Judge dismisses jury over fears of racial prejudice

Legal Affairs Correspondent,Robert Verkaik
Tuesday 10 October 2000 00:00

A Crown Court judge has taken the unusual step of discharging a jury on suspicion of racial prejudice. Judge Robert Moore halted the trial in Sheffield of three black defendants for alleged affray after a complaint from a member of the jury.

A Crown Court judge has taken the unusual step of discharging a jury on suspicion of racial prejudice. Judge Robert Moore halted the trial in Sheffield of three black defendants for alleged affray after a complaint from a member of the jury.

The judge said the concept of a fair trial had been so undermined, there must be a new trial. It is understood a juror had become concerned after hearing fellow jurors using racist language.

Judge Moore, who is the area's ethnic minorities liaison judge, was told of the complaint on Friday and asked the juror to make the complaint in writing so the judge could consider it over the weekend.

Yesterday he said the complaint "raised a strong suspicion that there is racial prejudice within the sitting jury". After the case, he said in a statement: "I believe, having consulted counsel, that the whole concept of a fair trial for these three defendants has been so undermined that the jury must be discharged and a new trial ordered."

He further recommended that the "risks to the local administration of justice demand that" the jury does not sit again this week.

In 25 years at the Bar and five on the Bench, he said this was the first time he had experienced any suggestion of racism affecting the outcome of a case. But this is not the first time a jury has been discharged because of fears of racial prejudice.

In April last year a jury was discharged at Stafford Crown Court after the court clerk received an anonymous phone call in which a man said a fellow juror had made racist remarks and had already made his mind up about a mixed-race couple's guilt.

Judge John Warner, after one of the jurors confirmed he had made the call, discharged the jury.

The judge refused an application for a change of venue and a second jury was sworn in and asked to come back after the weekend. But on the Monday morning the clerk to the court reported that several members of the jury had complained to her about racist remarks made by other jurors. This second jury was discharged.

A spokeswoman for Sheffield Crown Court said the pool from which the juries are empanelled is suppose to be a representative of the Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley area.

* In a separate move, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, has set up four studies aimed at providing an improved service for ethnic minorities in criminal and civil courts.

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