Thursday, June 16, 2005

Jackson Jury's a Joke

Michael Jackson gets off. (Alleged) Gangland (Alleged) thug Mick Gatto gets off. Schapelle Corby gets 20 years. Completely unrelated cases in different jurisdictions, but all three undermine any lingering faith I had in the justice system.

I've long held the view that the jury system is a flawed system and should be abolished, and seeing the juries acquit Jackson and Gatto is a good demonstration of why. To get selected for a jury, you must demonstate that you have no preconcieved notions of the case, little knowledge of the people involved, no strong views, and last had an original thought some time during the Nixon administration. Then, after demonstrating that they are the poster-children of ordinariness, jurors are expected to critically evaluate vast quantities of technical and legal evidence, balance competing claims on the truth, and reach a reasoned and careful judgement. Why do we persist with such an absurd system.

If we trust judges to oversee the trial and apply the rules of law, then surely we should trust them to reach a verdict. By definition, judges are experts in the evaluation of evidence, logical reasoning and legal principles. To set aside this expertise, and instead rely on lay-opinion, is absurd.


Jeremy said...

I presume Gatto must be convicted of at least some pretty fucking serious weapons charges. You're not supposed to be wandering around with a pistol in your pocket in case someone tries to assassinate you.

Jeremy said...

You're sounding like the Hun here :)

Seriously, your comments are a little disturbing. Our criminal justice system's built on the premise that 'it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent person suffer' which is a highly sensible idea given the vast assymetries of harm done in each of those cases (maybe I'll explore this notion more in a future post).

Juries are a good way of reaching that aim and secondary aims such as community representation and allowing mercy verdicts. The 'Diplock' courts in Ireland, where juries were abolished for terrorism cases, led to huge numbers of confirmed miscarriages of justice. Judges became case hardened, familiar with the repeat-player prosecutors and disdainful of the defence barristers. They were quick to convict on the uncorroberated testimony of "supergrasses" and on the basis of coerced police station confessions. Not all of the miscarriages of justice during that dark time in Ireland can be attributed to the abolishing of juries, but it had a serious effect.

I can see the argument more strongly in complex cases where there are actually complicated questions of scientific opinion. But in straight up cases of evaluating the credibility of witnesses and the accused (like Jacko/Gatto) it's a non-argument.

And deciding on people's guilt or innocence based on media is, obviously, an exercise fraught with danger. A Jacko jury member had a good response to the queen of armchair judges yesterday.

John Lee said...

remember that juries are unique to the English common law world. they are absent not only from European civil law systems but also from non-western cultures, several of which (China and Islam for instance) had developed quite sophisticated judicial systems prior to western influence. I think it's a big call to assert one country's monopoly on the effective delivery of justice, but that's what the debate on juries often amounts to. it slips into an 18th century mould casting the jury as a birthright of freeborn Anglo-Saxons, compared with benighted continentals writhing under inquisitorial despotism (I'd suggest this is the mindset that coloured Austalian reactions to the Corby case). Leaving aside the historical problems with this approach, it's philosophically reductionist. justice is more complex than the 'no innocent person shall be convicted'
principle, it includes e.g. factors of time, cost and social policy.
empirically, common law systems (Australia included) don't deliver substantially better justice outcomes than non-CL ones, in fact they suffer from major systemic problems that non-CL countries don't, though these derive more from the adversarial system in general rather han juries per se.

personally I don't see why in principle a panel of judges should not be a legitimate fact-finding body. obviously you can't keep rotating judges between different areas of law to avoid 'hardening' them as they need to develop some expertise in what they're doing, but
you can put in certain safeguards to ensure you don't end up with 'Diplock' courts (I'd suggest the Northern Ireland situation is quite context-specific and shouldn't be used as a general model).

Anonymous said...

It's worth remembering that Judges must give reasons, which can be scrutinised on appeal. Juries don't give any reasons, and the DPP cannot appeal from an acquittal - even if it seems (genuinely) perverse.

Many perfectly good criminal justice systems do not leave verdicts in the hands of juries, but it's what we're used to in Australia. Indonesian, Israeli, French, Swedish (etc) jurists are often alarmed by what they perceive as the arbitrariness and lack of accountability and effective review inherent within the UK/US/Australian jury system.



Jeremy said...


I'm well aware of issues of comparative legal systems and broader conceptions of justice and you'll notice I was quite a strong defender of the Indonesian courts and system here and elsewhere. But simply transplanting inquisitorial-type features on our adversarial system, especially based on impressions gained from celebrity trials as I felt Ari was doing, is not a good idea. I think the Irish experience with Diplock courts is a good example of what happens when you fiddle with fundamental parts of our adversarial criminal justice system, such as juries, without taking a look at the system as a whole.

A discussion of more widespread reform might be worthwhile having, but I don't think recent celebrity trials gives any more or less weight to this.

-A. said...

The Jackson/Gatto/Corby trials were merely a 'hook' I used to discuss the issues of juries at large. The argument I made - that juries are illequipped to deal with the complexities of evidence - is appropriate regardless of the celebrity status of the defendant.

Daniel said...

You could never convict gatto on that evidence...Veniamin loved .38s and he got killed by a .38. Clearly it was his gun. Gatto is a hardass oldschool g'star and "benji" was a brutal thug who had no common sense. This guy was erratic and pulled a gun on the wrong guy...Gatto was simply defending himself. Clear as day. Jacko on the otherhand is f'ing weirdo...but was never gonna be convicted when the victim was so inconsistant with his course of events.

Peter said...

I'm not sure yet, but I think I'm with you on the whole no jury thing. The one problem: can it all come down to just one person? jeremy jose is right on with the problems involved with that one.