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What it is like to be on the jury of a murder case at the Old Bailey in London

The Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey

The Central Criminal Court of England & Wales at the Old Bailey

A week ago, I posted a blog about a court case.

It was in a minor court.

I know someone else who, a few years ago, was a juror at the Old Bailey in London – the Central Criminal Court of England & Wales.

He kept a diary.

What follows is extracted from it.

Two weeks is the legal requirement for jury service but, as the selection of a jury is random and some cases may take longer than two weeks, sometimes thirty or more potential jurors can be selected by computer and taken to the court room.


30 of us are led down to Court 16.

The judge tells us the case is likely to run a month and 20 names will be called at random. If our name is called we are to approach the bench and explain to him if we have a problem with the duration of the case.

First up the lively fellow I had chatted with outside. “My Lord,” he says, “I am a member of the bar. I have my own cases to prepare. I can serve 2 weeks but longer may be a problem.” The Judge says in not so many words that, as a member of the legal profession, he knows how the system works. His excuse is not accepted.

I am not chosen.

Afterwards, we prospective jurors have a coffee table discussion. Eventually we get round to ‘What do you do?‘. One of our number says he can’t tell us; it’s top secret and he has to keep handing notes to various judges who then mysteriously dismiss him. We play guess his occupation. He won’t play ball. (I think he may be a spy.)

Into Court 15.

M’Lud calls for anyone with a problem to come forward. From somewhere behind me appears the ‘spy’, clutching his note which he hands to a court clerk to take to His Honour. We all watch the Judge with interest as he reads the note.

“Yes,” he says, “I think I need to show the barristers this.” Up they step to read it. “I am satisfied that this gentleman should not be considered for this jury. Do you agree?” he says to the barristers. “Yes M’Lud.” The spy is dismissed and instructed to leave the court.


It is impossible to be a juror and disengage your emotions. Ours is a tragic story and we all, without exception, have become increasingly subdued as the story unfolds and, in one or two cases, quite upset.


I held a murder weapon wrapped in protective plastic, learned the difference between various spatters of blood and listened to the graphic details of the findings of the pathologist’s post mortem. CSI this isn’t.

One thing’s for sure, being on a jury is an education.

If one could forget that she was talking about an actual incident (which I couldn’t) the forensic scientist from the Home Office was fascinating. She explained just exactly what DNA is and how they can form their deductions from it. She then guided us through our file of photographs and explained each blood spatter. She can tell which is impact blood and which is expirated blood.

The detective came with the transcript of her first major interview after the defendant had been charged. She read her part out and the junior prosecution barrister read all the others. This was quite lengthy and took us up to lunch time. Quite frankly, I have never heard a script in a TV drama that has come anywhere close.

The afternoon was taken up with the rest of the police transcript and then came the Home Office pathologist. He gave a detailed description of the post mortem, referring us to our graphic drawings of the deceased and then explained his findings. It wasn’t pleasant.

His Honour called it a day after that. It had been heavy going and our mood was sombre. One of the younger jurors was in tears.

I badly needed a drink and I was due to meet two friends for dinner. I desperately wanted to ‘download’ the case but I knew this wasn’t allowed. On the other hand I didn’t want to just go home. So I head out for the evening and find I am not the best company.


Two psychiatrists today. One for the prosecution and one for the defence. They have both been involved at different stages of the story and ultimately they both agree. We are stood down for a two hour lunch break – the two opposing barristers want to have legal discussion. We think there is something in the air.

Back in Jury Assembly we all avidly discuss the case amongst ourselves. This being Friday, with the week’s cases in full swing, there are groups of jurors sticking together everywhere in deep discussion.

Wander out for a breath of fresh air. Camera crews everywhere. Someone says ‘the shoe bomber’ is about to be sentenced. After lunch, the defence barrister begins his case. The second psychiatrist is called. He takes us up to 3.00pm and once again M’Lud calls it a day. He addresses the jury, telling us to have a nice weekend and reports that the weather is going to be sunny. He then asks us to put the case out of our minds until Monday.

Is he kidding?


It’s all over. A strange feeling of deflation. My fellow jurors and I have lived this case for the last few days – someone else’s life, the minutiae of someone else’s tragedy. And, when it came to it, we weren’t prepared for the sudden turn of events.

