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Should lesser offences forego trial by jury?

11:57 UK time, Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Commissioner for Victims of Crime has suggested that the right to trial by jury for lesser offences should end in England and Wales. Will this be good for justice?

Louise Casey says a jury trial should not be viewed as a right for "either-way" offences which could also be heard in a magistrates court. She claims the change will benefit victims of serious crime who suffer due to Crown Court delays. Her remarks come as the Ministry of Justice cut its budget for courts and prisons.

According to BBC legal affairs analyst Clive Coleman, Ms Casey's proposal may prove controversial with civil liberties groups, as while the crimes concerned may be small the consequences of a conviction for an individual were very significant.

Should some cases not be heard by a jury? Where should the balance lie between protecting victims and ensuring justice? Have you been a victim of crime, or do you work in the criminal justice system? What are your views on Louise Casey's suggestions? Are there other ways to reduce the cost of the courts in England and Wales?

Thank you for your comments. This debate is now closed.

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    Magistrates Courts could provide a far wider service to communities than they currently do. They could be provided with far stronger powers, freeing up the Criminal Justice System to address its own bureaucratic problems and get its woeful act together. Measures such as these, coupled with a "bonfire of bureaucracy" for the Police Force, may restore faith in the justice system as punishment could be dealt out far quicker. Magistrates generally herald from the community and are far more aware of the impact of crime in their communities. Crown Court Judges really don't have any grasp of life in the real world!
    It was on the cards that the bleeding heart civil liberties groups would be up in arms, as their only raison d'etre is to support the criminal.

  • Comment number 2.

    yes this is a good idea, however if there is reasonable doubt then it should be done by jury. im sure a judge can figure this out himself there on enough money after all

  • Comment number 3.

    Logical in a conditional sense but wrong. Right to trial by jury is fundamental. It should not be scrapped.

  • Comment number 4.

    In South Africa when there was a choice of trial by jury, or trial by a judge and two assessors - the rule of thumb was to go for the jury if you were guilty, and the assesors if you were innocent. The premise being that you could play on the jury's sympathy or you would get a thorough investigation of the fact from the assessors - I think that would still hold true here today.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    Why should it make any difference. Juries can be selected, deselected, guided , instructed, coerced and bribed. Justice is and has always been the preserve of the wealthy as some are born more equal than others

  • Comment number 7.

    Should lesser offences forego trial by jury?

    I thought they already did.

    If not, what's the local magistrates court for?

    Also, within in the article Louise Casey seems to be quoted as saying that trial without Jury would be suitable for 'lesser offences', but also victims of 'serious crime'.

    Which is it?

  • Comment number 8.

    Better still, just declare everyone to be guilty, that way there will be no need for any of those pesky court hearings.

    But you know the way to control costs is by putting a cap on what the blood suckers, I do apologise, I mean lawyers, can charge for their legal services.

  • Comment number 9.

    Yeah why not. Even for big cases where juries can and are bought would make sense too.

    In any case who as a member of the public is qualified to make such decisions? Effectively you have two groups of Liars, the defence and the prosecution, who seek to mislead the jury to their own views, so much so that often the Judge "directs" the jury to a decision or the case is thrown out for whatever reason.

    One thing is certain, the whole judicial system needs an overhaul because it's corrupt and seeks only to make money for the corrupt law firms.

  • Comment number 10.

    Justice is not all about the victims of crime, it is about justice. Retain Jury trials.

  • Comment number 11.

    Yes, we could easily restore faith in the justice system by dishing out punishments swiftly and cheaply, provided you're happy to dispense with the tedium of giving the accused the chance to defend themselves before a jury.

    However, since a saving £30m per year works out as 50p per person per year, I think I'd rather spend 50p a year to retain my right to a fair trial. Justice isn't about protecting the rights of the guilty. It is about protecting the rights of the innocent.

  • Comment number 12.

    Sorry but it sounds frighteningly unjust in fact it sounds like a pre-condemning and determined court system favoring the prosecutor. We have such courts in the USA and call them Kangaroo Courts with free public defenders who favor the prosecutor.

  • Comment number 13.

    This isn't exactly news to those of us familiar with Scots law. They've had Sheriff's courts:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheriff_Court
    for centuries were minor crimes are tried before a Sheriff.

    Cases can be heard before a sheriff or a sheriff and a jury. The maximum sentence for cases heard before a sheriff is a fine of £10,000 or 12 months in prison. The maximum sentence for cases heard before a sheriff and jury is 5 years (3 years for cases that were first called before 1 May 2004) in prison or an unlimited fine.

    If you don't like the Sheriffs verdict you can appeal to higher courts.

    The system works fine. Another advantage of Scottish law is that you have to be tried within 100 days of being charged. No spending 2 years on remand then found innocent.

  • Comment number 14.

    The right to trial by jury is a right fought for over many centuries. It helps prevent excesses by the Crown, Police, Judiciary and other authorities.
    Admittedly some accused and their lawyers play the system but that is the fault of the system.
    My solution - any accused who initially pleads not guilty should not be permitted to change their plea unless they unconditionally accept the maximum penalty for that offence if found guilty

  • Comment number 15.

    "2. At 12:39pm on 03 Nov 2010, scotty1694 wrote:
    yes this is a good idea, however if there is reasonable doubt then it should be done by jury. im sure a judge can figure this out himself there on enough money after all"




    If there's reasonable doubt the defendent should be found not guilty and released. Are you seriously suggesting that cases should be pre-judged and that someone decides 'guilty as hell' or 'maybe didn't do it' and uses that to decide your trial?

    If so I'm leaving the UK the day before that system comes into being.

    Incidentally only the UK and the Irish Republic use juries. I'd love to hear someone argue that Holland or Denmark are police states!

  • Comment number 16.

