Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In defence of juries

And while we're on the topic of outrageous, the Law Commission wants to get rid of juries entirely and replace them with trained evidence assessors. You know, like they have in Fiji:

In a consultation paper on alternative trial systems, the commission sets out a range of proposals for change, especially in sexual offending cases.

They include replacing a full jury with a judge alone or a judge with two full-time jurors who would be trained in criminal procedure.

The paper said trials heard by either a judge alone or a judge with two trained jurors would allow many of the rules of evidence to be dispensed with, because a smaller pool of fixed-term jurors could be trained in criminal trial procedures in a way normal jurors could not.

Unmentioned: it would also be cheaper to have only two people per case instead of twelve, and much more efficient when they just turn up for work every day rather than having to be randomly selected from the electoral roll, then herded into showing up. Also unmentioned: it would utterly destroy the credibility of criminal trials in the eyes of the public were the case to be decided entirely by employees of the state, who could face employment sanctions should they make the "wrong" decision.

That's the problem if you look at the justice system from a purely technocratic perspective. Justice isn't just about finding the truth, its also about convincing the public that you've done so, and that its not a stitch-up. Twelve random people does that. It gives independence, a variety of views (rather than the closed worldview of well-paid civil servants), and a healthy dose of reluctance and scepticism. Its a vital bullshit-detector which gives democratic legitimacy to the system. Take it away, and we no longer have any reason to trust verdicts, believe in justice, or cooperate in any way with the law.

Unfortunately, with Judith Collins as Minister of Justice, then that's probably just what we'll get.