25 Bedford Row Statement: Suspension of Jury Trials
25 Bedford Row wishes to declare its fundamental opposition to the possible suspension of trial by jury for either way offences. Whether to be substituted with trial by judge alone, or trial by judge and two magistrates, we voice our objection in the strongest of terms. These plans are about depriving us - not just the guilty, but all of us - of the fundamental right to trial by jury. A right which can be traced back in history more than 800 years, as the “lamp that shows that freedom lives”. That lamp must continue to shine as strongly as ever and we must fight relentlessly to ensure that it does.
The clogging up of the criminal justice system was an escalating and serious problem long before COVID-19. A ballooning backlog is the product of short-sighted government cuts, gross miscalculations, the slashing of court sitting days and lack of resources. The criminal justice process has for too long been treated as low priority. There is now a desperate and urgent need to address the logjam that has been thrust upon us. The virus has compounded the crisis, but it must not be used as a disingenuous cover for doing away with the precious right to trial by jury. That would be unjust. All at 25 Bedford Row believe in universal justice, hence our immovable opposition.
In the UK, trial by judge only is reserved for a tiny proportion of cases where there is a risk of jury tampering. Such cases are exceptional and must remain so. We must not stand by and allow those accused of either way offences to be plummeted into a mode of trial usually reserved for those alleged to be the most dangerous offenders.
Magistrates are case hardened, largely middle class, middle aged members of the lower judiciary. The magistracy, like the judiciary as a whole, bears no relation to the makeup of our proud, progressive, multicultural society. Both lack sufficient diversity. Hence, neither of the proposed government alternatives are remotely acceptable, nor recognisable, nor conscionable as a mode of fair trial. Far from it. Jury trial is the beacon of an independent, impartial and liberated justice system. The alternative options proposed are quite the opposite.
We at 25 Bedford Row maintain that temporary suspension of jury trial will lead to their permanent abolition. The jury trial has been the lifeblood of our criminal justice system for centuries. It has the confidence of the professions and the respect of judges. Most importantly it provides justice for the citizen, by citizens themselves. Whether accused or victim, family or friend, we are united in our trust of the jury process. Whilst therefore, like all defence lawyers, we strongly desire to return to court , where we belong, we must cling to the right to trial by jury. If it goes, so too will the driving force of fair trials.
On 4 July 2020, pubs, bars and restaurants will reopen. Barbers, hairdressers and cinemas too. 25 Bedford Row demands the return of jury trial in tandem with the restoration of normal life. The government have a responsibility to guarantee this rather than to remove the very foundation of our historic and cherished trial process. Trial by jury is and must remain the heartbeat. It must survive unscathed and avoid becoming a needless victim of COVID-19.
We urge you to support 25 Bedford Row in our unstinting resistance to the suspension, abolition, or tampering with the right to jury trial. We cannot permit such a huge miscarriage of justice to occur.