    This is a proposal so now we need to see the detailed arguments that back it up and the comments from those who see flaws in it. Perhaps then we might have a run through in some areas to see if it can work fairly and is a true improvement. Then it can be decided if it is do-able or not but there is no screaming hurry. The Sun will still come up if we don't do it for couple of years so let us have the debate evidence and the debate and then we can answer the question. Trial by Jury is part of the basis of democracy and it should never be given up lightly or just for convenience or minimum savings.

  • Comment number 17.

    I have said it before and I will say it again: the Jury system is obsolete; It has been corrupted by smooth-talking lawyers, showmanship, and the general legal ignorance of the twelve in the box.
    All trials should be before a panel of judges - 3 or 5 to avoid ties. This will bring "justice" back into the justice system, reduce showmanship, and stop the inequity of hiring the big gun to defend the rich while the poor are lucky to get a fair trial.
    If I was charged with a crime, I would want a panel of judges to decide my case; I would not want to stake my imprisonment on twelve persons - irnorant of the law, honest no doubt, but not tried and true.
    Trial by judges would reduce backlogs because judges won't mess around the way show-boating lawyers can; they will know good evidence from bad; they will render decicions more quickly; they will improve the effectiveness of less experienced lawyers.
    If civil liberties groups seriously consider this matter, I believe they will quickly perceive the greater justice in trial by judge; after all, trial by jury has seen its share of innocence convicted and guilty not convicted, usually due to showboating, or the opposite: the inexperience of the trial lawyer.
    Trial by jury is simply not the best way to go.
    Leave justice to those trained to implement it.

  • Comment number 18.

    Just lock them up ; if we have any prisons left and throw away the key

  • Comment number 19.

    16. At 1:13pm on 03 Nov 2010, Freedomknight wrote:
    "Trial by Jury is part of the basis of democracy and it should never be given up lightly or just for convenience or minimum savings."

    So you're saying Scotland (for minor cases), Greece, France, Belgium, Scandanavia, Germany, Holland etc are undemocratic? In the entire EU only Britain and Ireland retain trial by jury.

  • Comment number 20.

    Another one of Cameron's Cuts: forego criminal trials of minor offenses, let them go free, encouraging this nation to fall further with more yobs rampaging the street in rage from their frustrations this country has become.

    Cameron has made so many cuts I guess he doesn't even have enough to invest in a new pair of scissors!

  • Comment number 21.

    Defendants will always choose a trial by jury because there is a higher likelihood of acquittal. Of course this costs the rest of us a lot of money. Moreoften than not a judge will come up with a more accurate assessment and would no doubt have information on previous. It seems a no brainer for lesser cases where imprisonment is not a possibility to dispense with the jury system.

  • Comment number 22.

    "Where should the balance lie between protecting victims and ensuring justice?"

    Phrasing the issues as a matter of balance between "protecting victims" and "ensuring justice" implies that they are countervailing principles, when they are not. Both are vital principles of the law.

    Limiting access to jury trial would almost certainly compromise the principle of ensuring justice, while doing nothing as such to protect victims.

    Justice must be a right, not a commodity; proposing to limit access to it on the grounds of cost borders closely on venality.

  • Comment number 23.

    Trial without jury is illegal under common law. After all if a group of your peers are not allowed to fairly judge you for your actions then what right has a corrupt judge to do so?

  • Comment number 24.

    17. At 1:14pm on 03 Nov 2010, BluesBerry wrote:

    If I was charged with a crime, I would want a panel of judges to decide my case; I would not want to stake my imprisonment on twelve persons - irnorant of the law, honest no doubt, but not tried and true.

    Me too.... unless I'd stabbed a burglar or murdered a muslim/benefit cheat/ New Labour voter/EU official etc in which case I'd want at least three HYS posters on the jury.

  • Comment number 25.

    3. At 12:46pm on 03 Nov 2010, Portman wrote:
    Logical in a conditional sense but wrong. Right to trial by jury is fundamental. It should not be scrapped.

    -------------------------------

    You really should make a effort to read the story first, they are not planning to scrap trial by jury.

    With CCTV and DNA evidence making it hard for a guilty person to argue there innocence with there only defense being that the method used gaining that evidence is a violation of there civil liberties, after all they didn't give there permission to authorities for them assaulting someone to the filmed and nor did they give permission of there DNA to be collected from the victims clothing. This is why civil liberties groups want its use in criminal cases to be banned. Why don't we just operate a system whereby only people who admit guilt need face trial, after all putting innocent people on trial is wrong!

  • Comment number 26.

    It has to be the right of any UK citizen to be tried by jury if they so wish. I just feel that this is yet another attempt to bring us in line with Europe - in these islands we have had a tradition of political freedom linked to the rule of law - the vast majority of our so called European friends do not have that tradition nor the institutions to support it. It will be sad day when a Brit cannot be judged by Brits and is probably one more step towards the EU Police State much wished for by our EU partners.

  • Comment number 27.

    Civil Liberty Groups have a sound & valid point: 'while the crimes concerned may be small the consequences of a conviction for an individual were very significant'. This will apply to many in the professions where a criminal record, if unfairly obtained, will result in the loss of jobs & careers.

  • Comment number 28.

    They never lock anyone up anyway, so why bother taking them to Court at all?

  • Comment number 29.

    25. At 1:24pm on 03 Nov 2010, Andy wrote:
    "With CCTV and DNA evidence making it hard for a guilty person to argue there innocence with there only defense being that the method used gaining that evidence is a violation of there civil liberties, after all they didn't give there permission to authorities for them assaulting someone to the filmed and nor did they give permission of there DNA to be collected from the victims clothing. This is why civil liberties groups want its use in criminal cases to be banned."

    Actually this is why I fear juries.

    Your DNA could be on the victims clothes for any number of reasons... the arresting cop handled you and then the clothes for instance, or the lab tech running the tests forgot to change pippette tips* Barry George was convicted of shooting Jill Dando primarily because a few fragments of gun powder were found on his coat. His coat was stored prior to testing in a cupboard used to store guns!!!!