10.30 and we’re back in court. The Judge addresses us. The gist is this:

“Members of the Jury,” he says, “the prosecution and defence and I have been speaking since we saw you last and they have both put it to me that this charge should be one of manslaughter. I agree with them and therefore I propose to change the charge. I understand that the defendant is prepared to plead guilty to the charge of manslaughter and, having heard the circumstances of the case, I am satisfied that this is the appropriate charge and plea.”

Or words to that effect. I can sense that we are all relieved. From day one we have wondered why ours is a case of murder.

Next the formality. The Clerk of Court stands and asks our defendant to rise. Our defendant is formally charged with manslaughter and is asked how he pleads.


As we now have a changed charge and a guilty plea there is no need for us to deliberate. But we were set the task of trying the case and must agree with the events that have taken place. The Judge formally requests the juror in seat 1 to stand and asks if we agree with the charge and the plea. On behalf of all of us she whispers: “Yes”.

She knows we all feel the same – we’ve discussed it often enough in Jury Assembly.

And that is our duty done.

As the defence had not had a chance to conclude their case, His Honour gives the defence barrister the floor to speak. And my, how he does. An impassioned speech. Questioning how and why it had ever come to a charge of murder.

A veiled criticism of the Crown Prosecution Service that had refused to accept a guilty plea to manslaughter to begin with, which would have negated the need for a trial. No criticism of our prosecution counsel. He was just doing his job. It had become apparent to us from the way he presented the Crown’s case that he was sympathetic. No rottweiler here.

The judge listened and commented that, despite all the defence had said, the laying out of the tragedy before the court had led everyone to conclude that this was the right outcome. Perhaps this had been for the best.

And so to M’Lud’s summing up.

He talked of the tragic circumstances of the defendant’s life that had led him to take another’s. He spoke of the family who must bear some of the responsibility, the shame and the blame. But, he said, the fact remained that to take a life is unlawful and a custodial sentence was the appropriate punishment. He was incredibly fair.

Four years. With time already served in custody and time off for good behaviour, he will be out in 18 months. What happens to him then I do not know…

So here was our case. A case where one man was responsible for another man’s death. A fact he did not deny and had not run from. A charge of murder. A plea of Not Guilty.

Here is what I have learned. Behind every murder is someone’s story.

Here was a story of a family where violence was commonplace. Of a weaker member of the family who didn’t fight back. Then one day he did. And in one almost inevitable moment he stabbed his brother. He got 4 years. It could have been life. Whichever way you look at it, it’s still a life sentence.

I have never seen such human despair. What must it be like to relive the moments that lead up to that one mad moment that turns your life? And to relive it in front of your family, your friends and twelve silent strangers sitting in judgement. We all saw the tears that wouldn’t stop flowing, the hands that covered ears, the head permanently bowed. Violence breeds violence it is said. The irony is our man was raised in a violent family culture but he had not been an aggressor. Until now. And, in all of this, Philip Larkin’s poem was never far from my mind: They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

After sentence is passed we file out. All of us subdued. Now, the mundane task of handing in our passes and papers. Time to say our goodbyes to eleven other people we hardly know, with whom we have shared an intensely emotional experience, and go back to our lives.

On the way out, two of us bump into our defence QC and his team. I ask him if he has become inured to tragedy – he must see it day after day. “No,” he said, “if you are human you don’t. And,” he said, “this was an unusual and particularly tragic case.”

“There’s nothing more real than real life,” says his junior barrister.


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How the English court system works (?)

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths

The figure of Justice – blindfolded to avoid seeing any untruths – and truths

To save myself from having to write a blog today when all I want to do is sleep – the result of over three weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe – here is a blog about something which happened this week over ten years ago in England.

Someone I know was starting two weeks of Jury Service in a court somewhere in England. He told me:

Day One

None of us got picked today…. There was a lot of waiting around then they sent us all home… I ended up chatting with a right demographic mix, including… a 40-year-old grammar schoolboy self-made Tory-voting string-em-up merchant web designer; a local councillor very lefty with bleeding heart and social conscience (great arguments between those two!); an oldie female retired teacher; a young (22) ‘lad’ carpenter of some type; a young single mum from a council estate (“I dunno nuffink about politix”) and me…. And that was just the smokers!

