Save us from patronising Guardian columnists who think that only clever people should be on juries. What happened at the Pryce trial was a one off aberration
22 Feb 2013 at 10:01
I was wondering how long it was going to be before someone started screaming for the end of jury trials. I was expecting at least a “Juries give you cancer” scare from the Mail", “Juries, just another blow from Brussels” from the Express and “stunning, blonde divorcee juror halts Pryce trial by performing sex act during judge’s summing up”. I was wrong. The prize for the most out of touch, out of mind, sphincter rattling, gonad clenching piece of ignorant nonsense graces today’s Guardian. What makes it so depressing is that it was written by the normally thoughtful Simon Jenkins (Onan Professor of toss pottery pure and applied).
I have been prosecuting and defending at the criminal bar for thirty five years. What happened before Mr Justice Sweeney was so unusual as to be unique. I have wracked by brains and cannot think of another example of a juror asking such literate but daft questions. I am beginning to wonder whether there were wind up merchants determined to wreck the trial. We will never know.
But back to Mr.J. He quotes the killer jury question in full.
Can a juror come to a verdict on a reason not raised in court which has no facts or evidence to support it?
He then comes to the bizarre and totally inaccurate conclusion that “everyone knows that juries do that all the time”. This is dangerous nonsense. Each juror swears an oath or affirms that they will try the case on the evidence. It is the compulsory and standard direction that a judge tells them that they must not speculate about anything that they have not heard in the court room.
Jenkins then comes out with another whopper gleaned, he claims, from the work of Cheryl Thomas (who she?) from UCL. She has reached the conclusion that " finds barristers googling jurors to discover their weaknesses and jurors googling the accused and witnesses". How on earth can we google jurors if we don’t know where they live? Sheer fantasy. And a dangerous one at that as it is totally untrue. Unlike in America our jurors are not screened and interrogated, they are randomly chosen. And before the evidence even begins the judge gives Jurors a very stern warning not to access the internet, nor social media to research anything to do with case on pain of being sent to prison. But the Jenkinsion legal Disneyland seem to know no bounds. “A majority of criminal cases now depend heavily on technical knowledge of DNA and financial law. Conscientious jurors are bound to research such matters. That is why courthouses are full of people gazing at their little screens.” Yeah, on pain of being chucked in the chokey. And Simon, old chum, all mobile phones and laptops are confiscated from jurors.
And just to show that the old boy has finally flipped we have this little gem. “The Huhne case is outrageous ……it is about switching. People do it all the time…..that he should go to prison is crazy”. No Simon, you are the crazy one here. The case is all about lying to evade a criminal prosecution. We quaintly call it peverting the course of public justice. Parliament took rather a dim view of it and legislated that the maximum sentence be life imprisonment.
And the conclusion? “For ordinary citizens to be pressed into services to supply an audience for a legal parlour game is not sensible.” There are no parlour games in court and there haven’t been for many years. The jury system really is the cornerstone of British justice and a protection of the citizen from an over powerful executive. We have highly professional judges who explain the law in a simple way. Then twelve men and women from all backgrounds make an assessment of whether witnesses are telling the truth, lying or just doing their best. But of course, Jenkins, with a brain the size of a Katie Price mammary, looks down on them all. They are too dim. Lawyers are just there for fun and to confuse the dribbling and gurning peasants. How much better it would be for clever people to decide the lives of their inferiors. Clever people like Mr Jenkins who earns a living patronising everyone who is not up to his academic standard.
Personally, I have always like Jenkins. But to read uninformed bollocks written by someone who has as little understanding of our judicial system as I have of astro physics is profoundly depressing.
A few years ago Jenkins asked the grizzled old historian and Mail columnist Paul Johnson, why he thought he was getting more radical with age. Johnson just growled, “perhaps because you are a cunt.”