The occasional perverse acquittal is a feature of the jury system, not a bug

From time to time in a democratic society, juries will acquit someone who is not just very lucky indeed to get off - O.J. Simpson or Ken Dodd level of lucky - but who either on their own admission did exactly what they were accused of doing, or where the evidence was so overwhelming that no reasonable person could doubt that they did it.

It doesn't happen very often, on either side of the Atlantic, but it does happen, The two cases this week - the Black Lives Matter protesters acquitted of criminal damage despite admitting that they threw the Colston Statue into Bristol harbour, or the extenction rebellion protesters who were acquitted a couple of days later, were two of about five such cases I can remember. 

These included one incident when I was actually in the council chamber during the council meeting where the protest which gave rise to an unsuccessful prosecution took place.

Had I been a member of any of the juries concerned (a bit unlikely in the case in which I could have been called as a witness) I would have voted to return a guilty verdict with a completely clear conscience and no doubt that I was doing the right thing.

However, this doesn't mean that I'm going to get worked up about any of these verdicts, let alone suggest changes to the jury system.

The ability of juries to acquit people, even if they are obviously guilty, should they think that the law is unfair or the likely sentence disproportionately severe, is analogous to a pressure safety valve on the boiler of the machinery of justice. It limits the ability for government and law to get too far out of step with the opinions of the citizenry as a whole.

Hence my comment in the title of this post, the occasional perverse acquittal is a feature of the jury system, not a bug.

If you do not provide such safety mechanisms which operate in a legal and non-violent way, you will have more extra-legal protests and more violence.

And I'd rather accept a few perverse "not guilty" verdicts on a handful of protestors who thereby get away with crimes of which I think they were guilty as part of the price for keeping safeguards in Britain's criminal law which might one day protect me and people who think like me if Britain were ever to elect a government run by the kind of people who might want to arrest us for our beliefs.



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