    Too many juries think DNA match = guilt and will ignore any other evidence (like ten people saying you were elsewhere) because they watch too much CSI.

    *I've done that one or twice. Research material only.

  • Comment number 30.

    You should always have the right to be tried by a jury of your peers, by all means offer people the choice to be tried by a panel of judges but that should only be used as an alternative and the right to a trial by jury should be kept.

    I would always want to be tried by a jury (should I ever end up in court) as at least then I would feel that I have been given a fair opportunity to defend myself in front of a group of independent individuals who have no vested interest in the decision.

  • Comment number 31.

    Can somebody please explain to me when we began to value money over Justice?

  • Comment number 32.

    I think this is a good idea, and would have to problem with it being extended further.

    I've seen research on the 'CSI' effect, whereby juries refuse to convict or ask for lots of pointless tests because they expect things to happen like they do in the TV program.

    The fact that peoples lives can be so influenced by people with no experience of how evidence and cases run in the courts is quite strange

  • Comment number 33.

    "According to BBC legal affairs analyst Clive Coleman, Ms Casey's proposal may prove controversial with civil liberties groups".

    This is always a sure sign that something is sensible. So I'm all for it.

  • Comment number 34.

    30. At 1:40pm on 03 Nov 2010, General_Jack_Ripper wrote:
    You should always have the right to be tried by a jury of your peers, by all means offer people the choice to be tried by a panel of judges but that should only be used as an alternative and the right to a trial by jury should be kept.

    I would always want to be tried by a jury (should I ever end up in court) as at least then I would feel that I have been given a fair opportunity to defend myself in front of a group of independent individuals who have no vested interest in the decision.




    Who are 'your Peers'? Surely a black man should be tried before 12 other black men to ensure there aren't a few BNP voters on the jury. The idea that jurors have "no vested interest in the decision" is one thats very hard to prove.

  • Comment number 35.

    No- there should always be an option to go to a jury.

    Having said that, some people game the system by pleading guilty on the day of trial. This should be taken into account in sentencing, in my opinion.

  • Comment number 36.

    When you go into court, you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.

  • Comment number 37.

    Peter_Sym wrote:
    So you're saying Scotland (for minor cases), Greece, France, Belgium, Scandanavia, Germany, Holland etc are undemocratic? In the entire EU only Britain and Ireland retain trial by jury.


    That's rather misleading, and really you're just attributing statements to people who have never suggested such a thing at all.

    It is an accepted principle of our legal system that you have the right to be tried by a jury of your peers and from this starting point it is indeed undemocratic for the government to remove this right without a serious consultation with the public and ideally the decision being put to a referendum.

    Other countries have different legal systems that have been developed over many centuries and, for the most part, this is an irrelevance to UK law & democracy as all of those countries have different legal processes as well as other democratic systems and institutions that work alongside the legal system to ensure a fair trial.

    It is therefore perfectly reasonable to state that a removal of trial by jury within the UK would be an undemocratic act without this having any bearing on the systems in those countries that do not have this right established in law and that claiming this to be an undemocratic act in no way infers that other countries are undemocratic.

  • Comment number 38.

    Sepenenre wrote:
    They never lock anyone up anyway, so why bother taking them to Court at all?


    If they never lock anybody up then why do we currently have record numbers of people in prison ?

  • Comment number 39.

    NO!
    How many times do various people want to try and overturn this?
    If we are going to reform the rather poor legal system:
    a) The stupid tit for tat style combative prosecution and defence needs to be replaced by a more Scottish style system
    b) Judges need to come into the real world and realise nicking some rich geezers dosh isn't as bad as raping a poor blokes daughter.


  • Comment number 40.

    Oh yes and once this is in, it will be even easier to indroduce and push sharia law even more than it is now.

  • Comment number 41.

    Yes, if it will cut costs.

  • Comment number 42.

    To put forward this idea based on saving the taxpayer £30m and to benefit victims is utterly crass. Firstly, the law and judiciary are there to ensure justice, not revenge for victims (which is also why i do not support capital punishment, revenge is not justice, and it is certainly not for the state to dish it out).
    somebody pointed out in an earlier posting that the £30m equates to 50p a year per person, I don't think that is extravagant to retain the right to be judged by 12 people from the real world rather than judges (the same judges who have us up in arms when they sentence paedophiles to a couple of years for raping kids).
    However, i do accept that lawyers are taking us for a ride in terms of the fees they take from the taxpayers, and in how they almost defraud the justice system through clever tricks. Therefore, i would be more likely to support a review of how lawyers operate and how they are paid from taxpayer money. Capping fees has been mentioned on some posts above, and could be a real option. Somebody also mentioned people who plead not guilty initially, if they change their plea after its gone to a jury trial, being automatically given the max sentence. I think this is also a good idea and would reduce the many instances of wasted time and money of the courts. I'm sure there are other sensible ideas that could make savings without the need to remove the right to trial by jury.

  • Comment number 43.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 44.

    No no no and thrice NO.

  • Comment number 45.


    Trial by Jury is fundamental to level fairness.

    If a person elects to trial by jury they should pay all costs IF they
    are found guilty.

    If found innocent, they should be exempt from costs and be paid due compensation.

    Some who are guilty may escape punishment while some of those who are innocent will be found guilty but everyone should be equal in law.

    The alternative could be a one man hanging judge.



  • Comment number 46.

    HYS - "Should lesser offences forego trial by jury?"

    Yes - long overdue and over-abused by both Defendants and Solicitors.
    The 'Legal-Aid system should especially come under scrutiny.
    TOO much credence is also given to so-called 'Civil-Liberties' and other groups - many of whom are funded by us and have their own Political / Religious agenda's.

