Friday, 7 March 2014

If I ruled the world

Well, maybe not the world.  Maybe not even this little part of it, but I have been thinking how the English system of justice could be improved.  This all stems from my piece at the beginning of the week about serving on a jury.

[You missed it?  It was a proper tour de force, a magnum opus.  You could try going back a day or three to find it...  Or just click here.]

OK, now you've caught up, I will continue.

One of the problems that members of a jury face is that each one, when it comes to discussing a verdict, will have a different recollection of the evidence presented.  Some will have taken extensive notes, others hardly any.  And the longer the trial has lasted, the more difficult the jurors will find it to recall accurately what was said.  In Parliament, every word is recorded and (I believe) published the following day in Hansard.  There would, of course, be a cost involved, but it should be possible to have a similar scheme arranged in courts, even if only for the longer or more complex cases.  It would also mean that the judge would have no need to take his (or her) extensive notes and save having to call a halt while he (she) catches up.

And another thing: complex trials.  Or trials involving complex details and facts.  Sometimes a case does involve complicated or specialised details, things that are not understood by the man on the Clapham omnibus.  [That's an obscure reference to the "average man".]  And if, as so often happens, one of these trials is to last for several weeks, the difficulty becomes even greater.  This is fair to neither the person accused of a crime nor the prosecution team, the "Crown".  Maybe in some complex trials there is a case for selecting jurors only from people with the appropriate background and, therefore, knowledge to understand the case.

Then there is the matter of lengthy trials.  Potential jurors are, typically, called to do jury service for up to two weeks at a time, although I understand that if there is a chance that somebody will be asked to serve on a jury in a lengthy case, they will be asked to confirm their availability.  But even short cases can cause difficulties for employers, as I know from experience, so maybe there could be an argument for the establishment of a pool or corps of professional jurors to be called on for trials expected to last in excess of a given time.

I am quite often heard to say that if something ain't broke, don't fix it, and I am in no way suggesting that the English courts of law are broken.  But improvements could be made.  Maybe I should write to the Lord Chief Justice - but I won't.


Sarah said...

I've never been called for jury service and in a way I'm please that I haven't. Part of me would like the challenge and is fascinated by the whole process but the other part of me remembers the huge impact my actions/decisions could have on another persons life and the responsibility scares me a little. It does seem that there could be a better way certainly in complex cases but I guess you may loose ome of the impartiality if you use experts rather than the average person. Interesting concept though and very thought provoking.

joeh said...

The wisdom of "If it ain't broke don't fix it" has stifled many a good idea. It really means "it's working OK, why make it better."

No reason why trials can't be video taped for future juror reference.