Beyond Reasonable Doubt

The Law Commission has recently recommended that Jurors who do internet or other research about cases they are hearing in court should face criminal prosecution. At least two jurors have already been jailed for contempt of court by doing internet research about the cases they were sitting on but I believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that jury trials are far from fair, they are profoundly biased in favour of conviction at all costs.

One example I can give you of this was told to me by a juror himself. I was in a Spanish class in the prison education department of another high security prison which had been covered by a teacher we had never had before. There was a general chat about nothing in particular which somehow got around to the teacher telling us about the time he was on jury duty. He said that it was a case of road rage which he and at least a few other jurors all agreed the man on trial could not possibly be guilty of. He said that he had absolutely no doubt that the man before them was entirely innocent of the crime. However, he then said that, since the remaining jurors didn’t agree, and insisted on sticking to a guilty verdict, the deliberation ran right on until the Friday afternoon. Not wanting the case to overflow into the following week as well, both he and the others changed their verdict from not guilty to guilty. The man was convicted, and subsequently he was sentenced to two years in prison.

The class fell silent. It didn’t even occur to this teacher that he had just told a class of ten high security prisoners, at least half of which were maintaining their innocence, that he had allowed a man he knew to be innocent to go to prison for no reason other than that he couldn’t be bothered to come back the next week.

When you put this together with the much more widely publicised jury mistakes such as the first trial of Vicky Price (MP Chris Huhne’s wife) at which the jury asked the judge if they could take account of information not presented as evidence or mentioned in court in reaching their verdict, you have to wonder if it’s a good idea to be tried by a jury of your peers at all.

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