    Personally, I have always believed that ALL past crimes SHOULD ALWAYS be taken into account when a defendant faces trial.
    When a particular type of crime is committed, say Child sex-abuse - Police will NATURALLY seek out past offenders of this type of crime - and so would anyone - for obvious reasons. So since we would NATURALLY act with such 'suspicion' - how can it be WRONG to refer to some defendants 'past-record' when they are accused of a crime?
    If Criminals ALWAYS had ALL their past-misdemeanours brought to light in this way - many of them would definitely think twice about re-offending.

    I also believe that this should apply to ALL crimes by youngsters over the age of 12 - and that the PARENTS of criminal-children should be NAMED as a matter-of-course after the first offence.

    We've had 13 years of 'pinkie' (in)justice - time to regain our Society from the Thugs and Degenerates...

  • Comment number 47.

    I have served on a jury twice and each time came away thinking that the theoretical merits of this system are significantly undermined by the the attitude and or capability of some jurors towards forming an objective opinion or even show any interest or willingness to serve in the first place. For example I experienced a fellow juror saying that they believed that a particular person was guilty but couldn't possibly support a guilty decision because the person on trial 'reminded them of their son'. I have also experienced fellow jurors showing no interest in the process and even making it clear that would support whatever decision if it speeded up the process. It is not a particularly democratic process either as unless the jury has the benefit of a 'strong' foreman whose able to 'chair' the process then the jurors with strong personalies always dominate the debate whilst the 'weaker' jurors just go along with the consensus. My experiences may have been unusual but I very much doubt it. It seems to me that this democratic and supposedly fairest system to ensure justice is significantly undermined by the 'quality' of many of the jurors. I believe that it was a sensible and pragmatic change that led to the reduction the number of 'jury trials' associated with major and complex fraud cases and I also believe that the whole process needs an overhaul in any case. The process to 'call' jurors especially needs an overhaul as it seems to me that the system of appeals and ensuing deferrals of service inevitably results in a slantedly reduced pool and disproportionate number of poor quality remaining candidates.

  • Comment number 48.

    Peter_Sym wrote:
    Who are 'your Peers'? Surely a black man should be tried before 12 other black men to ensure there aren't a few BNP voters on the jury. The idea that jurors have "no vested interest in the decision" is one thats very hard to prove.


    Your peers are members of society who do not work in the legal or law enforcement systems, this was established a very long time ago so I'm surprised you don't know.

    I don't see why a black man would need to be tried by other black men, seems a little racist to even suggest such a thing to be honest as I've always considered people to be equal, regardless of their race.

    What are the chances of a few BNP members getting onto a single jury ?
    The whole system is randomised and the use of 12 jurors is to ensure that such issues are avoided. There is also an appeals system in place so that anyone who did get convicted under such circumstances could appeal the judgement.

    It's very easy to prove that jurors have no vested interest in a case and a jury is chosen from more than a dozen potential jurors so that anyone with any interest in it is asked to declare it so that they are not selected. The defence also has the opportunity to ask for individuals not to be chosen if the defendant, prosecution or judge has sufficient grounds to show that they have got an interest in it.

  • Comment number 49.

    #37. O.K fair point, but its worth remembering that the poster said that trial by jury is a "cornerstone of democracy" not "OUR democracy". My point is quite valid that you can have perfectly functional democracies (in fact the parliamentary system in most of europe is more democractic than ours) without having jury trials.

    I'm also equally aware that things have a nasty habit of "creeping" in this country but we're not talking about abolishing the whole jury system, merely getting English law to work in a similar way to Scots law (see post 13) which reminds me.... in your last paragraph it shouldn't be 'in the UK' rather "in England & Wales"

  • Comment number 50.

    39. At 2:05pm on 03 Nov 2010, anotherfakename wrote:

    "b) Judges need to come into the real world and realise nicking some rich geezers dosh isn't as bad as raping a poor blokes daughter."

    I've never heard of a Rape case where sentencing was based on the victim's fathers credit rating. Remember its the government pass sentencing guidelines which the judge then enforces. If a crime carries a sentence guidline of 2-5 years then thats all that can be given. The fact you can get a 10 year sentence for copying a DVD is ridiculous but the governments fault, not the judges.

  • Comment number 51.

    16. At 1:13pm on 03 Nov 2010, Freedomknight wrote:
    "Trial by Jury is part of the basis of democracy and it should never be given up lightly or just for convenience or minimum savings."

    So you're saying Scotland (for minor cases), Greece, France, Belgium, Scandanavia, Germany, Holland etc are undemocratic? In the entire EU only Britain and Ireland retain trial by jury.

    =================================================

    I think you misunderstand the principles on which the English legal and political system works (Scotland is different) and the continental system works.

    The English system is based on the belief that power rests with the people and putting fetters on the power of government. That is why our legal system is based on the principle that you can do anything unless there is a law to stop you. That is why we have a jury system - the people must judge you and the state must prove "beyond reasonable doubt".

    Continental system is very different. It is based on a need for a legal code to set out the principles on which all people must live their lives (those principles being thought up and laid down by the political elite). In criminal cases they are not interested in justice or beyond reasonable doubt but that the state must ascertain the "truth" of what happened.

    Essentially English system (which probably goes back to Saxons) is bottom up and continental is top down in terms of where power and authority is suppose to reside

  • Comment number 52.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/601690.stm

    "Trial by jury was first enshrined in law in what has been seen as the world's first proclamation of human rights - the Magna Carta.

    The document, decreed in 1215 by King John after a rebellion by his barons, stated that a "freeman shall not be... imprisoned... unless by the judgement of his peers".

    The right to trial by jury was finally established absolutely in the legal system following the trial of William Penn in 1670."
    +++++++++++++

    So our fundamental legal rights are to eroded as in the US.
    I know it's not often mentioned that the real momentum behind the Tea Party is in trying to get back to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

    When G W Bush was renewing the controversial USA Patriot Act (March 2006) he infamously said
    “Stop throwing the Constitution in my face, it’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”

    Is that what our government think of our hard fought for rights?
    Slippery slopes and thin ends of wedges.

