Anger at police officer's jury service

By Ted JeoryA POLICE officer from East Anglia has become one of the first in the country to be called up for jury service under a new law that has been criticised for putting justice at risk.

By Ted Jeory

A POLICE officer from East Anglia has become one of the first in the country to be called up for jury service under a new law that has been criticised for putting justice at risk.

The officer - who has not been named, but who serves with Essex Police - will have to serve on a trial jury later this year unless an application for special treatment is accepted.

But Sue Kelly, chairman of the Essex Police Federation, said it was “ridiculous” to think that forcing police staff to sit on juries could be in the interests of justice.

She felt the new law added another layer of bureaucracy, wasted time and money and threatened to take officers off the beat.

Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which became effective on April 5, anyone involved in the administration of justice - including barristers, judges and police staff - are now eligible for jury service.

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It means that only the mentally ill and people with a criminal record remain exempt from jury service.

Ms Kelly criticised the law change as “ill thought-out” and urged Essex Police officers to apply for special dispensation if called up.

“As soon as any defence team worth its salt discovers a potential jury member is a police officer, they will object in the strongest terms,” she said.

“This means that any officer who is called up has to go through all the paperwork, form-filling and bureaucracy for nothing. Why make us go through all this disruption?

“There are so many conflicts of interest in all this, I don't think it does any good for public confidence.

“At a time when we are under more pressure than ever to put extra resources on to the streets, what message does this send out?”

Although the Police Federation was consulted on the drafting of the law, it claimed its objections were ignored and has now appealed for the relevant section of the Act to be repealed.

A federation spokesman said he knew of at least 10 cases since the law came into effect where officers had been called up for service.

“In each one, defence teams have objected. In theory the law is understandable, but in practice, it's just unworkable,” he added.

“By the very nature of their work, police officers are far more likely to recognise - or have knowledge of - trial witnesses.

“If this happens, they must declare that to the judge, who must then make a decision on the future of the trial. It's conceivable trials could be stopped as a result - that puts justice at risk.”

However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Constitutional Affairs, which is responsible for the policy, said a legal precedent for the issue of identifying witnesses had already been made.

She explained a senior Old Bailey judge had refused on Wednesday to excuse a barrister from his remaining jury service, even after he had been rejected from three trials because he had recognised colleagues or judges.

The spokeswoman added: “Juries are supposed to be a microcosm of the communities they represent.

“Previously, a swag of people from the middle classes was exempt on the grounds of their profession, rather than their personal circumstances.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Government believes that jury service is an important civic duty and everyone has a responsibility to play their vital part.”

ted.jeory@eadt.co.uk

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