Police Officers and juries – an update

 

 

 

stock-photo-group-of-uk-metropolitan-police-officers-6958939

Introduction 

Just call my Mystic Meg – back in November 2012 I confidently predicted that the ECHR would hold that police officers would not be permitted to sit on juries. Since then we’ve waited for a decision. And waited some more, and then finally on 9th December 2014 the case of Armstrong v UK [2014] ECHR 1368 was decided by the Fourth Section and … I got it wrong – “Having regard to all of the above considerations, the safeguards present at the applicant’s trial were sufficient to ensure the impartiality of the jury which tried the applicant’s case. There has accordingly been no violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

 

Facts

There is a bit of background in this news report. But basically, Mr Armstrong admitted stabbing Paul Williams in 2007. He had a trial where the issue was self-defence. A retired, as well as a serving, police officer was on the jury. His advocate repeatedly said that there was no objection to this and therefore the Judge continued with the trial.

There was then an application to the Court of Appeal on the basis that the trial was unfair because of the presence of the police officers (particularly the serving one) on the jury. Unsurprisingly this didn’t get very far given the repeated statements that this was not a concern, so the Court refused permission – the end of the line for any domestic remedy, so off to Strasbourg Mr Armstrong went.

The ECHR sets out the general principles at paras 35-38, before applying it to the facts at 39-45. It’s a pretty short judgment and sets out the reasoning pretty well. The critical point was that in light of the fact that there was random selection, the defence required no challenge to the evidence of police officers, the ‘usual’ safeguards relating to a jury, and the fact that defence counsel was untroubled, meant that “the safeguards present at the applicant’s trial were sufficient to ensure the impartiality of the jury which tried the applicant’s case“.

 

Where now?

For me? I’ll have to revise my Plan B of investing in lottery tickets it seems … but, is this the end of the line, or is there scope for further argument? I would suggest that the latter is correct. Here’s three reasons why this may not be the end of the line :

  • It was a murder – these are always bad cases to draw general principles from as they are so serious. Although all cases are treated equally, inevitably the stakes are much higher where the Court may have to ‘let a murderer go free’.
  • Mr Armstrong represented himself in the ECHR – always a bad idea. I would never represent myself, and I’m a lawyer.
  • Mr Armstrong’s lawyer repeatedly told the Judge that it was fine to have the police officer was there. One quote that (s)he made was ““No, my Lord. I am quite happy that the juror may continue to serve. I understand that he does not wish other jurors to be told that he is a police officer and that is understandable, his occupation is irrelevant to his jury serving and his participation in these proceedings“. I’m not saying that he was wrong to make the concessions, but it’s never a great start to the argument to say that something you repeatedly didn’t object to, despite it being pointed out, is wrong.

To my mind, the points made previously still stand – the problem of having police officers on a jury is so fraught with danger that it is safer to not have them. This was certainly the wrong vehicle to make the argument, however. It is still worth arguing (in a suitable case) that a police officer should not be allowed to sit – I’m not quite ready to admit defeat on this one!

Police Officer

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Police Officers and juries – an update

  1. Dan.
    Seems to me that there is only a problem if there is any question of a jury having to decide an issue of credibility in relation to a police witness. Otherwise, why does it matter?

    • Agree if there’s no issue of police credibility then there’s probably not a problem (whether it is harder for a police officer to be objective though?) – but what was the harm with the blanket rule before?

  2. I had a jury with a police officer. We objected to him at the start of the trial. At the end of the trial the judge gave a written “route to verdict” in the best modern style. The jury got utterly confused, I think they thought that the various “yesses” & “noes” along the route were verdicts in their own right.

    Anyway, the jury eventually returned a guilty verdict & the judge was adjourning for a Pre Sentence Report. Suddenly the police officer on the jury (strictly speaking now an ex jury) put up his hand. “We meant to find him NOT Guilty.”

    Great confusion ensued, but eventually it turned out that the police officer was right & the guilty verdict was returned in error.

    The policeman was the only member of the jury who both realised that a mistake had been made, and had the courage to point it out.

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