Pubdate: Thu, 20 May 1999
Date: 05/20/1999
Source: Independent, The (UK)
Author: Dr Gary Slapper
Note: subject by MAP editor

Sir: If, for serious crimes, you support the rigmarole of jury trials
because so much is at stake for the defendant, how then can you justify
removal of the defendant's right to a jury trial in cases which manifestly
threaten a life-ruining outcome for a defendant? Offences involving sex and
dishonesty are cases in point.

Currently, criminal offences are divided into three sorts: minor
offences only triable by magistrates; offences which can be tried by
magistrates or juries; and serious offences which only be tried by
juries. The rationale is that the jury trial is a better, safer way to
try the more serious cases, and a way that bolsters public confidence
in the criminal justice system.

In earlier times, judges would often fine or imprison jurors who
persisted in returning verdicts at variance with the preference of the
bench. In 1671 a case established that juries should be immune from
punishment for their verdicts. Trial judges meddling with jury
verdicts, however, was nothing compared with the Government's plan to
rule out jury trials for whole categories of serious offence.

And for what justification? The price of a few rooms in the
ostentatious new palace of MPs offices.

The Law Programme
The Open University,
Milton Keynes,