The Human Rights Act 1998 entered into effect in England and Wales on the 2nd October 2000. Article 6 (1) states that anybody with "any criminal charge against him, is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law". This requirement is currently posing problems in the context of jury trial within England and Wales as Article 6 (1) can only be breached if there is either evidence of subjective or objective bias and this area of the law is cloaked by the common law secrecy rule.
Judges therefore find it hard to examine allegations of bias as they are not permitted to know what goes on when the jury retire for their deliberations. Recently the House of Lords, by a majority of four to one32, found that this secrecy rule was indeed compatible to Article 6 (1). 33 I feel this hard to come to terms with, as how can something that encourages racial biased be seen to be compatible with an article that states everyone is entitled to a fair hearing? Article 14 sets out that the rights laid down in the convention "shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as race.
"34 This article is clearly being breached if jurors are deciding their verdicts based purely on the colour of the defendants skin. Although there are some recent cases, showing that Article 6 (1) is being implemented in the Human Rights court, with the court stating, in the case of Sander35 that, "there had been a breach of Article 6 (1) as the allegations made were sufficient as to cause the applicant or a legitimate observer doubts as to the impartiality of the jury,"36 the courts have been reluctant to enforce Article 14 it seems37.
I feel that even the slight breakthrough of a breach of Article 6 (1) being recognised, has been a long time coming, and the mere fact that Mr. Sander had to wait five years to appeal his case in the Human Rights court highlights the argument that the government needs to address the Human Rights Act in more depth and get these cases into the courts quicker, if they want to combat the issue of racism within the jury system.
The cases and random selection process highlighted in my essay, all seem to be a far cry away from what the Human Rights Act 1998 entitles these people to- a fair trial38, but yet seem to be totally justifiable in the British courts. Something needs to change and quickly, otherwise not only will the cost and time of trials increase, but our prisons will be overrun with innocent people, whose only crime is to be genetically different to their white jurors. This is a subject that needs to be addressed and addressed now.
Whether Martin Luther King's dream comes true is up to society today, but we can't do it alone. The issue of racism needs to be addressed by parliament and the abolition of racism within our juries would be an ideal place to start.
1 British Crime Survey June 2004 2 BBC News Article. "I have a dream" 21/14/2003 3 Sander V United Kingdom 1995 4 Juries Act 1974 Section 1 5 The English Legal System Textbbok-6th Edition-Gary Slapper and David Kelly, Page 4616 Requiring considerations of whether the judge or tribunal is actually biased.
7 Concerns the issue of whether adequate safeguards have been put in place to eliminate any legitimate doubts as to the partiality of the tribunal 8 Sander V UK 2001 31 E. H. R. R 44 9 Penny Darbyshire, Andy Maughan and Angus Stewart-What can the English legal system learn from jury research published up to 2001. Page 16 10 Auld Review 1999-Chapter 5 -Juries Section 7 11 Auld Review 1999 Chapter 5 section nine