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A break with tradition: trial without jury in England
January 11, 2010 3:58 AM   Subscribe

The first criminal trial without a jury to take place in England and Wales in more than 400 years begins tomorrow.

For 400-years trial-by-jury has been a right for all those accused of a crime in the United Kingdom. In 2003, the Criminal Justice Act gave judges the power to order a no-jury trial where "there is evidence of a real and present danger that jury tampering would take place" and where any steps taken to prevent it, such as police protection for jurors, would not be effective. There are some suggestions that this is a money saving exercise .

The accused men were arrested in 2004 for a bungled robbery of a Heathrow warehouse. Their trial has already been started and abandoned several times at huge cost.

Trial without jury is not actually unheard of in the UK. "Diplock courts" were established in Northern Ireland in 1972 to try some scheduled offences in order to overcome jury intimidation during the Troubles.
posted by jonesor (52 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nothing Orwellian to see here. Move along.
posted by clarknova at 4:06 AM on January 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Here in Canada, there's only a right to a jury when the maximum punishment is 5 years or more. There are some situations when lesser times also give the right to a jury, but I'm not certain what they are. I don't hear too many people railing against it, but I really don't know enough about the statistics to have an informed opinion.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:23 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm all for justice and order and such, but it seems kind of stupid to spend 10 times what the guy stole and STILL not be done with the legal proceedings.
posted by caution live frogs at 4:28 AM on January 11, 2010


Nothing Orwellian to see here. Move along.

There really isn't. These are simple crooks, not political agitators. Perhaps they really are engaging in witness intimidation.

Nah, no one accused of planning and executing an airport robbery would do that. Except legendary English criminal Billy Hill, whom it appears these guys were imitating.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:32 AM on January 11, 2010


Nothing Orwellian to see here. Move along.

There really isn't. These are simple crooks, not political agitators. Perhaps they really are engaging in witness intimidation.


Also, the defence and prosecution won't have to play to the crowd. If I were a defendant I'd much prefer not to have a jury.
posted by mattoxic at 4:40 AM on January 11, 2010


Magistrates' Courts hear lesser criminal matters without juries; it's not that different from Canada or any other Common Law system. The article is just badly written, they mean "serious criminal trial".
posted by GeckoDundee at 4:46 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Barbaric.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:53 AM on January 11, 2010


This appears to be a close-to-unique situation where the right to trial by jury is in conflict with the right to be able to live in a democracy and not have the state compel you to get beaten up by criminal gangs as a result of serving on a jury. By definition there isn't a perfect solution, so it's a bit glib to automatically label it Orwellian or barbaric.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:57 AM on January 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


Barbaric.

Although I think the right to trial by jury shouldn't be infringed, I've a hard time describing this as barbaric. Most of the countries in the western world are not based on the common law system, and so they don't make widespread use of juries. I'm not sure I'd describe the German criminal legal system as "barbaric".
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 5:01 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


What a sad, sad day.
posted by alasdair at 5:01 AM on January 11, 2010


What a sad, sad day.

Packers fan?
posted by i_cola at 5:04 AM on January 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


Really? This is the case that broke your judicial system? A warehouse robbery that resulted in minor injuries? Instead of regressing four centuries, maybe you should just let the fucker go.
posted by ryanrs at 5:11 AM on January 11, 2010


Magistrates' Courts hear lesser criminal matters without juries; it's not that different from Canada or any other Common Law system. The article is just badly written, they mean "serious criminal trial".

Will you please stop letting facts get in the way of our outragefilter.
posted by cillit bang at 5:37 AM on January 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Here in Canada a defendant can choose whether or not they want a jury trial - if the evidence is likely to create lots of emotions in jurors (take your pick of crimes there) it may be a better strategy to just have a judge render a judgement after hearing the cases.
posted by lowlife at 5:49 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why don't they just do it the American way and hold them indefinitely off-shore with being charged and avoid the whole "trial"?
posted by blue_beetle at 5:56 AM on January 11, 2010


This is the case that broke your judicial system? A warehouse robbery that resulted in minor injuries?

