After the jury in the trial of Vicky Price was discharged following their now notorious ten questions and the Judge’s comment that they had completely failed to understand their role and responsibilities they were the object of ridicule and abuse in the so-called twittersphere. The consensus was that they were just a bunch of thickos. But were they? Whilst some of the questions were naive two of them got to the heart of the matter.They asked the judge to clarify the meaning of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ and asked for further guidance on the concept of ‘;marital coercion.’ The latter is a defence very rarely used these days and may not be well understood by lawyers, let alone laypeople. To ask for further explanation is not, I think, a sign of stupidity but rather of people fully aware of their responsibilities. Did anyone consider that judge may not have made a very good job of explaining things to them?
That ordinary people are too thick to understand complex arguments has been a common refrain in recent years with the last government moving to abolish jury trial in some fraud cases. This was a Labour government treating with disdain the very people on whose votes they depended!
Democrats and socialists should unequivocally reject such arguments. The right to be tried to by one’s peers is a fundamental pillar of our criminal justice system. The ordinary people on the jury may have insights into the circumstances of a case that public school educated judges and barristers cannot. But the glory of the jury system are the cases where a jury exercises its privilege to stick two fingers up at the law in the cause of justice.
It was in 1985 that the civil servant Clive Ponting was prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act for leaking documents relating to the sinking of the General Belgrano during the Falklands War. According to the law he was guilty and the judge directed the jury to convict. Twelve ordinary men and women decided that this was a politically motivated trial with the aim of punishing a man for embarrassing the Government and that they wanted no part of it. They defied the judge and returned a verdict of Not Guilty.
That is the great thing about juries. They are not beholden to the law and can take a wider view. It should be a cause of rejoicing when, as in the case of Ponting, ordinary people rise to the occasion and strike a blow for freedom.