Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Why we need juries.

The British 'justice' system is a funny thing. There's a lot that's very wrong with it - but its one saving grace is the jury system.

In a trial little reported in the press, the system has endorsed the actions of two anti-war activists in Oxfordshire tried for criminal damage to B-52 bombers at an RAF base.

Faced with a possible jail sentence of up to ten years, they used the defence that their actions were justified because they were attempting to prevent criminal acts; war crimes in bombing civilians in Iraq and criminal damage to Iraqi property.

The judge permitted them to use thie defence but not to argue that the war itself was illegal. That argument is not legally possible because of the old chestnut of Crown prerogative - the war was initiated using Crown prerogative and all prosecutions are in the name of the Crown.

But the fact that the defence was accepted by the jury is a stinging indictment of the legitimacy of the government's actions over Iraq.

All of which underlines the duality of our legal system. On the one hand, the quasi-feudal bollocks that evokes the Queen and with it all the silly wigs and other nonsense, and on the other hand the jury system, which endorses the supremacy of ordinary people's commonsense.

It also underlines the importance of fiercely defending the jury system from those frequent attempts to 'reform' it by illiberal governments for whom such commonsense is a an inconvenience.

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