I have to say, I rather like the fact that carrying a weapon and pointing it at someone and not doing anything else really is still at the very serious end of the criminal scale in Britain.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:00 AM on January 11, 2010 [17 favorites]


Really? This is the case that broke your judicial system? A warehouse robbery that resulted in minor injuries? Instead of regressing four centuries, maybe you should just let the fucker go.

Oh perhaps just declare them enemy combatants and send them to gitmo.
posted by schwa at 6:13 AM on January 11, 2010


Really? This is the case that broke your judicial system? A warehouse robbery that resulted in minor injuries? Instead of regressing four centuries, maybe you should just let the fucker go.

...so that justice survives unharmed?
posted by vbfg at 6:14 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, YOUR criminal justice system is stupider.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:35 AM on January 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


Here in Canada, there's only a right to a jury when the maximum punishment is 5 years or more. There are some situations when lesser times also give the right to a jury, but I'm not certain what they are. I don't hear too many people railing against it, but I really don't know enough about the statistics to have an informed opinion.

It's one year in the US.
posted by snookums at 7:32 AM on January 11, 2010


The best bit of the article for me was learning that our current Lord Chief Justice is called "Lord Judge". Nominative determinacy?
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 7:48 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Stretching the meaning of the term "Orwellian" to mean practically the opposite of what it's supposed to? Nothing ironic there...
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:17 AM on January 11, 2010


our current Lord Chief Justice is called "Lord Judge".

Indeed, he was promoted from being Judge Judge.
posted by patricio at 8:22 AM on January 11, 2010


This is not unreasonable.

I remember an awful story from my childhood about a kid who had his NFL jacket stolen, reported it to the police, got the jacket back and the kid who took it punished. He then spent the next 3 months being beaten up by the perp's friends until his family moved out of the neighborhood. That was just kids.

Crime at Heathrow is a huge organized industry that would make Tony Soprano's jaw drop. There are entire villages involved. There is no way he and his mates did this without that community's approval. So yeah the crime itself doesn't sound hugely serious. However, it is probably the tip of an ugly iceberg and the secret testimony could involve informers, undercover agents and the jury tampering could involve threats of murder.

If Canada did something like this they might be able to make a dent in biker crime in Quebec.
posted by srboisvert at 8:26 AM on January 11, 2010


This appears to be a close-to-unique situation where the right to trial by jury is in conflict with the right to be able to live in a democracy and not have the state compel you to get beaten up by criminal gangs as a result of serving on a jury.

Jury service is a duty. Ever been the foreman telling a person they are going to jail? Sucks. A lot of people don't want to do it. But it is a duty. This is the cops' job, to protect jurors. They are abandoning their own job because it is too "hard." Bullshit I say.

Plus a lot of "close-to-unique" issues coming up of late. The first violation of rights is always a "close to unique" situation.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:50 AM on January 11, 2010


Let me put it another way. We've had much worse orgainized crime in the US than in Britain. We don't abolish juries. Why the fuck should a country where having a gun is a crime and the murder rate is 3 times lower than the US be so fucking afraid of this? Don't you have police to stop this?
posted by Ironmouth at 8:53 AM on January 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Most of the countries in the western world are not based on the common law system, and so they don't make widespread use of juries. I'm not sure I'd describe the German criminal legal system as "barbaric".

I come from a family of lawyers and well, this is exactly what we think. The Code Napoleon is barbaric. Guilty until proven innocent? The judge is the prosecutor? Never.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:54 AM on January 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's one year in the US.

