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