lords defeats the latest attempt to abolish juries altogether.
In the real world, there will still be attempts to limit if not remove trial by jury entirely, in addition to other attacks on our freedoms. While the jury system is safe for now, the same cannot be said for many of our other liberties, those rights Englishman in particular spilled their precious blood to secure, so that now in an age of political correctness, on the pretext of "improving" conviction rates in rape cases or saving costs, our latter day elected tyrants may seek to destroy them.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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