Barrister told to turn up for jury despite rejections

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A barrister was ordered to carry on turning up for jury service yesterday despite being rejected from three trials.

A barrister was ordered to carry on turning up for jury service yesterday despite being rejected from three trials.

The case is being interpreted as the first real test of the Government's new rules compelling lawyers, judges and policemen to sit on juries.

The QC had asked the Old Bailey's most senior judge, the Recorder of London Michael Hyam, to excuse him from the remaining three days of his jury service. He said he had recognised barristers or judges in the three courts and had been rejected from their juries.

But Judge Hyam told him that knowing a barrister or a judge would not be enough in itself to exclude a lawyer from jury service. He said: "A professional person sits on a jury in the capacity of a private citizen. As such, he must do his duty according to law - he must give a true verdict according to the evidence."

The barrister is thought to be the first member of the bar called to serve on a jury following new legislation in April allowing lawyers, including judges, to serve. He was summoned to his local provincial court the day after the changes came into force but asked to be transferred to London to avoid colleagues. The case is being closely watched by lawyers, judges and police officers, many of whom believe the changes will prove to be unworkable.

Professor Graham Zellick, the head of the body that reviews alleged miscarriages of justice joined other senior justice system figures in expressing disquiet, describing the change as a big mistake that could lead to defendants being wrongly convicted. The chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission said: "My own view is that it was a mistake to remove the disqualification of lawyers to serve as jurors ... it is bound to lead to a number of challenges and appeals. I suspect the law will have to be amended before long."

The changes are part of a wider shake-up of the criminal justice system and were intended to ensure the middle classes play a greater role in the criminal trial process.

Last week Judge George Bathurst-Norman discharged a barrister from a jury at the Old Bailey because he said the QC's knowledge of court procedure would allow the lawyer to understand a legal matter that other jurors would not pick up. The judge warned the same might apply to anyone with specialist knowledge sitting on a jury. He added: "Where do you draw the line? It deeply troubles me. At the end of the day, I have to ensure a fair trial. I just don't know how this legislation is going to work intelligently if judges are to sit on juries."

A spokesman for the Department for Constitutional Affairs said: "Concerns have been raised ... that they [lawyers] might exercise undue influence over their fellow jurors by virtue of their specialist knowledge of the justice system. However, the Government is satisfied that these concerns are unfounded."

Police officers have also raised objections to the new system for jury service, complaining that defence lawyers would be likely reject officers as jurors.

Doctors, who with nurses and midwives are also now eligible for jury service, criticised the reforms yesterday. Dr Clare Hyton, the lead clinician of Hackney Primary Care Trust, said yesterday that she would have to cancel 10 surgeries while she honoured her duty as a newly called juror on June 28.