The fault of the system is this… Most self-employed people don’t want to be there (big loss of earnings – it’s costing me a grand!!!). Most middle class with good jobs don’t want to be there. (They were all the ones moaning they had tried to get out of it )… So you are left with the unemployed, retired and immigrants whose first language definitely ain’t English…. But hey …That’s democracy! or is it?

Day Two

I got picked today…. Going into the court room was awe-inspiring… I had to remind myself this wasn’t telly…. Half my jury could barely read the affirmation. Then it was my turn, so I gave my best performance… and everyone after me then gave it a bit of welly too!

It is a nasty little case – GBH/drugs… Quite complicated too. We were sent home early – 3.30pm – as the two barristers needed to do a bit of thrashing things out. It is by no means cut and dried. My brain hurt at the end of the day.

Day Three

I went to see the trial myself.

A 20 year-old Bengali is accused of cutting the throat of another 20 year-old Bengali, exposing his windpipe. He is accused not of attempted murder but of GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm). His defence is that he was at home all evening. On the evening of the offence, the police came and broke down his door to find him on the phone (he was calling the police because someone was breaking down his door). There was blood on the stairs, the floor, his bedspread and his hand. He said he had cut his finger at college that afternoon.

Forensic DNA tests showed it was, indeed, all his blood and that none of his blood was at the murder scene, nor was any of the victim’s blood on the accused’s clothes. The victim said the accused man was a drug dealer and that he (the victim) hated drugs and drug dealers. Unfortunately for him, the defence knew he had been addicted to crack and heroin, was on methadone and had been convicted of manslaughter.

The prosecution produced two diaries found at the accused’s address which they claimed showed the accused was a drug dealer. Unfortunately, the defence pointed out one of the diaries was not in his handwriting and was partially in Bengali, a language he can neither read or write. The other diary, they contested, was the diary of a drug taker not a dealer – and the accused admitted he took drugs.

While the jury was out, the prosecutor told a detective there to give evidence: “If this guy gets off, it will seriously prejudice the whole case” and “The evidence fitted in better in the other trial”. The accused is related to a criminal Bengali family.

The jury comprised six blacks, one Asian Moslem and five whites. Three of the blacks, strangely, were Nigerians. My friend on the jury told me that one of the black women had arrived 20 minutes late that morning saying, quite unconcerned: “Oh, you could have started without me”.

Day Four

I went to the court again.

The judge gave a rambling colloquial summing up which non-native English speakers would have found unclear. After about two hours (around 4.30pm) the jury gave their verdict – partly because it was a Friday afternoon and, if they had not decided, then they would have had to continue on Monday and some of them were ‘second weekers’ – you are called to Jury Service for two weeks. If the final case runs over the two weeks, then you have to stay until it is concluded.

My friend told me that, when they went into the jury room, there were an initial six for Guilty, five were undecided and one wanted Not Guilty. My friend was the jury foreman. He went round the jury asking initially whether they thought the accused man was guilty. One woman asked: “Which one?” She had not been clear who had been on trial and thought perhaps he was the victim.

I am not going to say whether the jury found the accused man Guilty or Not Guilty.

You can toss your own coin.

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The English legal system? It is “Britain’s Got Talent” for liars and spin-masters

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths

English Justice – blindfolded and blind

Tomorrow, I start jury service for an unknown length of time.

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows my opinion of the English judicial system in which the defendant is assumed to be guilty unless he or she can afford to buy a good enough lawyer to get themselves found innocent – with a lot of luck.

The police investigate. The courts then prosecute the person whom the police have found to be guilty and whom the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office has agreed is guilty. The defendant is assumed in advance to be guilty.

The judge and jury do not investigate the facts. That has already been done by the police. The jury are there to decide whether the prosecutor or defence lawyer presents a better case. The truth is neither here nor there. The jury is voting in a competitive talent show between two highly-trained and highly-paid liars… erm, lawyers… who are trying to advance their own careers.

