After The Referendum: The Uncertain Future Of The UK Justice System:

“We must recover control of our own destiny”: This has been the predominant theme on which the “Out” supporters have focused throughout their campaign over the past few months. What they have meant by this is that all decisions on key issues relating to the economy, immigration measures and the way the country is run should be taken solely by the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and Parliament – not (to quote The Spectator magazine’s editorial advocating “Out” on 18th June) “by people whom no one in Britain elected, no one can name and no one can remove”.

The Spectator also pointed out that the Justice Minister, Michael Gove, has revealed he “regularly finds himself having to process edicts, rules and regulations that have been framed at European level “which no-one in the UK asked for and the House of Commons has no power to change.

In The Sunday Times on 19th June, Sir Lawrence Freedman (Professor of war studies at Kings College, London) indicated he understood why the ‘Leavers’ “yearn for constitutional independence” and the Labour MP Tristram Hunt acknowledged in the same newspaper that what he considered to be “the only credible argument for Brexit – a belief in untrammelled parliamentary sovereignty – retains a powerful draw on public loyalty”.

As the BBC’s Deputy Political Editor, James Landale, has noted, what the “Leavers” especially object to is that many EU regulations on issues such as “common trade rules, subsidies for farming & fisheries, environmental regulations, transport deals and energy co-operation” are “automatically binding on the UK and do not pass throughout Parliament”. Furthermore, that once a new EU law has come into force, “the UK must abide by it or face censure from the judges at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg”.

However, it’s the supposed threat to the UK’s justice system and hence to “our freedom” that has provoked the ire of many “Leave” supporters. On May 10th,the “Daily Express” journalist Nick Gutteridge, in an “exclusive report”, warned of an imminent “Brussels plot to impose Euro law” by creating a centralised EU prosecutor (EPPO). This, he asserted “ will fatally undermine our legal system and kill off the principles of trial by jury and ‘innocent until proven guilty’ which have been the fundamental rights of Britons since King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215”.

The description of the “main characteristics of the EPPO” on the “ec.europa.eu” website will certainly not have dispelled such anxieties: The EPPO (it says) “will be an efficient Union body pooling investigative and prosecutorial resources of the Member States and will have uniform investigation powers throughout the Union based on and integrated into the national law systems of Member States”.

On April 7th, the “UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) Daily” denounced an alleged scheme by the EU to force Member States to adopt “Corpus Juris”, a criminal code “loosely based on the continental Napoleonic System”. If this were to be implemented, trials would have to be heard by professional judges, not by jurors or “lay magistrates”, a requirement which “would water down the protection afforded by Anglo-Saxon practices”.

According to Christopher Gill, President of the Freedom Association, under Corpus Juris there would be no law of “Habeas Corpus” (whereby an accused must be taken to a public court within a very short period of time, usually 24 hours, and the accusers must produce their evidence there and then), no presumption of innocence and no right to trial by jury: “The existing European Arrest Warrant (introduced in 2004) which permits detention without the necessity to produce evidence of an offence having been actually committed is a foretaste of what is to follow”.

There is now considerable disagreement, nonetheless, even in the UK, as to whether the jury system is out-of-date. The Guardian columnist, Simon Jenkins, has depicted it as “an archaic ritual, a waste of time for working people” and contends that anyway “98% of court cases are now tried by magistrates or judges on their own or with assessors”. Although the author Trevor Grove has queried in The Independent whether many jurors understand the concept of “beyond reasonable doubt” when reaching their verdict, he has also expressed amazement that “these unpaid, untrained, randomly picked, involuntary volunteers, who are suddenly required to pass judgement in sometimes very disturbing cases, nearly always rise to the occasion”.

Anyone who is on the electoral register for their area (& thus a British, EU or Commonwealth citizen), is between the ages of 18-75 and has been resident in the UK for at least 5 years, is eligible for compulsory jury service. Exemptions are only granted in circumstances such as being on bail for a criminal offence, having a very limited knowledge of the English language or for some professions such as being a religious minister or a member of the armed forces. Saying you need to be excused because you’ve booked a holiday or are about to have an operation will only be accepted once in a calendar year.

The standard length of jury service is around two weeks, your employer doesn’t have to pay you during this period but you can recover your loss of earnings from the Court. Don’t, though, research on the internet for information about the defendant(s), then share it with other jurors, disclose the contents of jury deliberations after the case has ended, or write afterwards to someone found guilty at the trial to say you’re sorry about the result – all of which has happened recently. If you do, you risk being sentenced to prison yourself for contempt of court.

Filed under: Politics, Society | Posted on June 21st, 2016 by Colin D Gordon

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