• Sofia Eugeniou

UK BAME and junior lawyers take a stance over jury trials

Junior lawyers, as well as those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, have united to declare that they will fight any plans to remove or alter the current jury system.

After ruling out judge-only trials in April as a solution to the Crown court backlog that worsened as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, lord chancellor Robert Buckland hinted last week that legislation to allow trial without jury could be passed within weeks.

The worry of destroying the jury system has been ongoing for years - in what was potentially the biggest political trial of 2013 (the Huhne-Pryce case), a group of twelve men and women effectively bombed their roles as jurors at Southwark Crown Court, resulting in the judge ordering a retrial.

While a few ruin it for the many, we cannot let the judicial system remove our rights to judge and be judged by our peers - this historic right must be defended, not thrown away as if a gone-off pint of milk passed its sell-by date.

Image credit: @BBN_Tweets

In the last 24 hours, Young Legal Aid Lawyers, Young Barristers Committee, Black Protest Legal Support, Black Barristers Network, the Society of Black Lawyers, BAME Lawyers for Justice and the Society of Asian Lawyers issued a statement saying they 'unequivocally disagree' with any proposal to change the current jury system, whether that be reducing the number of jurors or replacing it with a judge and two magistrates.

The united practitioner groups argue the backlog of criminal cases was caused by criminal legal aid cuts and decades of underfunding, collectively stating: "It is our position that abolishing juries for either-way offences under the guise of a Covid-19 emergency response is disingenuous and a threat to the integrity of our criminal justice system".

We cannot let accountability in the public domain fizzle out to corporate technocracy that idolises a legal system of joint judge and jury - why should we let our leaders remove the one true form of power we, as public citizens, have to make a difference, to have a say?

It is entirely important that the criminal justice system in England and Wales continues to provide a person who is facing a life-changing judgement and risks losing their freedom, the right to have their case heard and judged by people representative of their community - of different ages, ethnicities, professional and educational backgrounds, and so on.

Diversity is the key to a successful society - in the midst of a global pandemic and BLM campaigning, we must not forget that, especially in regard to our criminal justice system.

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