Letter: Trial by jury 'only aspect of system that promotes trust in criminal justice'

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Royal Commission's recommendation to curtail the right of trial by jury (reports, 7 July) is a strikingly inappropriate suggestion from a body set up because of plummeting public confidence in the criminal justice system. The general guarantee of the right to elect for jury trial in all potentially serious cases is about the only aspect of the system which promotes public trust in criminal justice.

Constitutionally, the jury remains a possible bulwark against oppressive conduct by the state. It has been established since 1670 that a jury has the right to give a verdict according to conscience; a right leading to some famous acquittals (like that of Clive Ponting after his revelation about the General Belgrano) but probably more important for the hundreds of politically or improperly motivated prosecutions that would have been brought were it not for the necessity to persuade a jury in order to gain a conviction.

Recent changes in magistrates' courts funding, allowing greater funds for courts which operate on strict business principles, have had disastrous effects. One survey found three out of four magistrates' clerks believing that the system jeopardised justice.

To restrict jury trials and channel thousands more cases through the magistrates' courts as a cheaper option is a bizarre way to try to improve public confidence in the criminal justice system.

Yours faithfully,

GARY SLAPPER

The Law School

Staffordshire University

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