Discharge of jury – Apparent bias – Forced labour – Conspiracy to hold a person in servitude

R v C and others: Court of Appeal, Criminal Division: 28 March 2013

The defendants were part of an extended family which originated from the Irish travelling community. They were convicted of offences which included conspiracy to hold a person in servitude, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, holding a person in servitude and requiring forced labour.

The prosecution case was that the defendant, TC senior, his children and son-in-law, recruited vulnerable adults to work for them on the pretence that they would be paid, fed and housed. Once in the clutches of the defendants, many of them had had no means to escape. They were forced to carry out hard physical labour for extensive hours, without payment and were subjected to physical violence and threats. It was contended that the victims had been kept against their will at a succession of traveller's sites.

The defence case was that the victims had lied or exaggerated. During the course of the trial, the judge received a note from a member of the jury which stated that: 'Throughout the trial and especially since we were given a room, it has become quite obvious that certain jurors, not all, are quite anti-traveller/prejudiced.' The judge did not discharge the jury but gave the relevant directions. The defendants were convicted. They appealed, among other things, against conviction.

The issue for consideration was whether the convictions were unsafe by reason of apparent bias on the part of the jury. In particular, whether the judge had erred in failing to discharge the jury. The defendants submitted that any fair-minded and informed observer would conclude that there was a real danger that the jury was or would be biased. The appeals would be dismissed.

The receipt of any communication by a juror or jurors complaining of possible irregularities by or among the other jurors demanded rapid and close attention. It behoved the judge to decide whether the integrity of the trial process had been irretrievably damaged or whether the trial could continue notwithstanding the complaints. Depending on the individual facts it might be appropriate for the judge to discharge the jury as a whole, or one or more individual members of it, or to continue with the trial, with any necessary direction or warning sufficient to deal with the specific problem. A member of a jury finding himself or herself in a minority might not bring a trial to a halt by writing a measured letter to a judge complaining of irregularities by the other members of the jury (see [29], [33] of the judgment).

In the instant case, the judge had not been bound to discharge the jury because of the letter, however troublesome its contents signed by one juror. Equally, in the circumstances, it would have been inappropriate for him to try and conduct an investigation into what had been happening in the jury room. The judge had handled the problem presented to him impeccably, and his assessment of the integrity of the jury had been amply justified. In the context of alleged jury bias, there was no reason to doubt the safety of the guilty verdicts returned by the jury (see [34], [36] of the judgment). R v Smith and another [2005] 2 Cr App R 10 considered; R v Thompson and others [2010] 2 Cr App Rep (S) 27 considered.

Karen Walton and Mark Himsworth for JC(2); Giles Cockings and Daniel Jameson for JJC(3); Paul Crampin and Alex Di Francesco for PC(4); Lewis Power QC and Andrew Selby for TC (Senior); Benjamin Gumpert (instructed by the Crown Prosecution Service) for the Crown.