Richard Taylor, a keen observer and Freedom of Information Act request expert, blogs:
This morning I went to the Royal Courts of Justice to personally witness the start of the first modern criminal trial in the UK where the defendants have been denied a jury.
That should probably say "England & Wales" rather than "the UK", given the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland.
My views on this are:
* It a terrible indictment on our police that they are unable to protect jurors and haven't been able to bring those disrupting the judicial process to justice themselves.
* By removing the right to a jury trial a key safeguard against state abuse of power has been eroded.
* I am concerned that this trial may be the first of many. If the police can't deal with jury intimidation connected with a robbery; how would they cope if problems occurred in a terrorist trial, there the consequences of a justice not being done, and not being seen to be done, could itself incite more anger and further terrorist acts. I am concerned that what has started today may ultimately make the UK less safe.
The usual security theatre (metal detectors, X-ray machines) etc. greets those entering the Royal Courts of Justice court complex. Staff were fairly relaxed though; the man who entered in front of me said he was carrying a hard disk containing CCTV footage for use in a trial and asked if the X-Ray machine would damage it. Security officers waved the man straight through without looking in his rucksack.
that is a Security FAILURE, which makes a mockery of the public money spent on the X-Ray machine and the "trained" staff !
The judge said that there had been plans, if the press presence had been larger, to allow the press to sit in the jury seats; the journalists responded with a half-gasp, half-laugh.
So this "trial without a jury", very nearly started of as "trial by the press and media" !
The judge then asked the prosecution barrister if there were to be any reporting restrictions. In response the prosecutor referred to restrictions imposed by the court of appeal. The press (and I - though the speech was addressed only to the official press) are forbidden from reporting the names of other defendants who are not being tried in the current trial but are alleged to have been involved in the robbery. One effect of this is to make it harder for people identify any further trial from the court lists if / when it takes place. The former home address of a witness - which is to be mentioned at some point in the trial - can also not be reported.
How exactly is a third party blogger or media organisation not physically present in Court, actually meant to know about these reporting restrictions ?
Prosecutor Simon Russell Flint QC then began; passing what he had trouble not calling the "Jury bundle" to the judge. Aided by illustrations, maps, etc. in the bundle Mr Flint outlined the case; starting with the fact that the events occurred six years ago and described them as a "professionally planned, professionally executed robbery". He listed precise amounts in various currencies which were stolen and then, using a 2004 exchange rate to convert to sterling rather pompously announced the full amount down to the penny.
Will the same misleading claims be made by the prosecution and the media about this being "the biggest" attempted armed robbery in the UK ?
We wrote about this aspect of the reporting of this case, on May 18, 2004:
Heathrow robbery attempt is NOT the biggest in Britain
The infamous Brinks Mat gold bullion robbery in November 1983 netted the criminals £26 million pounds worth of gold bullion - 6800 bars - about 3 tons of gold. This would have been worth over £55 million at today's prices, c.f the Office of National Statistics regarding inflation in the UK since 1750 (.pdf)
The BBC also fails to remind its audience of the largest attempted armed robbery in the UK - the Millennium Dome Diamonds heist - Operation Magician, which attempted to steal over £200 million pounds worth of diamonds.(worth over £213 million at today's prices).
Subsequently, in 2006, the Securitas depot robbery involved over £53million in banknotes.
The "story" of the robbery was then outlined in a painfully slow and repetitive manner, adding little to what has been written about in the press. Interesting elements include:
* Heavy reliance by the police on evidence of phone usage (who called who, when and for how long).
* Evidence from "Cell Site" records; was being used to infer "opportunities for meetings" when two phones were near.
* The defendants were alleged to have taken on a plan devised by others.
One thing which struck me was that the police were very closely following this group; they had been recording their conversations and knew their target yet they didn't act to prevent the robbery taking place - a robbery in which a gun was fired multiple times and someone could have been seriously injured or killed.
"Evidence from "Cell Site" records; was being used to infer "opportunities for meetings" when two phones were near."
When used as part of a targeted criminal investigation, where the investigators are fully aware of the background details, then this is a useful investigatory technique.
Whether it provides proper evidence, rather than mere suspicion, of a physical meeting
is not all clear, especially if there is no direct voice phone / SMS text or data call record evidence between the alleged participants.
This technique must not be used to speculatively trawl through the billions of retained Communications Traffic Data records of hundreds of millions of innocent European Union citizens, thereby tarring them with "guilt by association" simply for having been in unwitting close proximity with suspected criminals.
The fact that the alleged armed robbers were already under such intensive surveillance by the Police, means that they were collecting and analysing current and perhaps even near real timeCommunications Traffic Data.
This provides no justification whatsoever for mandatory Communications Data Retention of innocent people's data for at least a year.
While in the UK the doors of courts are almost always open there isn't much transparency in the justice system as:
- It is hard to find out when cases of interest are scheduled. I found out the date and location of this one via a FOI request. As I knew the defendants names I could have watched the official court lists daily and got a few hours notice, but that isn't possible with local magistrates courts.
- Court papers are not published online. Had today's "jury bundle"; been published everyone in court (and outside) could have followed along. As the request from the member of the press highlights the full list of charges was neither read out or made available on paper. The Stockwell Inquest and Diana Inquest show how transcripts, evidence and court papers can be effectively published online making the process accessible.
- As I understand it - while the taxpayer pays for the recording and transcription of court cases the results are not automatically released to the public;
We agree that Justice is not being seen to be done fairly, because of the secrecy and the internet incompetence of the UK Courts system.