The outcry against the idea of three-day jury trials during the lockdown was justified. Would jurors, sitting in what seem generally to be regarded as insanitary conditions, have become vulnerable after only 21 hours in court plus a few hours in their room?
With the greatest respect (as we used to say when we wished to be as rude as possible), this was another example of a hasty and ill-thought-through idea.
Of course, the justice system cannot be allowed to collapse and jails to be filled with remand prisoners. I see in Australia the virus has become a change of circumstances which allows fresh bail applications.
What is much more realistic than three-day trials is the possibility of amendments to the CJA 2003, which deals with cases where there is suspected jury tampering so that a bench trial may take place.
The benefits? Speed, cost savings, certainty and more breathing space. Indeed, a bench trial is often regarded as the perfect tribunal where the defence has an arguable case. While a few years ago there was no possible point in electing summary trial before a particular magistrate at Clerkenwell – however strong the defence case – with better training and a full selection process things have changed. It is to be hoped that the biased judges and magistrates of the past who referred to the police as ‘our officer’ have been eliminated.
The other benefit of bench trials would be the elimination of jury nobbling.
Years ago clients told me they had an Old Bailey judge ‘straightened’. I couldn’t believe this and asked who it was. When they told me I couldn’t believe that either. The man they named was more or less the most unpleasant of what was then a generally disagreeable bunch. At a time when swingeing sentences were being handed out for armed robbery, he could be relied on to give the accused three years more than his colleagues.
If they had him straightened, the best they could hope for was that he would reduce their sentences to parity.