Liberty-minded Americans who rage at the USA-Patriot Act and the Bush Administration’s treatment of accused terrorists should look across the ocean for an ominous precedent.
The British government is considering restricting the right to jury trials in criminal cases.
A White Paper will propose that judges should be able to sit alone in trials where they believe a jury might be subjected to intimidation, or in major fraud trials, or other complex cases.
It will also propose the abolition of the double jeopardy rule — which currently prohibits the retrial of a defendant on the same charges — in cases of “a grave offence punishable by imprisonment”, and cases with compelling new evidence where a retrial is “in the interests of justice”.
To summarize: the monopoly state wants to make it easier for the state to imprison offenders.
As always in the case of criminal law, a careful consideration of the merits of the British proposal requires one to recall that, under both English and American law, a man is innocent until proven guilty.
The idea is that it is better for a guilty man to go free than for an innocent man to go to jail. Presumably, this idea has motivated the sweeping attack on improper death penalty verdicts in America. Based upon DNA evidence, numerous convictions have been overturned in recent years.
Consider the British proposal. It would appear to make it more likely that a defendant — including a possibly innocent defendant — will be convicted. No more jury of one’s peers. Instead, there will be only the judge.
Haven’t the British already tried this in Northern Ireland under the British terrorism laws? And hasn’t this been shown to have put innocent men and women in prison — as in the case of Gerry Conlon, whose case was made famous by Daniel Day-Lewis in the film In the Name of the Father?
Hardly the finest hour of British "justice."
Under the new proposed restrictions on the right to a jury trial, it appears that Englishmen living in England will get to enjoy the same treatment enjoyed by Gerry Conlon.
What, one wonders, could motivate the British government to treat the citizens it allegedly serves in such a shoddy fashion?
As the Telegraph also reports,
Details of the plans emerged on the day after Mr Blunkett [the Home Secretary] had to absorb a 7 per cent increase in recorded crime, and news that the jail population is now so large that some prisoners will have to be held in police cells.
So there is an increase in crime in Britain? This is hardly surprising, given that Britain has some of the heaviest restrictions upon firearms ownership on the globe.
Indeed, not only is this not a surprise, it was predicted when British politicians went hysterical in the face of horrible murders and further restricted firearms ownership.
Unsurprisingly, now that it is more likely for your average British man or woman to be unarmed and defenseless, there is more crime taking place.
And the predictable government response? Restore the ability to own firearms just as easily as owning kitchen utensils or screwdrivers? Of course not.
The right to a jury trial will be restricted. Yet another case of a government "solution" to a problem the government caused. So much for the rights of Englishmen.
Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2002 David Dieteman