Howard in crackdown on jury nobbling

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The Independent Online


A new move to crack down on jury nobbling is set to be unveiled by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, in a Bill to be included in next month's Queen's Speech.

The measure, which is expected to form part of a promised Bill on pre- trial disclosure of defence evidence, will give judges the power for the first time to order an acquitted defendant to be tried again if there has been a conviction for nobbling the original jury.

The provision will conclude the implementation of the so-called "27 points" set out by Mr Howard in his 1993 Conservative Party conference speech on law and order.

Last year's Criminal Justice and Public Order Act created a new offence of intimidating a witness, juror or a person assisting in the investigation of an offence.

Perverting the course of justice by conspiring to interfere with or influence a jury was already a criminal offence.

In a recent case, Paul Taylor, a leader of the 1990 Strangeways jail riot, and David Bowen, another rioter, had three years added to their sentences last year for an elaborate plan that involved sending letters to jurors urging them to acquit. The plot was discovered when they mistakenly contacted two women who were not on the jury.

There have been instances of trials being abandoned because of actual or suspected jury nobbling, or where juries have failed to agree on any verdict, but then being reactivated later.

There is no provision, however, for defendants who secure a not guilty verdict to be re-tried if they or their accomplices are successfully prosecuted for jury nobbling.

Mr Howard believes the new power is needed as a matter of justice. It would also act as a strong deterrent to attempts to sabotage trials in the first place.

Forcing jurors to clear a defendant through bribery or threats is known to take place, but the handful of cases which have come to light represent only the tip of the iceberg, police believe.

A majority of at least 10-2 is needed for a conviction, so at least three jurors have to be nobbled to secure a not guilty verdict.

The scope for associates of defendants to approach jurors is considerable. Jurors often enter and leave the courtroom by the same entrance as the public, their names are read out when they are being selected, and their faces can be seen from the public gallery throughout the trial.

The principle behind the measure, which was first proposed by the 1993 Royal Commission on Criminal Justice is likely to be backed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor, who is a strong supporter of jury trials - subject to the details of proposals covering implementation.

"If you're going to have jury trial you need the protection not only of sanctions but of a deterrent that says it's not worth your while doing this," a Whitehall source said.

In 1991, the jury in the trial of four men who laundered pounds 14m from the Brink's Mat bullion raid were given round-the-clock protection by a squad of 72 police during an eight-month hearing. The first trial had been abandoned after five months amid a scare that the jury had been approached. The cost of the aborted trial was more than pounds 2m.