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Defending trial by jury from the government

A copy of a letter from Anne Palmer to the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, has just reached us. It concerns the Government's attempt to eliminate trial by jury in fraud cases. Anne Palmer's letter is long, but well worth reading. She makes the interesting suggestion that "A contract obtained by fraud is voidable on the grounds of fraudulent misrepresentation” and that this may apply to the fraudulent claims made by earlier governments about the EU. Those interested in preserving the right to trial by jury may also wish to write Lord Goldsmith.

Dear Lord Goldsmith,

Re: The Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill 2006-07.

I am greatly concerned that our government is attempting to do away with Trial by Jury; I therefore once more make my objections known regarding any removal of Trial by Jury. The Bill itself is not explicit in what it means by ‘Fraud’, and I am concerned that if this Bill should go through, it could be used for other than what Members of Parliament and Lords and Ladies might be looking at. Does “serious” fraud concern vast sums of money only? (What is meant by ‘vast’ or “serious”?) Surely the meaning of ‘fraud’ in this case should be made very clear in the Bill itself?

Your threat sir, to use the Parliament Act, makes a mockery of what was once so proudly known as our “democracy”. You make clear that the Bill will be brought back and there would be no opportunity for alteration to it, and the Parliament Act would be used. Yes the Commons is the “elected house”, but the Lords I believe are, on this occasion, speaking for the people and our Constitution. What can the people do when they see their Constitution continually ignored? Do they have to chain themselves to the railings? Go one hunger strike as they did in days of old? The House of Lords were rightly trying to protect, as we rather expect them to, our long-standing Constitutional right to Trial by Jury in all matters as they stand at present. This has been in use regularly for hundreds of years and has proven itself, time after time. Even the long trials that have collapsed have not been laid at the door of those Jury members. This particular confrontation I am writing about came on 20th March when debating the "Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill" in the House of Lords. Is the total loss of democracy in bringing in such a Bill not a case of ‘fraud’ in itself from a Government that allegedly supports "Democracy?

'Fraud', such a little word but it can be interpreted in many of ways. "A contract obtained by fraud is voidable on the grounds of fraudulent misrepresentation.” Now would that apply to being told that there would be no loss of essential sovereignty if we remained in the (then) European Community? We found out many years later that Sir Edward Heath did indeed know there would be a great loss of sovereignty and he admitted as such on television. "A false representation by means of a statement or conduct made knowingly or recklessly." False statements likened the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to the Beano". An EU Constitution which would for all time take precedence over our own Constitution and thus in the doing destroy our own Constitution was trailed as a “tidying up exercise. Did that not start off as "fraud"? The Lords were right to protest and I hope sincerely that it was on behalf of the people that up to this present time have no voice in this matter of great constitutional change, for ‘fraud’ covers all manner of things.

In the Government’s Research Paper, the subject of Magna Carta is mentioned (commencing on page 39) and I quote from Sir Patrick Devlin’s book Trial by Jury (1956): “Each Jury is a little parliament.

The Jury sense is the parliamentary sense. I cannot see the one dying and the other surviving. The first object of any tyrant in Whitehall would be to make parliament utterly subservient to his will; and the next to overthrow or diminish trial by jury, for no tyrant could afford to leave a subject’s freedom in the hands of twelve of his countrymen. So that trial by jury is more than an instrument of justice and more than one wheel of the Constitution: it is the lamp that shows that freedom lives.”

There are some very notable people that believe there are only four clauses of Magna Carta left, the rest having allegedly been repealed. (The alleged remaining Clauses, 1, 9, 29, 37.) However, I have trailed through Hansard, and arguments have been won (or lost as the case may be) by quoting clauses that have allegedly been repealed from Magna Carta. I would have thought one cannot use a clause that is there when it suits, yet say it no longer exists at another time.

In Lords (Hansard 20th July 2000 col 1206) Lord Renton, said, “Before the noble Earl sits down, perhaps I may mention one point in relation to his fascinating speech. He suggested that we should amend Magna Carta. We cannot do that. Magna Carta was formulated before we ever had a Parliament. All that we can do is to amend that legislation which, in later years when we did have a Parliament, implemented Magna Carta.” I stopped collecting quotes when I reached two hundred pages. Incidentally, although I am sure you are aware, Clause I Magna Carta states, “We have also granted to all freemen of our Kingdom, for us and our heirs for ever, all the underwritten liberties, to be had and held by them and their heirs, of us and our heirs for ever”. For all time.

