As reported by the Law Gazette yesterday, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC has indicated that legislation to abolish some jury trials could be passed within weeks. Buckland told MPs that judge-only trials might be needed to address a backlog of cases in the Crown Court and sought to attribute this backlog – which stood at 40,526 cases on 24 May – to the coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, the backlog already stood at 39,214 cases before the pandemic. Lawyers attributed its worsening to government cuts to the number of part-time judges available to hear cases.
Responding to Buckland’s comments, APPEAL, a legal charity which specialises in challenging suspected wrongful convictions, warned that allowing judges rather than jurors to decide cases would increase miscarriages of justice.
2019 diversity statistics show that that just 32% of judges are women and only 1% are black.
Emily Bolton, Director of APPEAL, said: “We must all oppose this cynical attempt to use the coronavirus pandemic as a cover story strip us of our right to trial by jury.
“The virus did not cause the case backlog - the government did. It should fix it by funding the system properly, not by scrapping a right enshrined in the Magna Carta.
“Juries sometimes make mistakes but applying the common sense of 12 ordinary people is infinitely more reliable than letting a handful of judges and magistrates decide people’s fates.
“When you look at class background, race and gender, it is obvious that our judiciary is not representative of modern Britain. Nothing has more impact on who you believe than who you are. If only judges and magistrates get to decide whose evidence to believe, I have no doubt that miscarriages of justice will increase.
“Even worse, wrongful convictions will become harder to overturn because appeal judges will be reluctant to question their colleagues’ decisions – even if it means an innocent person remains in prison.”
APPEAL is a law charity that fights miscarriages of justice and demands reform of our justice system.
KJM Today Opinion
The move to remove Juries from court trials is one of those items often found in the category of 'Now is a good time to bury bad news'.
While criticism of using the current situation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic to slide in fundamentally flawed legislation under everybody's nose is entirely correct (as is equal criticism of the Cameron/Osborne era of cuts in law budgets), often overlooked is many of the reductions to legal aid and payments to solicitors and barristers happened under the last Labour government of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
That this has not been addressed this is a savage indictment of the thinking of MPs of all parties and puts justice further and further beyond the reach of ordinary people.
Perhaps most shocking though is the fact that most people don't think injustice and a criminal record can happen to them.
Until it does.
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