Saturday, January 16, 2010

First British Non-Jury Trial in 400 Years

The Royal Courts of Justice are leaving this one to the judges, and given what a mess has ensued to date, it’s no wonder:

Lady JusticeIt is the first time a major criminal trial has been heard without a jury in a British court in more than 400 years. The case in question was that of a £1.75m armed robbery alleged to have been carried out by John Twomey, Peter Blake, Barry Hibberd and Glen Cameron at a warehouse at Heathrow in February 2004.

It is the fourth time the case has come before the court, costing the taxpayer an estimated £24m. Last year the Court of Appeal ruled that it should now be heard by a judge alone because of the danger of jury tampering. The last trial had to be abandoned over those fears.

So the perps’ haul was a total of £1.75m in their armed robbery attempt but the already-overburdened taxpayer has put out £24m in order to make sure that justice was served?

It sounds like the only people “served” in this expensive farce are attorneys.

The whole story is a mess. I though the American too-much-mercy-not-enough-justice “system” was a travesty, but this circus is even worse. At this fourth go-round, the QC summed up the case for the prosecution:
- - - - - - - - -
He told the judge that the men in the dock had been involved in a “professionally planned and professionally executed” armed robbery at Menzies World Cargo at Heathrow in February 2004. The men had thought their haul would be £10m but because one of the gang had misunderstood a document showing the number of bags of money that were to be delivered to the warehouse that evening, they instead made off with £1.75m.

During the raid, Mr Flint said, 16 employees at Menzies were rounded up at gunpoint and tied up. One man tried to escape and as he ran was shot at, allegedly by Mr Blake, it is alleged. The bullet missed but when Mr Blake caught up with the staff member a scuffle ensued during which several more shots were allegedly fired, although none hit or injured the staff member. Mr Twomey, 61, of New Milton, Hampshire, Mr Blake, 57, of Notting Hill, west London, Mr Hibberd, 43, of Shepherd’s Bush, west London, and Mr Cameron, 50, of New Milton, Hampshire, all deny a series of charges including robbery and firearms possession.

Just in case you thought all of Britain’s problems stem from its political class, its “youths” and the effects of massive immigration, take a look at the miscreants’ names. Obviously the senior members of the native ethnic underclass present a menace all on their own. Mr Twomey is sixty-one, for heaven’s sake. And it was fifty-seven year-old Mr Blake who chased down the fellow attempting to escape.

Sean O’Brian has the details on the significance of this non-jury trial. He cites chapter and verse of the Criminal Code applicable here and ponders whether or not that piece of legislation (enacted in 2003, to come into force in 2007) is simply an attempt make nice with the EU system. He fears for the future:

I suspect this is being done to facilitate the harmonisation of EU justice systems, as independent juries are largely unknown outside of Anglophone countries. Once the principle has been breached, as in this case, it will be easier to do it again and again.

Read his post to see what’s been happening in Ireland, too.

I will say that given the circumstances, i.e., three trials with jury-tampering and a public cost (so far) of £24m, going without a jury in this case seems to serve justice in the short run. Whether or not it does so in the long run is another matter.

The peerless English justice system may become literally that: eventually no more decisions by one’s peers at all.

I have no idea what technicalities and tricks were used by the attorneys for the defense in the case which permitted this mess to drag on through three jury trials. However, I am a little familiar with the more egregrious cases involing tort law in America. It permits monsters like John Edwards to become Croesus-rich while the public pays the bill (via obscenely high insurance rates) for his manipulations of juries. Edwards and his ilk are rewarded for what they do and are considered very good at the game. However, the game itself is tawdry and disgusting.

Tort reform is long overdue. The central obstacle to overhauling it is Congress, which consists almost entirely of lawyers. Thanks to them and their predecessors our current system is so skewed that without reform Lady Justice is not just blind. Soon she’ll be utterly insensate and stripped of her robes while some enterprising lawyer pawns her scales.

Expect to see tort reform and tax code reform among the major issues in our mid-term elections. In 2012, presidential campaigners will be forced to wrestle with these problems also. Vague promises of hope and change ain’t gonna cut it. Not ever again in our lifetimes.


Ron Russell said...

The judical system is maintained by the tax-payers and those in the system could care less about the cost---the judges, the juries and the defendants. Example: KSM coming to NYC just to satisfy some political agenda---the man has already confessed to the crimes. American justice??? Tax-payer injustice, you bet!!!

Dymphna said...

There is at least a two tier "justice" system in this country. I know because I worked with some of those who were very low on the food chain.

Are you going to blog about the KSM trial? I've started a post with some links but I still can't believe Holder and Obama did this...not feeling well or I'd blast them.

Obie gives himself a B+?? This NYC trial deserves more than just an F. He ought to be demoted and and sent to permanent detention.

Sean O'Brian said...

Thanks for the link, Dymphna. Here is a good quote re juries by Peter Hitchens, from his A Brief History of Crime:

"The jury is more noble in theory than in reality. There is nothing especially elevating about the sight of 12 people crammed into a room trying to decide whether to ruin a fellow human being's life. Yet for once, the idea is more important than the practice. As long as these strange committees continue to exist, governments are less powerful and citizens are more free. Two things happen to trials when a jury is present. First, there is an element of doubt about the outcome that is quite beyond the control of the state. This turns the presumption of innocence from a mere slogan into a real possibility. Some on the jury may actually be prepared to believe that the police have the wrong man. Secondly, the prosecution's huge advantage over the defence is greatly reduced. The defence is not an interloper among officials but one of two contestants before a panel that owes nothing to either side."