That is false.
posted by jock@law at 8:57 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I am ever in need of a trial, assuming a duly independent judge, I would prefer a no-jury trial. I don't understand why people prefer the cross-section of their peers who are susceptible to a wide range of irrelevancies in deciding a matter versus an experienced and independent judge.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 9:05 AM on January 11, 2010


Let me put it another way. We've had much worse orgainized crime in the US than in Britain. We don't abolish juries. Why the fuck should a country where having a gun is a crime and the murder rate is 3 times lower than the US be so fucking afraid of this? Don't you have police to stop this?

Turn that around.

You don't abolish juries. It's much easier to get a trial by jury in the US than in Britain, for all manners of crimes. Why the fuck is the murder rate 3 times higher? Why do you have much worse organized crime? Don't you have police to stop this?

Now I'm not necessarily agreeing with that statement, and the implication that juries are bad, but it's just as good an argument as yours. You're starting from the premise that juries are fundamentally needed concepts and building from that.

Juries are small-minded, self-interested people. They can be guided by fear, by hatred, by the love of a good show. Why else do people spend thousands on "jury consultants", experts on who best to allow onto the jury bench in order to get a favourable outcome?

Not to mention the whole premise of "we give a jury trial to everyone" isn't even true. If a DA overcharges, and the accused gets a plea bargain only giving them 5 years in jail rather than 25-life, is that fair?
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:07 AM on January 11, 2010



Crime at Heathrow is a huge organized industry that would make Tony Soprano's jaw drop.


Cite?
posted by lalochezia at 9:08 AM on January 11, 2010


Thiefrow.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:19 AM on January 11, 2010


I don't understand why people prefer the cross-section of their peers who are susceptible to a wide range of irrelevancies in deciding a matter versus an experienced and independent judge.

Judges are not perfect. <---- Huge, enormous understatement.

Among the advantages of a jury system is nullification. If the jurors think it would be unjust to convict you, even if you are guilty, they can always just acquit. Jury verdicts are effectively unreviewable. This acts as a check on out of control or unjust law. Judges are more constrained by law than juries.

Judges are human, and come with their own biases and problems. You can google around for yourself. There are plenty of stories of corruption and bias among judges. Justice O'Connor is actively trying to fight corruption among judges, which she sees as the result of having judicial elections.

Many judges are former prosecutors. Also, consider the effect that seeing multiple criminal cases will have. It may make many judges more cynical and less likely to see you as a unique, special human being.

Still want to leave it up to them?
posted by prefpara at 9:25 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is the cops' job, to protect jurors. They are abandoning their own job because it is too "hard."

I see nothing in the linked articles to suggest that it is the police themselves who are balking at the cost of protecting the jurors. Unless you have additional information, your claim that the police are "abandoning their own job" is entirely unsubstantiated.

As to the larger point, although criminal defendants in the US have a right to a jury trial, they can and frequently do waive that right in favor of a bench trial, and as mattoxic, lowlife, and norabarnacl3 point out, there are sometimes good reasons for doing so. It's a bizarre sort of "civil right" where one is required to have a jury trial, like it or not. I believe a true right to do X necessarily implies the right not to do X; otherwise, X is a duty, not a right.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:26 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Still want to leave it up to them?

In some cases, yes. I wouldn't want to give up my right to a jury trial in all cases, but I can imagine many many types of cases where I'd rather have my fate in the hands of a judge than in the hands of twelve random people.

You can write as many paragraphs as you like about the potential biases of judges, but if you don't balance it with an examination of the potential biases of juries, it's not a fair comparison.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:31 AM on January 11, 2010


Why the fuck should a country where having a gun is a crime and the murder rate is 3 times lower than the US be so fucking afraid of this? Don't you have police to stop this?

Because "having a gun is a crime" =/= "no bad people have guns."
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:32 AM on January 11, 2010


I can imagine many many types of cases where I'd rather have my fate in the hands of a judge than in the hands of twelve random people.

You can waive your right to a jury trial. Best of both worlds? I say, best of all possible worlds!

