I am a fan of Matthew Scott QC.
His barrister blog is a perennial source of good insight and analysis, often brilliantly destroying the Tabloid takes on contentious cases.
He is respected by the appeal court, and many more, and has fought successfully for the innocence of the wrongly convicted, going where others fear to tread.
So this is in no way a criticism of him as an individual, more of a defendant and jury member’s alternative vision of what can go wrong in a court room with what is supposedly, due process.
He also has pieces published elsewhere, and this Spectator piece on the inherent bias against defendants that is being systematically built by government and others with hideous agendas, is essential reading.
The particular segment, pictured below, caused me to push back an idea based on my own experience of being a wrongly accused man, standing in a dock, facing the possibility of 8 years in jail and life on the sex offenders register. When marched into court for the pre-trial hearings (2 of them) I was reduced to the status of non person – a caged animal to be disposed of…
I posted on Twitter, in response to this, my belief that my own experience could help other defendants falsely accused of sex crimes to ask for a removal of this massive disadvantage. The defendant has the right, and should demand, to sit outside the dock, able to hear, and interact in whispers with your legal team is a part of it – but the prevention of the jury seeing you as a guilty dangerous wild animal is definitely the key thing to be desired.
Barristers are just in their workplace – jurors and defendants naive actors, embedded in a drama
I have been a juror, in several trials, two separate fortnights of jury duty, and I well remember how my fellow jurors made assumptions based on the appearance of the defendant or indeed, the witnesses. I am also sadly experienced in being the accused – locked in a bullet proof cage where discomfort is exaggerated and hearing what lawyers are saying is next to impossible.
To these bewigged professionals working in their inadequate “offices”, this is generally not seen as important, so I thank Matthew for at least raising the issue – what is important to 90% of good lawyers is that they get to say what they want to say, to do their job. Whereas for the defendant the feeling of fear and shame, looking at potential conviction due to failures of the jury to see what is real, and knowledge that jurors are being primed to see you as guilty, is somewhat more important…
My point about the use of the dock being a habit is the important one here.
The question I would ask barristers is, “How often have you suggested requesting sitting outside to your client?”
…and how often have you then asked a judge – at the pre-trial hearing, if your client can sit outside the dock like an innocent human being? and if you were a defendant facing decades in jail – where would you want to sit?
and, re “in any individual case”?
not sure if there has ever been anything other than individual cases argued – and remarkably few of them by all accounts. – Who will even try to make this commonplace?
Any campaign to remove docks altogether will probably flounder on the basis of points as raised by advocate, Helga Speck.
There are indeed some defendants who need to be in a dock due to actual risks of danger, but this hasn’t made the USA adopt docks that incriminate suspects.
What I sense coming from the every day practitioners in the courts, is the determination to keep defendants from “interfering” in their own trials – and that is something I find extremely upsetting.
Not just because, had my case not been dropped, I couldn’t have taken being in the dock, straining to hear proceedings, with a straining back in agony, while at risk of being sent to prison on the basis of such parameters agreed for the case between judge, the CPS and Defence barristers… (“the whole truth” is never a possibility). I’d want to hear and take notes.
The risks we innocent defendants face include having duff lawyers – they are not all as good as Matthew Scott – and many have proven quite capable of selling their clients down the river. Those who have relayed such stories to me number in the hundreds, in online forums, and some of them stare out at you as blatant and corrupt abuse of a panicking docile defendant, and against whom there is little or no chance of redress.
So we could do with a semblance of respect from lawyers towards those of us whose lives are on the line… they can easily judge whether we are fit for the freedom to sit in court, (like all Americans do), and ask the judge for that simple piece of just process at the pre-trial hearing, prior to any jury getting to lay their prejudiced viewpoints upon us.
My suspicion is that, to too many lawyers, this “favour from a judge” appears to be an inconvenience that might embarrass them and about which they do not want to spend any time thinking.