Lord Thomas of Gresford gave a very good quote of what one Judge said to a jury which jogged my memory of one time I attended a court, for the words were more or less the same as quoted by Lord Thomas, and they remained with me for a long, long time afterwards. I quote, “You stand in between the state and the accused person. Trial by one’s peers has a long history in our jurisprudence as being the most tried and tested method of determining guilt or innocence of one’s fellow citizens. It is an important right. Each of you will have come to the court bringing with you all your lifelong experiences, coming from a cross-section of society, as to how people behave in our society, as to what is acceptable and unacceptable, and, most importantly, each of you brings with you your innate commonsense.” That was the summing-up of the Honourable Justice Brook in a capital case of murder on the Port of Spain Assizes in Trinidad last year. It illustrates better than I can the way in which we should be proud of how we have exported all over the world the concept of a democratic jury to determine guilt or innocence in serious criminal cases. Nothing could have been more burdensome for the jury than that case, which ended with the judge saying to the defendant in sentencing him: “May the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

I have quoted that quite deliberately because I wanted to bring home to all those that have the privilege of sitting in our great Houses of Parliament, that each are entrusted to carry on our great traditions that have been the great example to others throughout the world. In destroying or weakening these great traditions here in the ‘mother country’ that have led the world, in exchange for the continental system Corpus Juris, you are exchanging it for something very short lived as far as this Country is concerned. If Judges, Members of Parliament, Lords and Ladies were to treat every case as if it would end in the taking of a life as that particular case did, it would bring home how casually our long-standing jury trials are being treated for, in this instance, it is the beginning of the death of our Constitution and country. To destroy Trial by Jury here in the Mother Country when members of Her Majesty’s Commonwealth are carrying on our great traditions, should I hope bring home the dangerous path that we are treading, for that path will eventually crumble away under our feet one day. I ask you, I beg you to think again. If all our traditions have to go so that we may “fit into” the European Union, I say to you that it is too high a price to pay, particularly by forcing the people of this Country, for you know in your heart, without doubt, that the vast majority of British people do not want to be governed by the EU. Our Common Law Constitution must take precedent once more.

A jury is less likely to be bribed or bullied and Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws QC explained that one “Magistrate in France recently publicly stated that there had been threats to her life and that she had been advised by French intelligence not to stand at her own apartment windows for fear of being shot”. It was also made clear throughout the debates that a Jury was quite capable of understanding the procedure and that it would be the Judge that made sure that this was so. It was neither the length of trial or the complexity of the trial that was the problem either. There should of course, be no ‘costs’ put on “Justice”. Is there a suggestion perhaps that the Government has such a low opinion of the abilities of the great British public that the Government feel that they are unable ever to muster 12 people who can understand a fraud trial, or come from all walks of life? My concern once more as stated at the beginning, what if the time comes when there appears to be no difference between a very complicated fraud case and a very complicated murder case? For generations, correctly directed juries have been reaching safe verdicts on both types of cases.

I am duty bound to try to protect our jury system along with our British system of Justice and I am well aware that the British court system is different from all the rest of the European Union, but it is a system well worth protecting. Magistrate’s Courts have recently been ‘run down’ and quite a lot of business removed from them with instant fines and ASBOs where “innocent until proven guilty” has been crushed. This too is not compatible with our Constitution. Soon, everyone in the country may have a criminal record for such is the way things are going in this Country. We read that if we do not have an ID card or do not update it or put our waste in the incorrect bin etc, we will have to pay a fine of £1000 or go to prison. Constant threats of hefty fines or prison is now what it feels like in making a genuine mistake to the ordinary person of whom I am just one out of 60 million. The people are beginning to wonder why this Government hates them so much?

It is with the greatest respect, I do now formally object to any removal of Trial by Jury or any change to our Common Law Constitution.

Yours sincerely,
Anne Palmer