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Home > Politics

The jury is out

29 June 2005

This week Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith revealed plans to scrap jury trials for 'serious and complex fraud cases' in England and Wales. This move is partially a consequence of the collapse of the Jubilee Line fraud case, which had already cost 60m and lasted 21 months before it fell apart in March of this year. At the time, Goldsmith declared that such a shocking waste of time and money - but particularly money - can 'never be allowed to happen again'. Something had to change. More importantly, someone had to be blamed. Obviously, it couldn't be the people who earned the whacking great salaries and on whom most of the 60m had been squandered. It had to be someone expendable. 'I know,' said Goldsmith, a dark, Satanic lightbulb appearing over his head, 'let's get rid of those pesky juries'.

Goldsmith's main excuse for wanting to ditch the jury is that they simply don't understand what's going on in complex technical fraud trials. Jeff Garside, who was one of the jurors on the Jubilee Line case, told Channel Four News on Tuesday, 'everyone understood exactly what was going on.' Not understanding, he said, 'was not an issue'. Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve pointed out on the same programme that the Jubilee Line fraud trial actually fell apart because of 'mismanagement by the prosecution, and maybe even the judge'.

Scrapping the jury because 'they won't understand' is just about the most insulting and patronising reason parliament could possibly give. Aside from any other considerations, surely a court of law is precisely the place where the smokescreen of jargon and unnecessary complexity must be dispensed with, and actions must be accounted for in plain language; stripped to the fact, so that even a child could understand. But if that's a little nave, rather than scrap the jury entirely, how about they target citizens with an educated grasp of the business and financial esoterica of serious and complex fraud? Can't be that hard. City's full of them.

In defending the excision of this deeply-entrenched right, Goldsmith has attempted to play the socialism card, claiming that his main concern is to see to it that corporate criminals do not go free whilst small-potatoes benefit scroungers are brought easily to justice. Why should the rich be allowed to pooh-pooh prosecution with fine words whilst the poor are banged up like the transparent, rough-handed rabble they are? Goldsmith just wants a decent egalitarian justice system with equal opportunities for long-term incarceration. Porridge for all!

If that really were the case, of course, it wouldn't be so bad. But Goldsmith, not to put too fine a point on it, is a slippery toad whose word cannot be trusted. This is of course the same man whose considered legal opinion convinced Parliament that the use of force against Iraq could be legally justified. He must therefore, be a very clever chap, convincing all those other learned chaps of such a thing. So clever was he that his path to war took three ingenious strategic turns: 1) he wrote an honest document, littered with reasons why he thought the use of force against Iraq would in fact be illegal; 2) he showed it to Tony Blair who smiled sadly, shook his head and muttered something dark about Lord Mountbatten; 3) he took it away and replaced the truth with some lies. Also privy to the first draft was the then head of the armed forces, Sir Michael Boyce. Boyce refused to commit his troops to battle unless legality was assured. Knowing that it actually wasn't didn't seem to bother him. All that mattered was that the words on the page told everyone what they wanted to hear. And as unhappy as it must have made him, Goldsmith obliged.

The moral then, is that Goldsmith's views may not necessarily reflect his opinions and that everything he says is deeply suspect. Those that distrust Goldsmith's justifications for fraud jury slashing tend to do so for one of two reasons. Either they believe that a) he is working to implement New Labour's long-standing tacit policy of eradicating all juries by 2020 this year fraud trials, next year terrorism trials, and so on, or b) he just wants an excuse to bump up the prisoner figures in order for Labour to have a hope in hell of meeting election pledges from their 2001 manifesto. Plus of course, as his fact-jiggling over Iraq manifestly proved, he has neither balls, spine, nor dignity.

Indeed, thanks to Peter Goldsmith, British justice has never looked less just.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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