Victory for the jurors who couldn't decide

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Two women jurors who were controversially jailed for refusing to reach a verdict in a counterfeiting trial were cleared by the Court of Appeal yesterday.

The court said Judge Anura Cooray, who jailed Bonnie Schot and Carol Barclay for 30 days, should never have presided at the contempt case against them, particularly in view of the "element of bias" and the anger he had shown at an earlier hearing.

Lord Justice Rose, sitting with Mr Justice Forbes and Mr Justice Keene, said the judge should have passed the case to another senior Crown Court judge or to the Attorney General. Jailing the two women was "not appropriate," Lord Justice Rose said, adding that there was no previous recorded instance of a juror being imprisoned for contempt.

John Perry QC, counsel for Ms Schot, 20, had told the three appeal judges that the secrets of the juryroom were immune from judicial scrutiny and that the judge had displayed "apparent bias" against his client after ordering the case they had been hearing, a pounds 100,000 17-day counterfeiting prosecution, to be abandoned.

Although Ms Schot, the jury foreman, and Ms Barclay, 32, were released on bail the following day, Judge Cooray, 61, strongly defended his action, insisting that jurors had to recognise their responsibilities if the justice system was to be upheld.

The controversy began when Judge Cooray was passed a note from the jury saying that it was unable to reach any decisions owing to "some jurors' conscious [sic] beliefs. Please advise." The judge then demanded a more detailed explanation, and the names of the jurors concerned.

Ms Schot, who had been planning to study law, gave a different version of events later, when she insisted she had not found it possible to reach a conclusion on whether the defendants were guilty or not guilty. It was Ms Barclay's case throughout that she was unable ethically to judge anyone, but had lacked the courage to say so when she was sworn in.

Stephen Solley QC, for Ms Barclay, said the jailing of the women sent "the wrong message and shock-waves to potential jurors up and down the land." Overbearing jurors might use the threat of exposure of a weak juror as a weapon to secure agreement, he warned.

David Pannick QC, appearing as amicus curiae, or "friend of the court", said it was a clear contempt for a juror to refuse to perform the task of giving a verdict, which meant that Ms Barclay was guilty of contempt. She was cleared yesterday, however, on natural justice grounds.

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