  • Comment number 53.

    No for a very simple reason, bench trials are seen to be far more open to corruption than a jury trial as you only need to influence one person (i.e. the Judge) negatively which is far easier than getting at least half the jury to be dishonest. The public needs absolute trust in the system for it to work and personally if I felt I was being stiched up for something I would want the option of a jury trial, I would not want to rely on the judgement of a single person that I didn't know anything about.

  • Comment number 54.

    To those who say that we have a right to a trial by peers what do they think Magistrates Courts are? Magistrates are Lay People (NOT Lawyers) and represent a cross section of the community. They are perfectly capable (and after a time the experience) to try minor cases.
    We should not waste the time of Crown Courts with minor offenses.

  • Comment number 55.

    Given the telling comment 'while the crimes concerned may be small the consequences of a conviction for an individual were very significant' a possible solution presents itself.

    ALL convictions from other than trial by jury do not remain on the convict's criminal record for the purposes of employment checks. They just have to pay their fine or do their time, and that's that.

  • Comment number 56.

    The key question is: Can judges in the UK be trusted to act in an impartial and fair manner.

    Answer: In my opinion, no way Jose!

  • Comment number 57.

    I think I would be happier being tried under the French system (where they have an investigating magistrate ferreting out the truth before the trial), than the English system. I just don't feel safe being judged by 12 people who all have their own pet prejudices, and I just may fit the criteria of the worst prejudices they all have!

  • Comment number 58.

    I think the right to trial by jury is very often only used in an attempt to delay conviction and keep offenders out of jail or from being fined a little longer. That being the case, why don't we simply automatically add 1000% to the punishments handed down by crown courts as incentive for more criminals to confess their crimes.

    Of course this won't happen because it would mean a much smaller trough for the barristers to have their snouts in but I bet a lot of people would rather take a £100 fine today rather than a £1000 one in 3 months!

  • Comment number 59.

    Just a few points:
    Most cases do not go to trial because the defendant pleads guilty
    There are trials in Magistrates Courts but many don't trust the magistrates to be fair
    Trial by jury was enshrined in magna carta because other forms were at risk of influence by powers that be
    The last government created more new laws than any of their predecessors, therefore more offenders
    NO ONE can state that they have never broken the law so relax and stop being so judgemental

  • Comment number 60.

    Should lesser offences forego trial by jury? In principle, yes but I can't see it working.

  • Comment number 61.

    This seems odd to me she wants to give more work to Magistrate courts by having them to judge people rather than a jury in crown court and at the same time is shutting hundreds of magistrate courts up and down the country where are these cases going to take place if there are no Majistrate courts for them

  • Comment number 62.

    Oh this is a great idea, lets get rid of courts altogether - we could just let the police do the sentencing - that would save a fortune and speed up the process no end! Arrested and straight to prison! great idea and no need to pay senile old judges to wear in silly wigs!

    Roll on Police state dictatorship - I can't wait!

  • Comment number 63.

    No.

    There must always be a right for Trial-By-Jury.

    Jury are said to have a common set of morals. They are there to find either the suspect innocent or guilty, and also have the power to exempt a law from applying if they feel the circumstances deserve it.


    Trial-by-the-Corrupt, or Trial-by-Computer are not options. ("The Corrupt" meaning the single person sitting with all the power in the courtroom (Judge), is bound to become corrupt if not forced)

    The whole point of taking even a minor case to a courtroom is so that you have the chance to prove your innocence. If you're guilty of a minor offence you probably won't even contest it. Take away the Jury and there will be no voice-of-reason within a courtroom to listen to your pleas of defence.

  • Comment number 64.

    There's definitely a case for a system akin to that on the continent for less serious offences, but I'd rather they were heard by a properly qualified judicial authority such as a Registrar. The Cynic's Dictionary defines a magistrate as "A judicial official of limited jurisdiction but boundless incompetence". I have to say I've seen examples of the latter.

  • Comment number 65.

    The trouble with this idea is, who decides what is lesser? And what level of proof would be required for a "lesser" charge?

    Being wrongly convicted of a £10 shoplifting charge is not much different to being wrongly convicted of stealing £10,000, in terms of damage to a person's reputation and prospects. In terms of having the conviction overturned there is a huge difference; with a jury trial recording of proceedings is much more thorough and new evidence will be considered if it becomes available, whereas at magistrate's court the burden of proof is much lower with no prospect of having the conviction overturned. The idea seems to be that if it's only a "little" conviction miscarriages of justice don't matter all that much.

    I think that Parliament and the judiciary need to be very careful here; already too much is being sacrificed on the altar of economic necessity.



  • Comment number 66.

    "Are there other ways to reduce the cost of the courts in England and Wales?"

    What are the statistics on the number of courtcases?
    I'm guessing quite a high percentage are from things like Speeding, or Drug Possession.

    Drugs should not be illegal to possess. This saves money on Policework, Prisons and the Legal System.

    Benefits of "Legal Aid" should be limited, and maybe something to be done about the ridiculous sums of money that Lawyers/Judges are being paid to do little more than paperwork.

    Expenses claimed by Jurors should only include travel/food, and not pay lost-earnings.

  • Comment number 67.

    Woops. I was a few months out with the Bush reference, Nov 2005.

    http://www.capitolhillblue.com/artman/publish/article_7779.shtml

    and to give a bit more context
    "Doug Thompson told us he once removed the story from his Web site when others raised doubts and no other news organization came up with a similar story. But he said he later reinstated it and currently believes it to be true. "I wrote the story and I stand by it," Thompson said in a telephone interview.

