Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Trial by jury

A £60 million, 21 month trial, relating to alleged fraud in the Jubilee Line Extension project has collapsed.

It is part of our democratic heritage that people have the right to be tried by jury - that a panel of 12 laypeople can decide whether I have committed a crime or not.

The government has suggested removing this right in some complex cases - and if a way can be found to ensure fairness, I am right behind them. The Liberal party shadow of the Attorney General is strongly committed to trial by jury - and it is certainly the case that the principle of whether somebody has been dishonest or not can be established by a jury of laypeople. However, in technical cases, is it a fair burden to place on a citizen that over a year of their life should have to be set aside, effectively unpaid, for this civic duty? It is all very well for a peer to say that this is part of the democratic structure of the land - but as (presumably) a lawyer beforehand, he was one of the gainers from the UK judicial system.

As with the passenger compensation system that the EU has proposed (see below) the people who benefit from the system of trial by jury are the lawyers. It is very hard to see how society as a whole gains from this system. Courts costs thousands of pounds per hour to run - there must be a better option than this that continues to safeguard democratic freedoms.

No comments: