Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Beyond all reasonable doubt

When Anna Raccoon published her recent post on the subject of trial by jury, one of the comments spoke, I suspect, for many:
Having once been a member of a jury [...], what I learned, somewhat contrary to the idea conveyed by newspapers, was that the main job of a jury is simply to make a decision as to who is lying and who is telling the truth. 
To what extent juries get this right, God only knows.  (Jonathan Mason) 
That comment sprang to mind this week when someone drew to my attention a story from the Channel Islands.

Their law courts use a different system to that of the mainland; instead of a jury, cases are decided, under a presiding Judge, by a panel of Jurats, a small group of lay people elected to the prestigious and lifelong honorary position of judges of fact in court. They are expected to have proven ability in their chosen career and, while not trained in Law, to be able to perform a variety of legal and ceremonial roles.

Our nearest analogy (albeit lower down the pecking order) would probably be Magistrates, and, as with our own JPs, one would expect that experience would confer a practiced ear for the truth. The system has the added advantage that they are unlikely to commit such misdemeanours as sending texts during a trial.

Last year, a panel of nine Jurats heard the case of a builder arrested after jewellery missing from the house where he was working was found concealed in his van.
Mr Salgado, who represented himself, said he had not taken any of the items found in his van.
Bearing in mind that the theft occurred on his first day working at the property, his explanation sounds more than a little far-fetched:
He said the prosecution’s case was illogical and he believed that he must have been set up by Mrs Ayres [the client], who was angry at him after he declined her invitation to sleep with her.
Mrs Ayres (with, one imagines, more than a little indignation) denied his accusation that she had hidden the jewellery in a bag of grout to incriminate him, but to no avail; the Jurats acquitted him by a majority of seven to two.

A year later, Salgado was back in court, this time pleading guilty to burgling the house of a fellow-builder who was away on holiday.
He broke into his pal’s home and stole £10,000 in cash and more than £18,000-worth of jewellery. He also, after being arrested, ‘cold bloodedly’ tried to pin his crime on a colleague, the Royal Court heard during a sentencing hearing.
His girlfriend is clearly in no doubt about his true nature and has publicly rejected him, suggesting that her boyfriend has, as they say, 'form':
‘I have stuck by Joe through all the crimes he has committed, but I am unable to do so any more.
Salgado is clearly a plausible and persuasive individual, which may well be relevant to his earlier acquittal. He may - unlikely as it now sounds - have been telling the truth, or it's possible the verdict was necessary because of some obscure Channel Island law or of a lack of corroborating evidence; the news reports are sketchy at best on the subject.

But if it were reached because they believed a fictitious and spiteful counter-accusation maligning an innocent victim, it would be worrying that seven out of nine Jurats were taken in.

If they can be deceived, what hope is there for the rest of us?

(All news references are from the Guernsey Press website.)

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