    Thompson told us he based the story on e-mail messages from three persons he knows, all of whom claim to have been present at a White House meeting and to have heard Bush make the statement."
    _____

    Difficult to know what goes on in the Oval Office.
    Yet what's your gut feeling?
    If Catherine Zeta-Jones can get videos of herself expunged...

    Anyhow, I still stand by my original statement.
    Should lesser offences forego trial by jury?
    No. No. No. Do not change things for change's sake or "cost saving".

  • Comment number 68.

    What you should have is a technology update. All police officers should have small cameras attached to their uniform, being watched by an officer of the court or 'low-level judge'. Once there is sufficient video evidence from at least two separate police officers the court officer could then tell them to issue the fine/arrest based on immediate evidence.

    If the person fined wants to complain or claim back, the video evidence can be stored and revisisted at any time, with a copy sent to the finee for their viewing before launching their appeal.

    This way you get rid of the excessiveness of a jury-trial for smaller and/or obvious-guilt crimes but not remove the importance of evidence or officials taking responsibility for their decisions. This will also highlight police deficiencies or malpractice if they cannot provide video evidence.

  • Comment number 69.

    @51. Justin 150.
    Yes I am saying that in my personal opinion these countries are less democratic and have poorer systems of Justice. I accept that the courts do not always arrive at the truth but I think that trial by Jury is a far better protection against Tyranny by Govts. particularly when we do not have a Bill of Rights and the EU at the moment does look to be a hairs breadth from bureaucratic tyranny.
    Part of the problem we have is that the EU was established and then enlarged without a proper constitution and then Lisbon was rammed through because there was no effective control mechanism but is despised by the EU electorate. Now we have two different systems of Justice and neither side is happy and I suspect this is not about saving money but about one more notch of the ratchet towards conformity but I think our system is better and they should conform to that.

  • Comment number 70.

    The right to opt for trial by jury should be retained, but in the event of a last-minute 'guilty' plea, any costs for doing so should fall on the defendant.

  • Comment number 71.

    If we are rolling the clock back to the dark ages why not just go for trial by ordeal?

    In all seriousness however our legal system has evolved over many generations and is held in high regard throughout the world.

    The last ten years have seen more changes to the fundemental basis of it than in the previous hundred years - it isn't a good way to go.

  • Comment number 72.

    Perhaps commonsense should apply. This most obvious of ways of dealing with a situation sadly is now moribund.

  • Comment number 73.

    "This way you get rid of the excessiveness of a jury-trial for smaller and/or obvious-guilt crimes but not remove the importance of evidence or officials taking responsibility for their decisions. This will also highlight police deficiencies or malpractice if they cannot provide video evidence."

    This would surely be a breach of privacy since a public official would be filming you so would be inadmisible in court.

  • Comment number 74.

    Try finding 12 decent straight, rational people: would many recommend a dozen HYS posters picked at random?




  • Comment number 75.

    When I looked into teh possibility of becoming a magistrate I found that it took many years of indoctrination before one would be allowed to sit on the bench. As such magistrates are not the lay people they are supposed to be but are the people they are told to be. A jury trial is the only way to truly be tried by our peers.

  • Comment number 76.

    If I am accused of an offence where the evidence is stacked against me but I know my complete innocence of the indictment made against me, then I must have a right to be tried by my peers with the chance that, if found guilty, my sentence may be more severe. It is not the seriousness of the offence that matters; it is the right to have justice done.

    All around us processes are fast tracked to save money, not to ensure that the truth is discovered and justice delivered accordingly. Every person who is mistried by our judicial process is another person who loses respect for the whole system.

    Once I trusted what people said under oath. Now I know better.

  • Comment number 77.

    Peter Sym Wrote...

    ...........The system works fine. Another advantage of Scottish law is that you have to be tried within 100 days of being charged. No spending 2 years on remand then found innocent.

    And there are many other advantages of Scottish law if you are a convicted terrorist.........

  • Comment number 78.

    #69 I think the issue is much deeper than your post suggests.
    The English political/legal system is organised on completely different principles to the European civil law system. England and Europe really do speak different languages but confusingly many of the words sound the same.

    Europe does not worry about trial by jury because that is not what their political/legal system indoctrinates the public to expect.

    In England trial by jury is a fundamental part of the political/legal system DNA. Tampering with that DNA should only be done very very carefully and slowly. Problem is our politicians hate our political/legal DNA because it is about not giving politicians power

  • Comment number 79.

    Should lesser offences forego trial by jury?

    Well, surely that is hardly up to us Brits. The important thing is 'What is the opinion of the judges in Strasbourg who provide this country with such wonderful value for money'.

  • Comment number 80.

    [77. At 5:28pm on 03 Nov 2010, SPEEDTHRILLS wrote:
    Peter Sym Wrote...

    ...........The system works fine. Another advantage of Scottish law is that you have to be tried within 100 days of being charged. No spending 2 years on remand then found innocent.

    And there are many other advantages of Scottish law if you are a convicted terrorist......... ]

    We have convicted terrorists in prison in Scotland. But under Scots law if you are terminally ill, the Christian tenet of mercy can be applied, even to them.

  • Comment number 81.

    They already have, it's called a on the spot fine ! with the threat of a even bigger one of you disagree and very little chance of a fair hearing from someone, employed by the same people who just fined you.

  • Comment number 82.

    75. At 5:18pm on 03 Nov 2010, angry_of_garston wrote:
    "...When I looked into teh possibility of becoming a magistrate..."
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    I rest my case.




  • Comment number 83.

    The legal system in the UK, has been almost completely undermined by a bigoted, sexist and racist judiciary and police force. The wealthy and famous seem to be permitted to behave as badly as they wish with no repercussions, whilst the poor and those without influence are metaphorically pilloried by the system and the press. Depriving people of the right to trial by jury would be the final straw

  • Comment number 84.

