Wednesday, 25 June 2014

We underrate juries .... at our peril !

Saunders J
This morning, Mr Justice Saunders was faced with an application to discharge the jury in the "phone-hacking" trial.  On Tuesday 24th June, the jury returned certain guilty verdicts against Mr Andy Coulson but there were other charges yet to be decided by the jury.  Defendant Miss Rebekah Brooks was acquitted on all the charges against her.  BBC News 24th June.

The Prime Minister - who had employed Mr Coulson at No 10 Downing Street - chose to make a statement about it being a misjudgment to have employed Mr Coulson.  It was therefore no surprise that Mr Coulson's counsel sought the discharge of the jury.  However, Saunders J decided not to do so for reasons stated here:

Ruling on application to discharge the jury in Coulson, Goodman and others.

Later, as events turned out,
the jury was unable to reach verdicts on the remaining counts against Mr Coulson and Mr Goodman.  The judge discharged the jury and will announce his decision regarding whether there is to be a retrial at a later date.

The judge's ruling makes it clear that the Prime Minister was not the only politician to comment.  The ruling is notable for the judge's praise for the particular jury.  "Everyone who has watched the jury have been impressed with their dedication and their ability to concentrate on the evidence and follow directions of law.  Our legal system is based on the premise that juries comply with directions of law given by the judge"  - and later - "We underrate juries, and particularly this jury, at our peril."

It is also clear that social media such as Twitter and Facebook are causing the lawyers a great deal of concern.  It seems that the use of Twitter was monitored and the judge presented regularly with "tweets" considered to be prejudicial.  Precisely how this issue will develop is unclear but there will have to be greater trust in the ability of jurors to adhere to the directions of the judge and to discharge their oath conscientiously - (as this jury clearly did).  The judge noted that Miss Brooks was acquitted despite prejudicial material appearing via the internet.

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