The State pays the prosecutor to get a guilty verdict and to hide any evidence which may imply or prove the defendant is innocent. The defending lawyer is paid to get his client found innocent and to hide any evidence which may imply or prove he is guilty.

The result is that a jury does not decide on the actual facts; they are voting on the presentation skill of the spin. It is Britain’s Got Talent for rhetoricians. The most professional and admired lawyers are the ones who win cases they do not believe in.

And you take pot luck on the jury members.

Back in July 2011, I blogged about a friend of mine who had recently done jury service.

After all the evidence was given and after the jury had been deliberating for a while, one of the jury members asked:

“Which one is the accused?”

When she was told which person was actually on trial, she asked:

“Wasn’t the other bloke accused?”

“No,” she was told by my friend, “he was the chief prosecution witness.”

“Oh,” the other jury member replied, “I thought they were both on trial.”

Last week, I talked to someone else who had been on a jury.

He told me the person on trial was clearly guilty but one member of the jury voted Not Guilty. My friend and everyone else on the jury had voted Guilty. But my friend’s eyes met this other juror’s eyes and, as he explained to me last week, there was an unspoken understanding between them.

My friend changed his verdict to Not Guilty.

He and the other person set out to change the other jurors’ decisions. It was a game for them. And they succeeded. Eventually, the jury came to a unanimous Not Guilty verdict.

I am not, of course, allowed to blog about what happens if and when I am part of a jury.

So, instead, before this jury thing starts tomorrow, I asked someone else I know – an  ex-criminal – about jury-nobbling.

He gave me two examples.

In one case, a member of a jury was trying a case involving a very high-profile chap who, unsurprisingly, did not want to go to prison.

When one of the jury members got home after a day listening to evidence, shortly before the trial ended, there was a knock on his door in the middle of the evening. When he opened the door, a man was standing there.

The man said: “I’ve been told you’re on the jury and I’ve been asked to give you this envelope,” and left.

Inside the envelope was a photograph, taken that morning, of the jury member’s young daughter in the playground of her school.

There was no physical threat of any kind, but that jury member was perhaps more inclined to find the defendant innocent.

My acquaintance also told me of another occasion he knew about in which a trial was nobbled, this time by the police.

“The police thought he was going to get off,” I was told about another career criminal. “A copper talked loudly about some of the guy’s previous convictions so that a couple of jury members overheard him and the trial had to be abandoned. The guy was found guilty at the re-trial.”

As I mentioned in a blog in February 2011, my own inclination on a jury would be to vote Not Guilty in any case which relies solely on a policeman’s evidence.

A partner in a major London law firm told me he would never put a Metropolitan Police officer in the witness stand without corroborating evidence because you could never be certain a Met officer was telling the truth.

Likewise, the owner of a prominent detective agency who employs ex-SAS troopers etc, told me he never employs ex-policemen because you can never trust them.

The story of the framing by West Yorkshire Police of Stefan Kiszko, his trial and his wrongful imprisonment for 16 years should be taught to every schoolkid in the UK.

It is an illustration of the inherent corruption of the police and of the English court system.

Frankly, you might as well settle court cases by bringing back Trial By Combat.

It would provide equal injustice and be more entertaining.

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The Judge found both police witnesses to be more bent than a cork screw

After reading my blog yesterday, mad inventor John Ward told me this story about the occasion when he, too, did jury service…

‘The accused’ was quite a sad case really and even the Judge found the CID to be more bent than a cork screw.

Two policemen gave evidence and, halfway through the second officer’s ‘statement’ being given in the witness box, the judge stopped the trial – he looked across at the policeman with a look to kill – and told the two CID persons to wait within the grounds of the Court and not to leave while somebody was sent to get their desk diaries from their base twenty odd miles away.

We had a break for a cuppa.

Once these diaries were fetched and read out by the officers themselves – after the judge had read them through first – it told a different story to the one they had agreed upon for us mere mortals to hear in court.

The lawyer for the accused did comment during his cross-examination of the CID blokes that it was “difficult to work out who should be in the dock” and the judge said that this should be deleted from the record.

The case was about building materials going walkabout. It went on for four wonderful days of high comedy with claim and counter-claim and counter-counter-claim, one of the best being:

“I could not have had that generator away, as I was nicking a load of sewer pipes and fittings at the time, me lord.”

