Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The end of the Jury system?

It has been reported that Juries in child sex abuse and theft cases in England and Wales could soon be told whether the defendant has convictions for similar offences.

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Civil Liberties groups have protested fearing that justice will be put at risk as Juries will be swayed by previous convictions. But surely there are cases where previous convictions may be relevant. In certain trials, a Jury may believe a defendant simply isn't capable of carrying out an offence, only to find out after the event that he recently had a conviction for those very offences.

It seems to me that Civil Libertarians want to have it both ways. The feel that being judged by your peers is the safest way to ensure the justice, but at the same time want to restrict evidence available to the Jury. Do they trust them or don't they? They need to make up their mind.

Has the Guardian been added to the US Justice Department Watch List?

The Guardian was forced to offer an apology after it's TV Columnist, Charlie Booker wrote the following in Saturday's Guardian.

"On November 2, the entire civilised world will be praying, praying Bush loses. And Sod's law dictates he'll probably win, thereby disproving the existence of God once and for all. The world will endure four more years of idiocy, arrogance and unwarranted bloodshed, with no benevolent deity to watch over and save us. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr - where are you now that we need you?"

The hurried apology has less to do with the Guardian's contrition about the whole affair, and probably more to do with the editorial staff's fear of being barred from entering the US. After all, incitement to murder, especially in the current climate is taken rather seriously.

An Englishman's home is no longer his castle

It was reported in the Times today that an intruder was jailed for seven years after being shot during an attempted Burglary.

Derby Crown Court heard how John Rae, 22, targeted farmer Kenneth Faulkner's isolated home three times before the pensioner hit back. Mr Faulkner, 73, will not be prosecuted despite firing a shotgun at Rae, leaving him with a leg wound. A judge who sentenced Rae for break-ins said Mr Faulkner "could not be criticised" and was defending his home.

Rae was shot when he returned to steal from Mr Faulkner's home at Keys Farm, Ockbrook, Derbyshire, for the third time in days. During the first raid, in July 2003, he and two other men broke into a gun cabinet and took five shotguns, a longbow, arrows, a crossbow and bolts.

Rae alone then returned early in August, when he took a mechanical digger from Mr Faulkner's garage. He then went back the next day. Mr Faulkner armed himself with a shotgun, went to investigate and fired at Rae in a bid to frighten him away - but ended up shooting him in the leg.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) later ruled no charges should be brought after deciding he had been acting "in legitimate defence" of his property. Michael Auty, prosecuting, said the "primary reason" that the authorities chose not to charge Mr Faulkner was that Rae had been left with only pellet wounds in his lower leg.

This was one of the rare occasions that the English courts took the side of the homeowner. The fact that the Crown Prosecution Service even considered charges against Mr. Faulkner beggars belief. In an attempt to be politically correct, the legal system tries to put everyone on a level playing field whether it's the victim causing the injury or the intruder.

If an intruder enters your home, English law allows you to use "reasonable force" to protect your property, but this term is ambiguous and many homeowners attempting to protect their property have been prosecuted. On numerous other occasions where charges haven't been brought, criminals have attempted to press charges for assault knowing the system is balanced in their favour. They are even able to claim compensation if they were injured during the burglary.

The current law has done more than just criminalise homeowners. It has also empowered criminals to use increasing violence when breaking into property. The case comes less than a week after the alleged murder of a 45-year-old west London teacher by a burglar, and also reveals the vulnerability of rural homeowners, living far from any neighbours or the Police (who take ages to arrive at the best of times).

There have long been calls for the law to be changed so homeowners are protected, but even the Tories (who used to be be known as the Party of law and order) have resisted calls for change. It illustrates just how elitist our political establishment is, when listening to the man in the street is regarded as giving in to "mob rule". It is hardly any wonder that turnouts at elections keep on getting lower.

But by far the best solution would be to scrap the Crown Prosecution Service altogether, which is bloated, bureacratic, innefficient and unnacountable and replace it with elected prosecutors who are accountable and know exactly who they are supposed to be representing. And unlike the bureaucrats at the CPS, they can be thrown out of office!

One final thought, property crime in the United States is far lower than in the UK, and it's not very difficult to see why. Burglars are rather good at risk assessment, and if you're planning a break-in over there, you have to decide whether the family silver is worth the gunshot wounds!