Letter: Royal Commission's plan to abolish the right to trial by jury will multiply miscarriages of justice

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sir: Although the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice was established following concern about the wrongful convictions of Irish people in Britain, its remit did not cover the operation of the legal system in Northern Ireland. This is unfortunate, as experience there shows that restricting the right to trial by jury as proposed by the commission can only result in further miscarriages of justice.

The cases of those convicted in relation to the deaths of two soldiers who drove into a Belfast funeral in 1988 ('the Casement Park Accused') show this clearly. Judges in these cases have convicted five men of murder, even though none of them were accused of shooting the soldiers, and three of them (Kane, Timmons and Kelly) weren't even accused of being present at the scene.

Many lawyers have stated that the outcome of at least some of these cases would have been different had they been heard by a jury. In particular, a jury would have been unlikely to so readily accept the poor-quality helicopter video evidence that formed the basis of many convictions.

The Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, is now considering whether or not to refer the cases of Kane, Timmons and Kelly back to the Court of Appeal, following expressions of concern by the shadow Northern Ireland Minister Kevin MacNamara, Amnesty International and many others. Whatever the outcome, however, further miscarriages of justice seem certain to occur in the juryless Diplock courts. The Royal Commission's proposals, if implemented, can only make such miscarriages more common in England and Wales.

Yours sincerely,

NEIL BARNET

Justice for the Casement

Park Accused

Green Ink Bookshop

London, N19

8 July

Comments