Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The jury's out

Am I alone in thinking that if a jury takes over seven days to reach its verdicts, and then only by a majority decision, those verdicts are more than a little dubious?

Because that's what happened in the trial of Max Clifford, who was found guilty yesterday of eight indecent assaults on women as young as 15.

He may very well be guilty - certainly the women concerned say he is - but surely if the facts were clear-cut it shouldn't take that long to decide? There must have been some pretty heated debate in the jury room between those who thought he was innocent and those who didn't.

Yet everyone from the media to the woman in the street is treating the verdicts as totally reliable, with no doubts of any kind. All that matters is that verdicts were reached, and how they were reached is irrelevant.

Unfortunately the law bans jurors from explaining their deliberations, so we have no idea to what extent they thought he might be innocent.

But it seems to me there should be a time limit on how long the jury can consider a case, and once that limit is met either there should be a new trial or the case should be abandoned. Some juries have taken over three weeks to reach verdicts, but still the verdicts were accepted.

You would think such lengthy ruminations would be grounds for an appeal against the decision, but I've never heard of that happening.

Of course you could also argue that if the jury come to a conclusion too quickly, that verdict is equally unreliable, but what's more likely is that the evidence was so overwhelming there was simply no room for argument.

But for many people a verdict is a verdict, and they don't really think about how it was arrived at. Especially if they were sure of Max Clifford's guilt to begin with.

Pic: Max Clifford

29 comments:

Wisewebwoman said...

Tough one Nick. And I'd also be interested in knowing the male-female % of that majority.

But then again, majority rules, yeah?

XO
WWW

Bijoux said...

I think some crimes are more clear cut than others. Maybe it took so long because there were eight different victims?

Nick said...

www: The jury was six men and four women. Two jurors had had to drop out.

Bijoux: Maybe. But more than seven days? That still suggests the evidence was far from clear-cut.

Grannymar said...

You can have eleven jurors sure of the guilt and the last one not agreeing with one or two facts, they can call on the Judge for guidance at any time, or several times during their deliberations to go back over some of the evidence.

OR:

You can have a juror, who likes the sound of their own voice and goes on and on over the same ground, but will not to commit to any decision.

Remember, some jurors will not want to play God, and pronounce someone as guilty.

Then of course, there are those who think it should be like their favourite TV legal soap and want things to work that way.

Nick said...

Grannymar: I've done jury service twice so I know the problems that can crop up, but all our decisions were made pretty quickly (within an hour if my memory serves me right).

I know some juries can put dozens of questions to the judge, but whether that happened in this case I don't know.

susie said...

I would go nuts cooped up with all of those people, and I'd do anything I could to get outta there.

My one jury was done in 45 minutes.

Helen Devries said...

I would lay good money that any jury would convict Peter Mandelson of anything in ten minutes flat...

Ursula said...

Not sure what your point is, Nick.

Let a jury take as long as it takes. There is a marvellous film, black and white (forgotten the title), the tension among the jurors palpable.

I'd hate to do jury service. Just as I'd hate to be defence lawyer knowing full well your client had done it, or prosecution knowing full well the person in the dock hadn't done it. Bloody hell. Would do my head in.

Yes, the law. On itself.

U

Nick said...

Susie: I found it very interesting seeing how the other jurors approached the task and how we eventually came to a decision. I didn't feel cooped up at all.

Helen: I wouldn't be at all surprised! Peter Mandelson attracts a lot of ill-feeling.

Nick said...

Ursula: I suspect you mean Twelve Angry Men. One of my juries was a bit like the film, eleven of us were convinced by a single juror of the defendant's guilt. She went through the evidence point by point and persuaded us he couldn't possibly be innocent.

Let a jury take as long as it takes? A month? Six months? Surely there should be a limit?

I agree about the lawyers. I couldn't possibly get someone off knowing full well they were guilty. I know the point is simply to put the person's case, but even so I couldn't do it.

Helen Devries said...

Re Ursula's comment: I didn't do criminal work....no wish to rub shoulders with the average client therof...but I can say that if, as a defence lawyer, your client tells you something that makes it clear that he or she has made out the necessary points to have done whatever it is that he or she is charged with doing then you are obliged to decline to represent him or her.

