Letter: Trial by jury
Thursday 20 May 1999
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.
Dr GARY SLAPPER
The Law Programme
The Open University
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
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