But seriously, there are advantages to both, but in the American system, you are guaranteed a jury unless you choose to go with a judge. A system where a jury isn't an option at all seems worse.
posted by prefpara at 9:35 AM on January 11, 2010


Jury service is a duty. Ever been the foreman telling a person they are going to jail? Sucks. A lot of people don't want to do it. But it is a duty. This is the cops' job, to protect jurors. They are abandoning their own job because it is too "hard." Bullshit I say.

Plus a lot of "close-to-unique" issues coming up of late. The first violation of rights is always a "close to unique" situation.


I'm insufficiently familiar with the details of this case to say how far it's a good example of the point I was making. But you can get out of jury service for much, much less than a real fear of physical harm. The police clearly cannot stop every crime (or else there'd be no crime), so I don't think it's absurd in principle to imagine circumstances in which the risk to the jury is big enough to bring two very important rights — the right to trial by jury, and the right not to have the state force you to get beaten up by thugs — into a real confrontation with each other, where the solution isn't obvious.

Of course we need to be hyper-aware of the risk that an individual instance like this will be a slippery slope to much wider rights violations. But if you take the stance that there is never any possibility of altering a principle because of extremely unusual circumstances, that's just a kneejerk defense of the status quo at all costs.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:46 AM on January 11, 2010


Is this the first? I thought it happened to Lucy Saxon.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:53 AM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Juries are small-minded, self-interested people. They can be guided by fear, by hatred, by the love of a good show. Why else do people spend thousands on "jury consultants", experts on who best to allow onto the jury bench in order to get a favourable outcome?

Judges are as much small-minded, self-interested people as the rest of us. They are guided more by fear than the love of a good show. They will make rulings to force settlements even if those rulings are legally wrong. Why? Because they want cases to settle and to avoid deciding.

Only the ultra-rich spend thousands on "jury consultants." Most criminal defendants have not a dime to their name. It is so rare as to make such consultants virtually non-existant for most defendants or litigants.

More importantly though, juries represent the ability of the common people ("small-minded"), to impact the justice system and to prevent miscarriage of justice on behalf of the strong.

I don't understand why people prefer the cross-section of their peers who are susceptible to a wide range of irrelevancies in deciding a matter versus an experienced and independent judge.

Your opinion of "experienced and independent judges" would change massively if you ever heard the judge essentially tell you they thought your client was guilty.

As to the larger point, although criminal defendants in the US have a right to a jury trial, they can and frequently do waive that right in favor of a bench trial, and as mattoxic, lowlife, and norabarnacl3 point out, there are sometimes good reasons for doing so. It's a bizarre sort of "civil right" where one is required to have a jury trial, like it or not. I believe a true right to do X necessarily implies the right not to do X; otherwise, X is a duty, not a right.

Uh, hate to break it to you, but every single consititutional right may be waived. Miranda, you can waive that. Right to a speedy trial, you can waive that. Right to cross-examine witnesses, can be waived. Right to due process of law on any ticket, arrest, or other infraction can be waived. Paying a ticket is a waiver of your constitutional rights. I don't see how the fact that a right can be waived has anything to do with whether or not it is the right thing.

Seriously, the jury protects us all from prosecutorial misconduct. It is too bad that the UK feels themselves too weak to protect their own citizens from killers.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:55 AM on January 11, 2010


the right not to have the state force you to get beaten up by thugs

The state has never once, forced anyone to be beaten up by non-state thugs. Let's put the blame where the blame belongs--on the beaters up, with the state's responsibility belonging to the "failing to protect jurors."

Jury duty is just that, a duty. A legally mandated duty. Which I have for the second time in less than a year this week.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:58 AM on January 11, 2010


One more thing. You're a criminal defendant. You know that for a jury to convict you, 12 people have to agree that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubts. How many people have to believe in your guilt for a judge to convict you? One.
posted by prefpara at 10:07 AM on January 11, 2010


I'm all for justice and order and such, but it seems kind of stupid to spend 10 times what the guy stole...

