Members of the criminal team in Goldsmith Chambers both prosecute and defend in trials throughout England and Wales. We unanimously and wholeheartedly support trial by jury.
Suggestions have been made in recent days from the judiciary and the MOJ that there should be a temporary suspension of trial by jury in “either way” offences. The suggestions, as an alternative, are for trial by judge alone, or trial by a judge sitting with magistrates on the purported basis that these “either way” offences are less serious ones. That is a complete misrepresentation of the gravity of many of these offences which include offences which can carry life imprisonment and which may well ruin a person’s reputation for life.
We deplore the suggestion from any direction that there should be any erosion of the right to trial by jury. We pledge to uphold our valued jury system in every case where the right exists. While the current covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly made the delays to the criminal justice system yet worse, the system was in a dire state anyway as a result of years of chronic underfunding. Restrictions on sitting days imposed in the last year in particular have meant many courtrooms sitting empty while trials are adjourned for many months if not years.
Trial by jury is at the heart of our criminal justice system. It ensures that every defendant facing a serious charge has the right to be tried by a jury selected randomly from his or her local community. That jury brings common sense and life experience to the decision making process. The jury contains people from diverse backgrounds and all walks of life who are much more likely to understand the perspective of witnesses and defendants than a single judge, or a judge sitting with two magistrates.
In these times when there is particularly heightened awareness of the discrimination suffered by those from BAME backgrounds, it is particularly shameful that proposals should be put forward which make it far less likely that someone would face trial by a tribunal of a representative cross-section of society.
We firmly believe that any “temporary” suspension of the right to trial by jury will be the thin end of the wedge, and will be used by the government as a means to begin the permanent removal of jury trials. Trial by jury has protected the ordinary citizen against the power of the state for hundreds of years in this country and should not be sacrificed for the sake of cost and expediency.
We urge the government, at a time when the MOJ have made significant savings by the near total absence of trials over the last few months, to reinvest substantially and properly in the justice system and look creatively at ways to ease the backlog of cases and increase the number of trials which can be heard without removing the right to trial by jury. There are many large public spaces currently unused, the conversion of those buildings to “Nightingale Courts” is the obvious first step in ensuring that we can move forward with hearing trials, without sacrificing the jury system.
Related practice areas: Crime