Jury intimidation a factor in some criminal trials, say judges

One judge recalls jury members being bribed

Jury intimidation and interference is a feature of a small number of criminal trials in Ireland, according to judges and barristers interviewed as part of a major new piece of legal research.

Some judges expressed concern about intimidation in trials involving gangland figures while another recalled a trial where members of a jury had been bribed.

The risk of jury intimidation is often cited in support of retaining the non-jury Special Criminal Court, particularly for trials involving paramilitary and organised crime. However, little research has been conducted in the area.

The latest research, which was carried out by academics in UCD’s School of Law and is due to be launched on Tuesday, found that while jury interference was not widespread, “it was nevertheless regarded by interviewees as a known feature of a small number of Irish jury trials”.

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Researchers conducted anonymous interviews with 22 judges and 11 barristers about the role of the judiciary and the jury system in criminal trials.

None of the judges questioned about jury intimidation or interference said they had personally witnessed it in their trials, put several reported hearing about it from colleagues. Three of the 11 barristers reported encountering the issue.

Bribes

One judge responded that when they were a barrister they had been involved in a case where jurors were bribed. “That’s a possibility in a small country. The possibility of jury interference is a live possibility.”

Some juries become intimidated by cases involving notorious criminals, according to one judge who recalled being told by his court crier that the jury was “very worried” and had requested that their names not be read out in court during the morning roll-call.

The judge did not grant the request. “But what I did do at the end of the trial, when they had convicted him . . . because I knew of their concerns, I said to them: ‘Look, you’ve done exactly what you had to do’ . . . and that was to reassure them more than anything else because I knew they were worried and concerned about their safety having served on that jury.”

One judge said when dealing with a gangland case they kept a close eye on jurors and make sure they were “looking comfortable . . . Making sure the channels of communication are open without saying why.”

One barrister said some jurors could be very “jumpy” and “paranoid”. “But there are definitely cases where people have made attempts, either by giving looks to the jury or walking close to them afterwards or something like that, to intimidate them.”

Open roll-call

The report's authors say there is no reason a roll-call has to be done in open court and noted the Law Reform Commission (LRC) had recommended the abolition of the practice.

“It draws attention to the jurors in a way that is at best embarrassing and at worst identifies them to persons intent on contacting them for an unlawful purpose.”

In the past, senior gardaí have also called for the abolition of the practice of defendants being given a list of jurors’ names and addresses. This followed a case where a list of jurors’ addresses was found in the home of an associate of a leading gangland figure during a Garda search.

Several judges also expressed frustration with how jurors are treated by the courts system. Employers are obliged to pay staff serving on jurors but there is no provision for payment for jurors who are self-employed or out of work. Jurors also do not receive expenses.

One judge described the current system as “most unfair” while another said it was “appalling”. One said he frequently excused self-employed people from service due to the financial burden.

The LRC has previously suggested a small per diem payment for jurors. Some judges said there should not be a payment but there should be provision for reimbursing expenses.

“They have to be treated decently, and they’re not being treated decently . . . It’s not that they should be paid; but they actually lose money,” one judge remarked.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times