Of a particular Crown Court jury
Saturday, November 05, 2022
I was picked for a jury in the end. Our verdict was delivered last Thursday. I can now discuss the case and the proceedings in court but it remains illegal to discuss our deliberations. I will say nothing here about what went on in the jury room. All opinions are my own. I do not speak for other jurors.
I won't identify the case though you may guess from the details here. I am sure the defendant will be pleased if you do. He's a full-time political campaigner and told the court repeatedly that he wanted to be arrested and charged so he could have his "day in court" to speak out about "the real criminals" in HM Government. He claims to have played the Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Service for fools in order to achieve that goal.
I suspect he will have been disappointed. The trial attracted little press interest. All accounts I have seen since it ended (I didn't look while it was in progress, as directed by the judge) are identically worded so probably came from a single agency. The defendant will have hoped for more journalists to show up.
The defendant estimates his impact on the world very highly. On the day he was arrested, he was protesting a suggestion that HMG might send teams armed with COVID-19 jabs into the homes of the unvaccinated. He believes that plan – which he described as terrorism – was never implemented because of his actions that day.
I doubt the idea would ever have been acted upon. Even taking needles to the doorsteps of the potentially unwilling would not have gone down well, let alone the forced vaccinations he seemed to think were intended. The vaccination teams would have needed police protection and the "optics" in a world where people film such things on their mobile phones would have been awful.
The defendant's motivations were only relevant to understanding why he was there that day. They were not relevant to his guilt or innocence. He wasn't prosecuted for his opinions. In fact, his own video showed the police officer waiting patiently while he expressed his opinions on a FaceBook live stream.
He was arrested outside the home of a prominent politician. His arrest was for criminal damage due to a miscommunication between police officers. Accepting he had not committed that crime, the CPS authorised an intent charge instead. He was indicted for taking objects (posters and glue) to the scene with intent to cause criminal damage.
He had been arrested fourteen times before but never brought to trial. It would have been easier to get his day in court if he had been more robust in his actions. He was keen to point out that he abhorred violence and differentiated himself from the "Stop Oil" protestors prepared to commit crimes to make their point. He seems to have been carefully calibrating his actions so as to get arrested without offering any violence. I think he might well have been released without charge for a fifteenth time if it were not for the police miscommunication.
He claimed in court he brought the posters and glue to give the impression that he was going to put them up. He did so to get arrested and charged. The Crown's evidence was his video saying he would put up the posters and redacted extracts from a police interview in which he said several times that he would have done so. He had lied to the police so that he would be arrested and charged. He never intended to cause criminal damage. He just wanted his "day in court".
It seems to me he was guilty of wasting police time by telling those lies. The Criminal Law Act 1967 says;
Where a person causes any wasteful employment of the police by knowingly making to any person a false report tending to show that an offence has been committed, or to give rise to apprehension for the safety of any persons or property, or tending to show that he has information material to any police inquiry, he shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for not more than six months or to a fine of not more than two hundred pounds or to both.
So his defence to Crime A was that he had committed Crime B.
The defendant was the only defence witness. I found it hard not to smile when his counsel earnestly pointed out her client didn't have to give evidence. It was obvious that time on the stand was his goal. Prosecution counsel tried to keep him to the point in cross-examination but his own counsel (probably on instructions) let him ramble. The judge was polite to the point of indulgence in this respect, but did cut him off a couple of times when he strayed too far from the subject at hand.
His opinions were irrelevant to his guilt or innocence. It didn't matter what was on his posters or why. All the jury had to decide was whether we were sure he intended to glue them to the politician's home. The judge's summing up and directions were clear and painstakingly impartial. He said the defendant claimed to have been "bluffing" to the police about his intentions, rather than "lying", for example. There were three components to the alleged crime; having the materials, intending to use them and lacking a lawful excuse. There was no dispute about his having the materials and no suggestion of a lawful excuse.
We returned a verdict of not guilty and I am comfortable with our decision. I am also comfortable with our jury system. After this experience, I am happy and relieved still to retain my confidence in this ancient institution. We took our responsibilities very seriously. We discussed all relevant issues at length and came to a mature conclusion on the evidence. I was actually rather impressed.
From time to time, especially when juries don't deliver the results our establishment would like, there is pressure to "reform" the jury system. Such suggestions should be resisted. In general, though as Kant said "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made", juries do justice rather well. If I were charged with a crime of which I was not guilty, I would want a jury to decide my fate.
There's much scope for reform of criminal justice in our country. The courts could certainly be far better run. The time wasted is horrifying. That horror is amplified by the calm acceptance of it by officials to whom it is obviously normal. To be fair perhaps that's because my life was spent in the private sector where time is money and money is survival? Maybe fellow jurors from public sector backgrounds were not nearly as shocked by all the faffing about?
I don't think so though because this was not my first experience of it. I began my legal career in the 1980s doing criminal defence work. The partner who offered me that job was a renowned specialist. The law had recently been changed to allow specially-qualified solicitors to appear in higher courts. He found out I had done well in the first advocacy training course for solicitors to lead to that qualification.
I enjoyed advocacy and was probably suited to the work. I had wanted in my youth to be an actor and, to be honest, I liked the performative aspects. I gave it up after a year to do commercial work partly because I hated the amount of time wasted on waiting around. The courts were as organised as any monopoly needs to be – i.e. not at all. I couldn't imagine a life driven by that. This week reassured me I chose correctly all those years ago.
As someone with a real estate background I was also shocked by the poor design and layout of the modern buildings housing the court.
In the private sector HM Government is known as "the simple shopper." All its spending is in Milton Friedman's fourth category of "someone else's money spent on someone else." It's famously useless at purchasing; typically securing neither quality nor value.
I can only assume, from the sublimely inefficient layout, that the architects who designed our court building saw "the simple shopper" coming a mile off.
The biggest difference from my long-ago experience of the courts was all the technology. Not only are there laptops and tablets everywhere, it has affected evidence-gathering too. Back in the day, the jury would have heard about the events in this case from policemen reading (with permission) from their (paper) notebooks. We got to see the events over and over again on video from FaceBook.
As in so many aspects of modern life, we have more data to process. The question is whether it leads to better decisions or just wastes more of our time. On that, gentle reader, the jury is still out.