The Jury Should Retire. By Trevor Plumbly
In a recent murder trial down here, the fact that the accused had extremely violent tendencies and had carried out acts of vandalism was withheld from the jury on the grounds that it might influence their decision on the case before them. After he was acquitted and the broader facts were made public, there was an angry, and to my mind, justified outcry from the public, followed by the usual somewhat paternalistic response from the Minister of Justice and the legal profession. What struck me as odd was that the public ire was directed towards the apparent injustice, while the legal fraternity assured us that the law was strictly observed. Excuse my cynicism but doesn’t it seem as if justice and the law have grown farther apart in recent times?
The increase in the volume and complexity of offending is creating yet more need for reviews and amendments to current laws. Constant tinkering has made the law far too complex and remote for lay people to fully grasp. Yet those same ordinary folk are expected to be able to disentangle complicated legal argument, ignore showmanship, weigh up conflicting evidence and assess the credibility of witnesses. To add to the farce, they are instructed every evening to banish the subject from their minds until their return to the court. ‘Don’t discuss it with family, no TV or radio, no internet or newspapers’. Someone’s got to be kidding. I recall reading some time ago that in the Middle Ages, instead of a jury, an aggrieved party could opt for trial by combat and hire a champion to fight their case. Naturally the guy with the most gelt hired the meanest and smartest, thereby guaranteeing a favourable verdict. Same as today really, just cheaper and a lot quicker, no legal aid and it’s hard to appeal if you’re dead. Even in those far-off days, it appears that justice wasn’t regarded as an essential part of the law.