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

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The Independent Online
Sir: John Rowe, the chairman of the Bar Council, noted in today's Independent: 'What this recommendation, abolishing jury trial, has to do with miscarriages of justice, I do not know.' ('Hard work ahead to fill in this framework', 7 July). In fact it will multiply them. Not, of course, for the most serious offences, but in respect of minor offences about which there is no media attention. When did you last hear of campaigners shouting about a miscarriage of justice in a shoplifting case?

The reasons are twofold. First, magistrates do not have the same critical eye as juries. Being, generally speaking, establishment figures they find it difficult to accept that police officers, with whom they have a perfectly good relationship and who may appear before them regularly, are sometimes 'economical with the truth'.

The second reason is that there is no mechanism for excluding evidence from them if, after legal argument, it should not have been admitted in evidence. In the Crown Court, arguments of law concerning important and very often decisive evidence are dealt with by a judge in the absence of the jury.

If magistrates have the discretion as to who is to be granted the privilege (as apposed to right) of trial by jury there will be variations countrywide and even within one court complex. As between classes of defendant, apparent as well as real anomalies will bring criminal justice into even greater disrepute.

The Royal Commission's report was ordered in order to avert the type of scandalous miscarriages of justice of which the public has been made aware over the past few years. At the root of problem is the investigation of crime by police and the forensic service, and the disclosure and presentation of evidence by those bodies and the Crown Prosecution Service. The removal of trial by jury (who were singularly not responsible for any miscarriage of justice) is a dangerous red herring which should not be enacted.

Yours faithfully,


London, WC1

7 July