Nick said...

Helen: I didn't know that if the client made it clear they'd committed the offence, the solicitor was obliged not to represent them. Is that a recent requirement?

Helen Devries said...

Always was, I thought....it works like this:
if the law states that if you have done A,B and C then you have committed crime Z, then if you tell your lawyer that you are not guilty...but that you have done A,B and C (which make up the offence) then the lawyer should withdraw.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I don't know - I think there are times when longdeliberation is warranted. Plus, how do you know it wasn't just one person on the jury gumming up the works?

Anonymous said...

Life isn't fair.
I have a broken kneecap-petella & feel sorry for myself with what I have to go through. Then I remember all the devastation caused by all those tornados, the 379 people in a plane 3 miles down in the ocean, the 300 teens in a capsized ferry off North Korea, plus all the other daily disasters. YIKES!

bikehikebabe

Nick said...

Helen: I see. I wasn't aware of that.

Agent: You could be right that a single person is causing the hold-up. Like the jury experience I mentioned above. And I suppose if you have a large number of charges to consider, that might drag things out as well.

Nick said...

Bikehikebabe: I was sorry to hear about your smashed knee. But as you say, there are many people coping with far worse and not making a big fuss about it either.

So are you saying Max Clifford should just take his punishment on the chin and not complain about the verdict?

746books said...

Given the number of offences he was charged with I don't think the length of deliberation was too bad. In historical cases like this there will always be some doubt but they still need to be brought. I think given the nature of Max Clifford's work the media are having a bit of a field day over his downfall.

Nick said...

746books: That's still almost a day for each charge, but maybe the evidence was so evenly balanced for and against that it was hard to decide. Certainly the case should have been brought if there was enough evidence to justify it.

I don't see the media publicly gloating over his convictions, but in private they may well be.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Nick:

Although we had never considered this before now, you do make a most interesting and valid point. What amount of time, we wonder, would be considered appropriate [presumably depending on the nature of the case] needed to return a verdict which might be considered more reliable than one taking less or more hours/days?

We have not been in Belfast for more than forty years but loved in then despite The Troubles which were, sadly, much in evidence.

Jó hétvégét!

Nick said...

Jane and Lance: Hard to say how much time would be appropriate, isn't it? I suppose partly it would depend on the number of charges. The more numerous they were, the longer the time allowed.

If you came back to Belfast today, you wouldn't recognise the place! It's just a typical big city, with all the usual coffee shops, trendy eateries and shopping malls. The sectarianism is still there in the background, but it seldom erupts into violence.

Nick said...

It occurs to me that the number of convictions is telling. If he's been found guilty of eight separate charges, that's pretty damning. If he was only found guilty of one or two, that would be a lot less convincing.

John Gray said...

Well the gobshite will end his days shamed and broke

Nick said...

He will indeed, John. If nothing else, he was just too greedy. He could have got away with the odd offence, but he pushed his luck over and over again.

Jenny Woolf said...

Not sure I really agree. Because most cases are awfully complicated. Sure you can decide on Max Clifford based on what the Daily Mail says but it;s a different matter listening to days of evidence. Surely it ought to be considered slowly? Or am I getting the wrong end of the stick about what you mean here?

Nick said...

Jenny: Yes, there's a lot of evidence to consider, but how complicated is it to decide if someone acted indecently or not? Maybe there were all sorts of uncertainties in the evidence I'm not aware of, but over a week still seems like a long time to be chewing it over.

Liz Hinds said...

I think it depends if the accused is found guilty or not guilty at the end. And for the not guilty it could be a vital time, so I don't think you could put a time limit on it.

Nick said...

Liz: That seems to be the general opinion, that the jury should take as much time as they need for a properly-thought-out decision. I guess if there was a time limit, someone found guilty could easily cry foul and say the evidence wasn't considered thoroughly.

John Marsh said...

I was so concerned I wrote a book from the news of the trial it is on Kindle and can be read if no kindle by downloading the kindle pc software(Amazon) Max Clifford Why I Believe He Is Innocent by John Marsh. Though I does appear a case of people not wanting to re look at things. Quite disturbing.