    I can understand why Chris is so acerbic about those who continue to regard trial by jury as the only way to try those accused of minor crimes (though his comment 'It was on the cards that the bleeding heart civil liberties groups would be up in arms, as their only raison d'etre is to support the criminal' is nonsense and insulting).
    I do believe that trial by jury is the only fair way, and that many more would be wrongfully convicted if we let magistrates decide minor cases.
    There could be another way, though. Why can't we try minor cases by tribunal - not a full 12 man jury but also not a lone magistrate (who is often not representative of the local community)?
    If the tribunal comprised a magistrate, and two other local people, then the element of 'judged by his peers' would remain, but the process would be less costly and shorter.

    Tribunals work well in employment cases, and others - so perhaps we should consider extending it to other disputable events.

  • Comment number 85.

    Post 73 states that ok to dispense with Jury for cases of "obvious guilt".
    Define "obvious guilt".
    We have to remember that the EU is intent on getting all its own way over all member states.
    We have already succumbed (allegedly because of "Cost") to a first step to a European Army.
    For cases, even when people in main street are on CCTV, and get arrested by police, if "summary justice", as introduced by lst government is followed, we depart from Common Law.
    We have seen the introduction of ASBOs, which assume guilt if a person complains about kids "standing about".
    Then "authority" comes along and issues an ASBO.
    A Briton is deemed, under law, "Innocent until proven Guilty". ASBOs assume guilt as a starting point,which is how Europe works.Therefore asbos should not be used in UK if contrary to our common law!(EG Innocent until proven guilty).
    Another point not being considered is that fact that policemen also have rules to follow, and if they do not follow these when carrying out an arrest, then the arrest is illegal.(Note all the improperly dressed policemen on these fashionable police camera action programmes).
    Note: A policeman not properly dressed cannot be deemed "on duty", and therefore have no more authority to arrest as yourself under common law.

    Now, thanks to the last government, you can now have your property confiscated for a traffic offence, never gets to court, deemed guilty.
    Wrong under British law, but last government brought these measures in.
    We need to consider the fact that a nation should be judged by the way it treats even the most unfortunate.
    If we begin to say "No point trying them, we all KNOW what they did", we will be behaving exactly like the Third Reich did and dispensing summary justice cos it costs less, and people "support" it.
    If a known criminal is arrested, his past crimes are not taken into consideration when judging what he (or she) was alleged to have done, except to stand as a record the he/she has done this kind of thing before. Evidence beyond reasonable doubt is required, which the PROSECUTION has to prove. If prosecution cannot display evidence leads to guilt of accused, the case is dismissed and the person goes free.
    Are we really so stupid as a nation to wish to ditch 1000 years of law just because some unelected dogsbody thinks it a good idea??
    Or perhaps we as a nation are being prepared for our way of life to be comletely subsumed beneath the rules of countries we have defended our liberties from for the best part of 800 years??
    Trial by Jury has been an effective system to ensure justice for a long time, and all the civilised countries in the world have adopted it.
    Is the bureaucrat floating this idea sure he/she is aware what the basis of Bitish Laws actually is, or are they under instruction to float this idea before seeking to dispense with our freedoms in manner similar to that used to introduce the smoking ban??
    Answers on a postcard, but consult a lawyer first!

  • Comment number 86.

    The right to trial.
    A 'right' abused by solicitors to get more money out of the legal aid system.
    They get more money preparing a case for Crown Court than they would for having trial at Magistrates Court.
    This may not always be in the best interests of the defendant, they are representing, as they risk a higher punishment in Crown Court.

  • Comment number 87.

    The British people are about to learn what it means to live in a 3rd world country where the powerful decide who is guilty and who is not. The moral, emotional and intellectual cowardice of the British people is internationally recognized and as removal of our democratic rights proceeds this perception will still fail to be fully appreciated by the majority of British people themselves. Its difficult to find sympathy for the stupid, the wilfully blind, and of course, the determinedly ignorant. The British are a nation of people who have 'given up a little freedom in exchange for a little security' and they have now lost both.

  • Comment number 88.

    I have yet to discover what exactly juries of laypeople are meant to facilitate, other than miscarriages of justice.

  • Comment number 89.

    'What you should have is a technology update. All police officers should have small cameras attached to their uniform, being watched by an officer of the court or 'low-level judge'.'

    I agree, but only if solicitors and the accused, have a camera present, at all times, when they discuss the allegations made.

  • Comment number 90.

    Trial by jury of your peers may seem to be a decent and fair way of resolving that the verdict is fair. However, nowadays one's peers may come from a very different cultural background and we get cases of alleged knife and gun crime and alleged terrorist activity in which the juries are dismissed over disagreements that are a serious cause for concern. Admittedly there is no such thing as a perfect system of justice and miscarriages do occur. This prompts me to think that the jury system could do with a thorough overhaul/review by a panel of senior judges and that their professional guidance be sought on the best way to proceed in future - regardless of views expressed by The Commissioner for Victims of Crime.

  • Comment number 91.

    I am amazed and disgusted that this is even open for discussion. I thought we had heard the last of this type fascist garbage when the last lot were chucked out of office. This one issue alone would ensure the loss of at least one life long Conservative voter.

    There should be compromise on this at all, everyone must have the right to trial by their peers. Folks have fought and died to defend this since Magna Carta.

  • Comment number 92.

    Should lesser offences forego trial by jury?

    to keep a fair and just system we need to keep the right of trial by jury at all cost
    so no

  • Comment number 93.

    I hear comments about saving money and ‘freeing up the courts’. Of all the things we spent tax payers money on the right to a full and fair trail must be one of the most worthy. We are ready to criticise other countries where its people have lesser rights. I get annoyed when the process of punishment for minor crimes is taken away from the courts and handed to the police or councils, neither of whom are famous for respecting human rights. Our legal system is not perfect – let’s not start watering it down.

    My vote is NO. Keep all the rights to trial we have and improve them.