The ‘accused’ was let off the main, fabricated, charges and we found him guilty on the ‘real’ minor charges that he did admit to. The chap had put his hand up to taking some of the items quoted – he had built an entire house with half the materials he had ‘found’ – but, reading between the lines, the CID folk had had an interest in quite a bit of stuff that had been nicked and which – surprise surprise – had never been recovered during the investigations.

The chap involved was ‘previously known’ to the boys in blue and it was obviously a ‘grudge’ thing – this was supposed to be payback time – a point a dear old lady on the jury picked up on before I did!

The wonderful bit for us mortals was to hear that the policemen were streets ahead of Doctor Who because, according to a combination of their stories and diaries, the two ‘boys in blue’ were able to be in THREE places at the same time!

Rupert Murdoch would have been proud of them – assuming they were not already working for him…

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The English jury system at work

A friend of mine was doing jury service recently.

After all the evidence was given and after the jury had been deliberating for a while, one of the jury members asked:

“Which one is the accused?”

When she was told which person was actually on trial, she asked:

“Wasn’t the other bloke accused?”

“No,” she was told by my friend, “he was the chief prosecution witness.”

“Oh,” the other jury member replied, “I thought they were both on trial.”

The accused man was found guilty. He probably was.

Who knows?

True story.


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The English legal system: Justice reduced to the level of The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent

I have to do jury service next month. That should be interesting.

The basis of the English legal system is that the accused is guilty unless he can (afford to) prove himself innocent. The police investigate a case and find the person they believe (or claim) is guilty. The state’s prosecution system then decides if there is enough evidence to convict and, if there is – ie if the defendant is presumed to be guilty – then the accused person is prosecuted on the basis that they are guilty. The state pays for a prosecution lawyer whose job is to get a guilty verdict; if he/she spots anything that may imply innocence, it is his/her paid job to prevent it being presented to the court.

Under the English legal system, the prosecutor is paid to mislead the court on the evidence, to hide evidence which may prove the innocence of the defendant and to prevent the Defence from presenting any evidence which will reveal anything which may show the innocence of the defendant. That is his paid job. The defence lawyer is paid by the defendant himself/herself to get an innocent verdict and to hide anything which might show or imply guilt.

The jury’s job is not to investigate the facts nor to decide if the accused is guilty or innocent. Their job is to decide which of the two well-paid lawyers present a better case. The object is to vote on whether the defender or prosecutor is better on style, content and presentation, much like competitive Ice Skating but without the numbered cards you hold up. It is justice reduced to The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent.

I remember a case in which a jury member spent his spare time going to the crime scene and talking to witnesses outside the court. The judge threw him off the jury and told him it was not his duty as a jury member to investigate the case but to decide a verdict only on the evidence presented. I think the jury member was threatened with Contempt of Court.

The lawyers who present the case? They have spent about seven years in an academic institution being trained in the art of legal lying, falsification of evidence and misleading the court. Which is why politicians like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are often ex-lawyers. They were highly-trained as liars.

The result of all this? Lots of guilty people escape conviction and lots of innocent people get imprisoned, sometimes for decades.

There is also the fact of widespread police corruption across the UK.

On 27th September 1998, the Sunday Telegraph revealed in an article written by Geoffrey Seed and Alasdair Palmer that it had obtained “the minutes of a meeting organised by the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), and attended by 10 of Britain’s most senior officers and policy makers”. The minutes stated that “corrupt officers exist throughout the UK police service” and the NCIS’s Director of Intelligence said that corruption may have reached “Level 2: the situation which occurs in some Third World countries”.

I was once told by Margaret Thatcher’s lawyer that he would never put a Metropolitan Police officer in the dock as a witness unless what he said could be corroborated by another witness: the possibility that the policeman was lying was too great to risk.

The object of the English adversarial system is to win the debate at all costs including justice. Added to this, there is the fact all police evidence must be suspect.

The English courts do not provide justice. They play a game with people’s lives in which innocent defendants are found guilty of crimes they did not commit. This is no accident. It is an inevitable result of the current English legal system which is adversarial not investigative.

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