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Jury Trial To Be More Crucial After Brexit, Says Judge

Jury Trial To Be More Crucial After Brexit, Says Judge

Brexit and Jury Trials

One of the country’s most senior judges has said that trial by jury would become even more important after the UK has left the EU. Lady Justice Hallett, a Court of Appeal judge, told an audience at Pembroke College, Oxford that “The British public cannot afford to overlook their role [in the jury system], particularly in the light of Brexit; the legal system will become even more crucial to our survival.”

Lady Justice Hallett said that jury trial was a core part of democracy, giving the public a voice, and it acted as a check against the authority of parliament and the government at a time when “government in its broadest sense is not as representative of society as it could or should be.”

She said the process ensured that:

“..the public do not become estranged from the justice system . . . It helps maintain the health and vitality of our inclusive institutions, and the general health of our society.”

Lady Justice Hallett said she understood that there are exceptional cases where a judge is required to step in and act unilaterally in response to jury misconduct but cautioned that “moving to a system of judge-only reasoned verdicts would eliminate the democratic participation in the criminal justice system.”

She urged further academic research into jury trials and recommended “simple sensible steps” to be taken in the meantime, including streamlining and simplification, case managing jury trials effectively, and improved jury communication.

Petty criminals should not be allowed a jury trial in some cases

While Lady Justice Hallett said she advocated a continuing role for the jury in criminal trials of sufficient seriousness to society or to the individual accused to justify the use of resources, she said that the right to trial by jury was not necessarily warranted in all cases, noting that a full jury trial could cost £20,000 for defendants accused of offences such as shoplifting items of negligible value.

“The jury is seen by some as an unfair and time-consuming process, a ‘luxury’ placing an expensive burden on the state . . . If you are a prolific shoplifter accused of stealing sweets from Tesco should you have the right to demand jury trial at a cost of approximately £20,000?” asked Lady Justice Hallett.

In 2016, 1,637 defendants, or 1.7% of a total of 98,668 cases, chose to be tried by a jury in a crown court: a defendant can choose to go to crown court for so-called “either way” offences only, which include theft. If each of these cases cost around £20,000, as suggested by Lady Justice Hallett, the total cost to the taxpayer would be £32.7m.

Theft was included in the “either way” category because of its potential impact on someone’s reputation, says Donal Lawler, secretary of the Criminal Bar Association.

“It’s the act of doing something dishonest rather than its actual value. The reputational impact of that is enormous,” he said.

Applicants can hide minor convictions

People who claim to have been disadvantaged by minor criminal convictions have won a landmark ruling over having to declare them when applying for jobs. In January last year, challenges brought by two people over having to disclose offences, committed 16 years ago and 33 years ago, succeeded in the High Court. The Court of Appeal has now rejected challenges by the home and justice secretaries against the ruling.

Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, a leading charity for people with convictions that supported the legal challenge, commented:

“Thousands of people contact us every year because they are being unnecessarily anchored to their past as a result of a criminal record disclosure system . . . which is blunt, restrictive and disproportionate.”

West London’s leading criminal defence solicitors

We have one of the leading teams of criminal specialists in West London and the South East. If you are facing a serious criminal charge, you can contact call us now in complete confidence on 0330 999 4999 for immediate emergency representation. You can also contact us free via Whatsapp on 07899 953415 or Blackberry messenger: PIN 287DA137. Alternatively please email criminaldefence@ibblaw.co.uk.