  • Comment number 94.

    Should lesser offences forego trial by jury?
    The Commissioner for Victims of Crime has suggested that the right to trial by jury for lesser offences should end in England and Wales. Will this be good for justice?

    1. At 12:36pm on 03 Nov 2010, Chris wrote:

    Magistrates Courts could provide a far wider service to communities than they currently do. They could be provided with far stronger powers, freeing up the Criminal Justice System to address its own bureaucratic problems and get its woeful act together. etc.
    -----------------------------------------------------------------

    Whilst initially this may sound like a good way to free-up the Crown courts, as you say, they are overstretched - true, but why are they overstretched? that is the real question that should be being asked here.

    I am not a member of any of the civil liberties groups - nor do I support any of their goody-goody actions on behalf of the criminal fraternity.
    However, moving towards removing the right to trial by jury could be seen as the thin end of the wedge by very many people - myself included - it will ultimately lead to the prosecution of many innocent people if they are denied that right.

    Example;Identity theft is extremely dificult to prove if you are on the receiving end of having your identity stolen. The theft of a number plate off your car and used on a similar car in a robbery (its happened before and I'm sure it'll happen again), you live on your own, were watching the TV, so no aliby, think about this for a moment, it is not as far fetched as you might at first think.

    The right to trial by jury has been enshrined in the British Justice system for centuries, the right to a fair and just trial has been enshrined in British history since the signing of the Magna Carta, it must remain so if we are to have a fair and just system of trials from Magistrates court, Crown Court, High Court and now the Supreme Court (another blasted Americanism) Yes true, some of the Crown Court judges are out of touch with the 'real' people, but you overlook the fact that many Magistrate Judges are also land owners, big-wigs in the local community and some are members of the Landed Gentry who don't really give a hoot about the plight of Joe Average.

    Ficticous example of what I mean:
    You've just been aprehended whilst walking along a lane that runs parallel to one of the Landed Gentry's Houses for apparently trespassing on his/her property (we won't be sexist here) a clear case of mistaken identity however, as you have not trespassed on this occassion.
    But you had once been caught trespassing (we'll call it taking a short cut across his property a year before returning from the 'Fox and Hounds' late one evening) the owner of this property is the local magistrate, he immediately recognises you from the previous time, the case comes before the magistrate, no jury, convince that magistrate that you were innocent.
    Remember, you live on your own, were walking on your own back from the afore mentioned 'Fox and Hounds' public house, you've had a pleasant evening with some locals, but you have had ample time to have trespassed - even though you didn't trespass on this occassion, no witnesses, no aliby for the time of the trespass. Think about this.

    Perhaps you do or do not see my point here, but if you want to answer this please do so, but think about it for a while first.

  • Comment number 95.

    94. At 9:11pm on 03 Nov 2010, Johns the Man wrote:
    "...You've just been aprehended whilst walking along a lane that runs parallel to one of the Landed Gentry's Houses for apparently trespassing on his/her property (we won't be sexist here) a clear case of mistaken identity however, as you have not trespassed on this occassion..."
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    You've perhaps picked a bad example here. My understanding is that simple trespass is a civil wrong, not a crime, so would not come before the magistrate. It would fall to the aggrieved party to apply for an injunction to prevent further such activities in that event.






  • Comment number 96.

    In no way should anyone face a trial without a jury. I think this is the start of a very slippery slope. I do not believe that any conviction is safe when it is done behind closed doors. The decision for this can only be taken by the people of England and no government bodies, or official persons, have any right to alter the basic rules of the nation. This idea smells of typical dictatorship behaviour and i think it has a very bad smell.

  • Comment number 97.

    The common law system gives the majority of the power in judging a case to the people. So, although a political elite often came up with the laws, it was down to the common man to make judgment on his fellow citizen. This is a fundamental concept within English common law: that the power to judge a person does not reside exclusively with the state or government, but comes from its citizenry.

    I believe that the jury system should be handled very carefully no matter where it goes. It is an integral part of common law. To curtail it for example should not result in laws coming more under the purview of the state, and out of the hands of the people that elect their government. This would require some thought on how individuals can provide their input into non-jury trials, for example.

    Things to keep in mind:
    - keep away from theocratic systems that rule through a religious elite (e.g. Iran, Saudi Arabia)
    - keep away from communist/socialist systems that rule through a political elite (e.g. Venezuela, China)
    - limit civil-law systems that inhibit 'stare decisis' or precedent (e.g. France)

    Also, think about it this way. If the people see that some non-jury trials are not going the way that the citizens would like, and that demonstrate true loss of justice and equity, how easy is it for citizens to enact change: easy or extremely complex and difficult (or perhaps impossible)? We want to keep away from this as well.

  • Comment number 98.

    Surely the real question is what is the "Commissioner for Victims of Crime", and how is this person qualified to threaten a great system of justice developed over centuries? Underneath this iniquitous proposal is the desire to "save money". How contemptible can you get? Do people really think that it is preferable to be tried by a pompous political hack, masquerading as a magistrate, than by a panel of one's peers? If so, then that is the end of a once great society. Without British justice, Britain is no more.

  • Comment number 99.

    There are plenty of offences which can only be tried by magistrates today (common assault, assaulting police and threatening violence being some of them). Many magistrates, in my experience, are case-hardened and often convict when they shouldn't. I've known the CPS to under-charge defendants because they want the matter kept in the magistrates' court as they've got a better chance of conviction and the case isn't very strong! Jury trial isn't perfect - no system is - but it's a lot better than the alternatives.

    Oh, and of course it helps if you accept - unlike Louise Casey - that some people charged with offences are actually innocent!!

  • Comment number 100.

    Will this be good for Justice? Well forget the word justice it's irrelevant. What it will do is to free up more time for the courts but it will mean that magistrates courts will get clogged up which cases that will lead to questionable judgements

 

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