Letter: Justice in the dock: the fallibility of juries, self-defence, and trial by media

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The Independent Online
Sir: Paul Bogan, in his letter (9 July) concerning the recommendation to limit the right to trial by jury, makes a number of serious allegations about summary jurisdiction. He states:

'magistrates do not have the same critical eye as juries';

magistrates are 'establishment figures';

magistrates 'find it difficult to accept that police officers . . . are sometimes 'economical with the truth' ';

magistrates 'have a perfectly good relationship' with the police.

It would be interesting if Mr Bogan could provide the grounds and supporting statistics upon which he bases these assertions. Is he aware that available statistics demonstrate that, contrary to general belief, there is not a better chance of acquittal at a jury trial?

Magistrates have a more critical eye than juries because of continuing experience and ongoing training. Magistrates do not give added weight to police evidence or treat it differently from any other evidence that is laid before the court. Magistrates do not have a special relationship with the police - some magistrates may know someone who is a police officer, as no doubt some jury members do.

Magistrates are public-spirited citizens who volunteer their services, who submit themselves to a critical selection procedure, who must represent all sections of the community in the area which they serve (annual returns regarding this are carefully monitored by the Lord Chancellor, who makes the appointments). If a defendant is dissatisfied with a magistrates' court's decision there is always the right of appeal.

Advocates are very much alive to the interests of their clients and, where there is any possibility or likelihood of a wrong decision having been made, whether on an issue of guilt or sentence, the advocate will, very properly, advise the defendant to appeal.

Yours faithfully,

GEORGE HALKYARD

Chairman of the Bench

Oldham Magistrates' Court

Oldham,

Greater Manchester

12 July

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