The trial of Vicky Pryce will have to be restarted after the jury were discharged after they could not come to a conclusion. They had spent four days trying to come to a verdict, but from the questions they asked the judge it became evident that they didn’t know what they were doing. Or even knowing what their role was. As they were discharged, the Judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, said: “There seems to be an absolutely fundamental deficit in understanding that these questions demonstrate. In over 30 years of criminal trials I’ve never come across this at this stage.”
So this is a rare occurrence, but it does say something that maybe the whole legal process is becoming distant from the general public. The vast majority of the public, from which jurers are selected from, have no understanding of how the legal process works. They see stuff on the telly in detective shows, but that usually has very little to do with reality – as shown by CSi’s technique of extracting crystal clear video evidence from blurry CCTV and is seen as joke rather than an accurate representation of the process collecting evidence.
Judges, barristers, solicitors all follow arcane procedures and rules and where weird clothing. Sometimes such methods work to give the event a bit of gravitas as tradition is a very strong factor in giving authority. But that only works if everyone is aware of the tradition and its history. After decades of multiculturalism where British values were pushed aside in favour of the cultures of immigrants then tradition is not a strong factor any more.
Maybe we need Crown Court to be restarted or alternatively cameras in the court room showing how real life cases are handled. Maybe even that would put judges on the spot and they might give out proper sentences rather than continual suspended sentences. Though I’m sure some groups would also see this as an opportunity to lobby government for basic legal training to be provided to all using taxpayers money just like some groups want everyone to be trained to handle dementia sufferers or how to do CPR or to recognise a stroke.
Anwyay, here are the ten simple questions the jury asked as they wasted four days trying to understand the legal process.
- Could they come to a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it?
- What does ‘reasonable doubt’ mean?
- Could they speculate about what was going on in Ms Pryce’s mind as she signed the form?
- If there is debatable evidence supporting the prosecution’s case, can inferences be drawn to arrive at a verdict?
- Could they infer anything from the fact that the defence did not bring witnesses from the time of the alleged offence, such as an au pair or neighbours.
- Was the defendant was obliged to present a defence.
- They wanted the definition of the defence of marital co-cerion, examples given, and whether it required violence or physical acts.
- Was religious conviction a good enough reason for a wife to feel she had no choice, because she promised to obey her husband in wedding vows.
- Which facts in their bundle they could consider when reaching a verdict and did they have to look at all of it?
- In the scenario where the defendant may be guilty but there is not enough evidence provided by the prosecution, to feel sure beyond reasonable doubt, what should the verdict be, not guilty or unable/unsafe to provide a verdict?’