Jurors in a trial that collapsed at a cost of ?60 million after 21 months have strongly backed the ability of ordinary people to cope with complex frauds.
In an unprecedented research study into what jurors think, the inquiry reveals jurors? experiences in the Jubilee Line fraud trial fiasco that led to moves by the Government to scrap juries in such cases altogether.
The jurors condemn the abrupt ending of the trial in March 2005 with no explanation, leaving them ?very shocked? and ?suddenly on the street feeling dazed?. They are also critical of the way that the defence presented its case, saying it was ?tedious and repetitive?, and resentful at their treatment by court staff as ?naughty children?. But the recently published study concludes that jurors understood the evidence and essentials of the case and had a ?good grasp of what it was about?.
But the research was carried out for the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate which was instructed to inquire into the collapse of the trial. The jury was discharged after the judge agreed that lengthy delays and other problems had made a fair trial impossible.
The material will bolster opposition to scrapping juries in fraud trials: Lord Goldsmith, QC, the Attorney-General,has already published a Bill to allow complex fraud trials to be heard by a High Court judge alone. Last year?s attempt was abandoned in the face of strong opposition in the House of Lords and both the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats have vowed to fight the new measure.
Stephen Wooler, the chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service, who carried out the trial inquiry at the request of the Attorney-General, said: ?This case offered an almost unique opportunity to assess both the impact of very long trials on the lives of jurors and how they assimilate and analyse the evidence they hear.? The research study demonstrated that the jury in the Jubilee Line ?did indeed have a good grasp of the evidence?, he said, adding that his own report had recognised that some cases may be ?of such complexity that they are not manageable within existing arrangements, although the Jubilee Line case did not fall into that category?.
Research into how juries reach their verdicts is prohibited; but no verdict was reached in the Jubilee Line case and the study, by Professor Sally Lloyd-Bostock, at Birmingham University, gets as near to probing the way that jurors operate as the law allows.
The topics of the research were agreed in advance with the Department for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Justice Thomas, representing the judiciary. They include: information and support given before, during and after the trial; the impact of the trial on their everyday lives; attitude to jury service; and understanding and view of the trial itself.
Ten jurors were left in the trial when it collapsed and all took part in the research, together with one juror who was discharged earlier when she became pregnant.
On the day the trial ended, they were brought into a crowded courtroom, making them feel that everyone but them knew what was going on. ?All the jurors were very shocked by the sudden ending of the trial and by the manner in which they were discharged,? the report says. ?It is difficult to overstate the strength of feeling expressed about this.? In a short space of time they were discharged, with ?very little explanation or information provided?. They discovered from the television news that the defendants had been acquitted. Once out, the jurors found themselves on the street, feeling dazed. One likened it to ?being made redundant, but without any redundancy payment? and another to ?suddenly being given the sack?.
On the trial itself, the research found that the jury ?had a good understanding of the case, the issues and the evidence so far, as presented to them?. They did not appear to have had problems understanding the evidence or essentials of the case and most of them insisted that ?they had a good or very good grasp of what the case was about from the prosecution opening?. They showed ?impressive familiarity with the charges, issues and evidence, despite the length of time that had elapsed and the fact that they did not have their notes or access to documents . . .?.
On the prosecution case, jurors were positive and said it was generally clear and well organised and that they generally understood why each witness was there. By contrast they found the defence team ?much less clear? and ?frequently extremely tedious? and repetitive. The switching of counsel for different defendants could be confusing but it did not interfere with their understanding the trial.
In general they had no problems concentrating except when evidence became boring. Most of the jury took full or fairly full notes and would have liked to have been able to take them into the jury room. Some were dismayed when these were thrown away at the end of the trial ? this ?added to the sense of time and effort completely wasted?. Discussion in the jury room was ?very important? for their understanding of the case ? most said that they were helped by discussing evidence and witnesses with fellow jurors.
When the trial collapsed, the jurors felt resentful that they were held to blame and particularly objected to being portrayed as unable to understand evidence or reach a fair verdict, when the trial was not ?managed properly?, in the words of one.
The jury was the one group that came off worst, they said, and some felt that there should have been financial compensation for their losses or to make up for what they had sacrificed financially. Others wanted acknowledgment of what they had done and an indication that their contribution was appreciated.
On the practical support given, the research found that jurors would be sent home and then left without information as to how long they would be off. That uncertainty became ?a source of considerable stress?. They were not told, for instance, that a period of time off was given because a barrister was ill or on paternity leave. One said: ?You get a phonecall . . . saying don?t come in for a week. You say: can I ask why? and she says, ?No, you can?t? ? like talking to a child?. In general, there was a lack of clarity and consistency about where they go could within the building.
?A frequent comment was that they felt they were being treated like children, and told off as if they had been naughty . . . ? or ?uncooperative when most felt they were being very conscientious?. The jurors all spoke positively about the help given by a judicial assistant over ten months. But when she left, the support provided by the court deteriorated. Passes to the court back entrance were withdrawn and use of the jury room became more limited ? as if ?the facilities were being withdrawn as a punishment?. Help on issues such as dealing with employers, including attempted dismissals, or with allowances was not forthcoming, they said. Several jurors also felt that the court was too lenient with fellow jurors who arrived late or took time off for appointments or were ?too ready to be sick?.
The research is a salutary lesson on the handling of jurors ? particularly in complex trials. But beyond their poor treatment in this case, it shows that ? so far as the legal issues go ? the jury is very much fit for purpose.
Jubilee Line jurors? report: www.hmcpsi.gov.uk