Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Friday, January 11, 2008

Guys in wigs: even less to be messed with than cats

I don't want to sound like one of those people who bangs on all the time about how everything British is better than everything American, not least because it isn't. I like Starbucks coffee, country music, Broadway musicals, Richard Feynmann, Kary Mullis, Richard Farina, Bob Dylan, Isaac Asimov, Charles Ives, Harley-Davidsons, the SR-71 Blackbird, The West Wing, Heroes, Love and Death, Quentin Tarantino - loads of things. Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens: even Smokey and the Bandit and Convoy. I also love the US Constitution: how could I not love a document which established a system of government predicated on the self-evident truth that most politicians are crooks who need to be kept in line?

But another example of how the far-from-perfect British legal system - IMO at least - knocks spots off the US one is given by the interesting case of the Holy Land Foundation. The HLF and
five other defendants were being tried to establish whether they had links to Hamas which would render their activities illegal. A mistrial was declared and the case will come round again in a few months' time. So far so good. But it's the comments of Kristina Williams, one of the jurors, that interest me. They have been widely reported in the American press and on right-wing blogs, implying as they do that the only thing preventing the conviction of the wicked Muslims was bullying by a jury member. (Alternatively, as one blog commenter put it, that Williams and her fellows are snivelling cowards who entered false verdicts rather than complain about Neal's behaviour, and much later - possibly after bullying from a different source - decided to retract those verdicts and whinge. I'm not saying that's a better description, by the way, merely that the facts bear several interpretations.)

My interest, and my patriotic emotions, were stirred by the fact that in the UK it is a very serious contempt of court to disclose any details at all of jury proceedings, not just during a trial but after it's over. Not even another court is allowed to access that information. Williams not only gives very detailed descriptions, she names particular jurors, and she does so to the national press. Judges, my law lecturer always said, loathe contempt of court, so I would expect that in Britain Ms Williams would now be facing the maximum penalty, which is a two-year stretch in prison.

There are good reasons for such an arrangement, as Williams' comments, however lucrative for her, cannot fail to prejudice the retrial and could as a result lead to guilty parties' being wrongly acquitted. But maybe Ms Williams and her interlocutors are more concerned with their short-term profit (and of course with smearing a wicked librul) than with justice, even if the effect is that a terrorist supporter walks free.


At 11 January, 2008 17:25, Anonymous JoeInVegas said...

Having been on several juries I can agree with her concept of pressure from other jurists.
Here in the US it is illegal for jurors to say anything during the trial or deliberations, or for the court to ask them about it, but once the trial is done they can talk all they want. I was on a high profile trial jury once, and at the end of deliberations the judge told us all that we were free to talk to the news media or not, and that a room had been set aside for the media to talk to any jurors that wanted to right there in the courthouse.
And, making money by telling your story to the tabloids is an old and honored tradition here.

At 13 January, 2008 11:04, Blogger Chip said...

As a believer in the US justice system, I have to agree that the ability for the jurors to speak out after a trial is wrong in every sense of the word.

But it comes down to profiteering. When the OJ Simpson trial was happening, jurors were lining up around the block to try and be selected for the opportunity to cash in after the fact. How horrible it that? Did they seek justice? Hell no - they were only interested in what they personally could gain from him.

Something is wrong when our society accepts that kind of behavior, when it encourages it - but allow the press to pump huge sums of money towards it - and eventually it leads to British Soldiers speaking out about their captivity which only served to strain the already tense diplomatic relationship between Britain and Iran. (although, the UK, on hind sight, thinks these stories should never have been up for sale)

While there are many things in the US that are wonderful - there are bad things too. And all too unfortunately, they also come across the pond.


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