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Court proceedings.

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Court proceedings are the most public manifestation of the criminal justice process, the arena in which justice is very literally "seen to be done". This is especially true of the trial, generally assumed to be the stage in the process where the defendant has his or her day in court and the opportunity to assert innocence. The trial is a vial part of the adversarial system, and as we have seen the right to trial by one's peers, represented by the jury system, and as we have seen the right to trial by one's peers, represented by the jury system, is seen as a fundamental protection for the defendant against the power of the state. A Crown court trial has some of the appearance of a theatrical performance with costumes, ceremony, dramatic settings and seating for audience. These dramatic qualities are also evident in the cross-examination of witness to see who will play their part well, and the speeches of counsel to win the sympathy of the jury. They play out their roles in line with the adversarial principles of the trial. The prosecution and the defence counsel present their arguments before a judge whose role is to ensure a fair trial, and the jury, who must decide on the guilt, or not, of the defendant. The real life drama of the trial lies in its public examination of and formal adjudication upon matters of human weakness and wickedness. At a more prosaic level, the trial seeks to establish the guilt, or otherwise, of the accused. ...read more.


Misconduct by the jury or a jury member outside the confines of the jury room can, however, be a ground for appeal. If the problem is discovered during trial, it can be a reason for the judge to discharge the juror or the whole jury. The use of juries has been a subject of conflicting views among lawyers, politicians and the public at large. The arguments in favour of the jury involve fundamental principles developed over the centuries. The right to a trial by jury involves the concept of being tried by one's peers. It is therefore essential to this principle that jury members be chosen from a random selection of a population. In this way, lay members of the public are involved in justice. Fears of oppressive laws and governments also underlie the argument that juries can effect the law itself. In so-called 'equity' verdicts juries have acquitted on the grounds that they do not think the law is right even where the accused has quite clearly committed the act. This was apparently the situation in 1986 when Clive Ponting was prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act and acquitted by the jury despite a clear directive by the judge that he had no defence. Jurors may not wish to see the defendant receive a harsher punishment than they feel is deserved - juries during the 1950's, for example, often acquitted by the jury despite a clear directive by the judge that he had no defence. Jurors may not wish to see the defendant receive a harsher punishment than they feel is deserved - juries during the 1950's for example, often acquitted drivers accused of manslaughter. ...read more.


However, fifteen years ago, in a celebrated case, a jury learnt how nervous a householder in a secluded mansion in Kent had heard noises in his garden. When he went to see what was going on, he came face to face with an intruder - a man who had no right to be there. There was a struggle and the intruder was killed. But the jury, considering the evidence accepted his account of how he had been frightened for his life - despite the fact that he had been armed and the intruder had not - and acquitted him on the grounds of self-defence. The mansion in question was a big mock-Tudor affair set in 20 acres of land near West Kingsdown. The intruder was a highly respected undercover detective called John Fordham and he was there because the police suspected that the mansion's owner had been involved in the Brinks-Mat bullion robbery. The owner stabbed John Fordham to death. His name was Kenneth Noye. The jury let him go. Kenneth Noye was recently imprisoned, convicted of murder after being found guilty of killing a man in a road rage incident on the M25 motorway. The uncertainty of the jury in their way of thinking would most ultimately result in the uncertainty of laws as well. Some have advocated the abolition of the jury; replacing the jury with lay accessors or allowing the judge to decide not only on the law, but also on guilt and innocence. Others fear the power which would be placed in the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice (Lord Runciman 1993) did not recommend the abolition of juries but recommended that the law be amended in order that the matter could be fully assessed. ...read more.

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