Jury disservice

Photo courtesy of http://www.dailymail.co.uk

“The sentence of the court is 56 days imprisonment of which you will serve up to half”.

What have March, Malta lies, deception and Sciatica got in common? The answer lies in a robbery trial last month at Preston Crown Court.

At the outset, the trial judge H H Judge Baker, took pains to check whether any proposed juror would face difficulties if they were sworn in to deal with a four week robbery trial. The case concerned raids by accused Raymond Mallen on security vehicles carrying cash. This was a big trial, with huge implications for the defendant, witnesses and society.

On the Monday of the fourth week, just as the summing up was about to start, jurer Janet Chapman did not turn in, instead sending a message “Hello, this is Janet Chapman Juror Number ***. I won’t be attending court for a period of up to two weeks. I have got to return to the doctors next Tuesday. I have got sciatica. Thank you. Bye”.

But rather than being bed-ridden, she is on a plane to Malta with her partner Raymond Pritchard. The £699  trip was planned three months earlier in January, although according to Mr Pritchard, had been concealed as a secret until the night before.

In sentencing, the Recorder of Preston, H H Judge Anthony Russell QC said “Jury service is one of the most important public duties that a citizen of this country can be called upon to perform. It is inconvenient, but an essential part of our democratic system. It is essential that the duty of jury service is taken seriously by those called upon to perform it, and that it is performed diligently and responsibility”.

Mallen the robber was convicted by the remains of the jury and got 12 years imprisonment.  The rest of the robbery gang got 80 years in total. Janet Chapman the juror is serving her 28 days. Mr Pritchard, the disbelieved schemer, is “choking back his tears at his semi-detached property on the outskirts of Blackpool”. Perhaps he is lucky not to have joined them for ‘seeking to pervert the course of justice’?

The case highlights issues of social responsibility. There was a time when the question of jury service for those eligible, would have gone unquestioned. Janet Chapman reflects contemporary thinking that social responsibility is a question of personal choice. At a time when ‘some’ are carrying a high level of responsibility for ‘others’, isn’t it refreshing that Judge Anthony Russell should give a wake up call to those who feel that they can shirk their share of duty?

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