Wednesday, 31 March 2010
She may very well pass for forty three (In the dusk, with the light behind her) *
Today's papers and news bulletins from other media are all making much mention of the radical case of the not guilty... not guilty...not guilty....Guilty verdict of the presumably soon-to-be-known-as "The Thiefrow Four". The arguments this will bring forth will be a fascinating peep into not only the principles of the non-jury trial concept, but of the hearts and minds of this nation - well those who actually have hearts and minds, that is. As one commenter in the above linked `Times` article stated somewhat sarcastically, "What struck me reading this article is that the estimated cost – and no doubt in the end it was a lot more – of a trial to convict four men of stealing £1.75 million was £1.6 million. I’m sorry to make a cheap point but which ones are the robbers? As someone who started his police career in 1971 in London, I was soon to find myself in the higher courts giving evidence on behalf of the Crown. One case, at what used to be known as The Inner London Quarter Sessions, was particularly memorable for me. The defence barrister, who eventually became quite famous, did an excellent job of portraying me as, amongst other things, `forgetful`, `mistaken`, `short sighted` (I actually wasn't, then), `dishonest` and `corrupt`. This, as any seasoned plod reading this (and who has managed to get some Crown Court time in) will recognise, as simply par for the course. After this trial, where the guilty man was acquitted (which of course makes him not guilty in everyone's book - except mine) this charming barrister came up to me outside the court, put his arm around my shoulder and told me that I had done an excellent job, that he felt I would be a worthy opponent in a future trial and would have to `watch out for me` and finally, not to take what he said personally because `it was all part of the game`. After many more jury trial appearances in my career, I formed the firm belief (I almost said `conviction` then) that if I ever found myself in real trouble and facing criminal charges, I would always elect for a jury trial if I possibly could. This wasn't because I believed in the principle of being tried by my peers...by "twelve good men and true"...but because I considered that it was ultimately my very best chance of acquittal - especially if I happened to be guilty. I have studied the law both academically and practically, albeit the latter merely as a police officer, and this still remains my firm belief. I have also studied the justice system in The Netherlands, a very liberal democracy, and there is no such thing as a jury trial there, although this is occasionally the subject of vigorous debate. I think the answers lay somewhere in between the two and would cite the case of Clive Ponting as a prime example where the jury system can send a clear message of discontent from an otherwise powerless public, although one could argue that this was more about aspects of the Official Secrets Act and decisions of Government than it was about the pure facts of whether he was really guilty or not, in the pure legal sense. This is particularly poignant in the light of the current enquiry into how we were committed to war in The Gulf. As for me, give me `twelve good men or women and true` or a mixture of both sexes - but only if I'm guilty. As for having to face a tribunal of canny and experienced legal experts, I wouldn't feel so confident. * From Gilbert and Sullivan's "Trial by Jury"