Exactly. The reason it so expensive is that they use fancy terms like "purportedly stole." We should just let the cops take care of guys like this.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:27 AM on January 11, 2010


Uh, hate to break it to you, but every single consititutional right may be waived.

Um, yes, that was precisely my point. In the US. Apparently not in the UK. Why do you "hate to break [this] to [me]?"
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:47 AM on January 11, 2010


Also, the defence and prosecution won't have to play to the crowd. If I were a defendant I'd much prefer not to have a jury.
Well, it would depend on the judge, don't you think? The problem with Juries is that pack them full of idiots a lot of the time. If it was up to me, I would require that juries be made up of relatively smart people who are worldly and well educated, and wouldn't be swayed by over the top rhetoric.
Let me put it another way. We've had much worse orgainized crime in the US than in Britain. We don't abolish juries. Why the fuck should a country where having a gun is a crime and the murder rate is 3 times lower than the US be so fucking afraid of this? Don't you have police to stop this? -- Ironmouth
Well, Obama is trying to abolish jury trials for many accused terrorists (or at least he announced that he was going to try), something you defend all the time, including arguing that Khalid Sheik Muhammad, specifically, should not be given a jury trial. And many people have just been sitting in jail for years and years with no trial and no prospect for one.
posted by delmoi at 11:08 AM on January 11, 2010


Criminal Justice Act of 2003. If you look at the list under "origins", it appears that this might have been in the works before 9/11/2001, although its passage might have been aided by it. It does not seem as pernicious as our own Patriot Act because it isn't blatantly unconstitutional (anyone know UK law and whether this is true?). I would start to worry when cases are immediately going to non-jury trials.
posted by hellslinger at 11:21 AM on January 11, 2010


Among the advantages of a jury system is nullification. If the jurors think it would be unjust to convict you, even if you are guilty, they can always just acquit. Jury verdicts are effectively unreviewable. This acts as a check on out of control or unjust law. Judges are more constrained by law than juries.

Just so long as we're talking comparative law here, remember that in Canada the Crown can appeal an acquittal.
posted by maledictory at 12:08 PM on January 11, 2010


because it isn't blatantly unconstitutional (anyone know UK law and whether this is true?).

It isn't blatantly unconstitutional because we don't have a written constitution, and don't really have a mechanism for judges to strike down laws.

Yes. Really.

I come from a family of lawyers and well, this is exactly what we think. The Code Napoleon is barbaric. Guilty until proven innocent? The judge is the prosecutor? Never.

Really? Well it's a good job the German justice system doesn't have either of those things. American lawyers generally seem to have rather strange ideas about how the civil legal system works. But anyway, the German legal principle of in dubio pro reo functions as their sort of 'presumption of innocence'. Since Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights requires such a presumption, this is just as well.

Also judges - even examining magistrates - are entirely separate from prosecutors.

I'd note that the German legal system is about as screwed up as any other. Recently there was a case before the German constitutional court in Karlsruhe regarding Sicherheitsverwahrung (that is, preventative detention). My German isn't that great, so I'm not going to read the judgement, but the result of the ruling seemed absolutely incomprehensible.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 12:13 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


"If I am ever in need of a trial, assuming a duly independent judge, I would prefer a no-jury trial."

A pretty big assumption in many places and at many times.
posted by Mitheral at 1:01 PM on January 11, 2010


In the US, it's my understanding that the prosecutor has to agree to waive the jury trial, too. I believe such agreement is usually forthcoming.
posted by ryanrs at 6:45 PM on January 11, 2010


I like the French system -- juries scare me.
posted by jb at 10:55 PM on January 11, 2010


I'm all for justice and order and such, but it seems kind of stupid to spend 10 times what the guy stole...

In case my irony is too straight-faced, I must make the point that you cannot be "all for justice and order and such" and at the same time assume the man is guilty. Yes, some expense may be wasted on him if he is guilty, but it may be justified in terms of improving the system so the innocent are not convicted.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:03 AM on January 12, 2010


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