Why have jury trials in actions against the police?

Iain Gould, Actions Against the Police SolicitorBy Iain Gould, Solicitor

It is a little-known fact that some actions against the police compensation claims (specifically cases involving claims for false imprisonment and/or malicious prosecution) can be decided by a jury.

The right to trial by jury in such cases was preserved for such claims against the police after it was abolished for most other civil actions in 1933.

Putting such a case before a Jury does not, however, come without complications.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by zzpza

Hung jury in an actions against the police claim

I am currently representing Mr. G who is suing  British Transport Police for false imprisonment, assault, misfeasance in public office, and malicious prosecution. Although, there is some limited CCTV footage, Mr. G’s actions against the police compensation claim essentially rests on his word against two Police Officers. Last week, his case went to trial before a Jury.

On the fourth day, having heard the evidence, the jury of eight retired.

After a long and stressful week in court, Mr. G hoped for Judgment in his favour in his police compensation claim.

Unfortunately, the jury were unable to reach unanimity.

In the County Court (as in this case) after a reasonable period of deliberation, the Court can accept a majority verdict of 7-1.

In Mr. G’s case, after several hours, it was clear that the jury were unable to agree to that and, in the circumstances, the Judge ordered a re-trial.

As it now stands, he must ready himself for another week in court sometime in the next year, and I will have to prepare his case for trial yet again.

So why bother having a Jury?

Judicial guidance in police claims

By s.69 of the Supreme Courts Act 1981, a party wishing to claim the right to have their case heard before a jury has to apply for it within 28 days of the service of the Defence.

Should either party fail to make such an application, the case must be tried by a Judge alone unless the Court in its discretion orders trial by jury. As May LJ noted in Times Newspapers Ltd v Armstrong (2006),

‘the discretion is now rarely exercised, reflecting contemporary practice. Contemporary practice has an eye, among other things, to proportionality; the greater predictability of the decision of a professional Judge; and the fact that a Judge gives decisions.’

Reasons to keep jury trials in police abuse claims

Given ‘contemporary practice’, why then encourage (as I routinely do) a victim of police abuse to elect jury trial?

Because an individual’s belief in the rule of law is shaken when they are a victim of wrongdoing by the police.

The police are agents of the state. The courts can be considered the same way, and I often hear scepticism of judicial independence and the need to avoid the ‘involuntary bias towards those of their own rank and dignity’ (Frank Cook v Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2011)).

Some might query whether my faith and confidence in jury trials in cases involving police abuse has been knocked.

My answer is an unequivocal ‘no’.

Having taken many civil actions against the police to trial with a jury, I remain convinced that, win or lose, my clients are far more accepting of a judgment given by their peers rather than by a Judge who may be perceived as solitary, conservative and out of touch.

Certainly, Mr. G is un-phased and is keen to have his actions against the police case heard again, confident that a new jury will find in his favour.

For all of us, but especially those making actions against the police claims, it is important that this basic right is preserved.

If you have been a victim of police abuse and want to claim compensation, please click here to read more or contact me, Iain Gould, using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via the contact form at dpp-law.com.

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Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.