Jury System Needs Changes For Fraud


It's Easy, on Occasion, to Confuse Juries

We operate under a jury system, and as much as we complain about it, we have to admit that we know of no better system, except possibly flipping a coin.

- Dave Barry

Jury System Changes for Fraud Cases Suggested

Juries are being confused and exhausted by long, complex fraud trials, Serious Fraud Office director David Bradshaw said yesterday.  Mr Bradshaw told Parliament's Justice and law reform select comtnittee that the SFO and the Law Commission were discussing possible changes to the jury system which could relieve the burden on Jurors and ensure fair verdicts.  Mr Bradshaw said there had been some "unusual outcomes" in cases where defendants faced multiple similar charges.  Juries had acquitted on some charges and convicted on others, where logically it should have been all or none.  Bradshaw said juries did not always understand the full implications of complex financial transactions.

SFO assistant director Gib Beattie said the SFO tried to present its case clearly and concisely, "but it's always a challenge.  It's easy, on occasion to confuse juries."  Mr Beattie said SFO prosecutors might have to take two to three days to explain, for example, a cash flow, risking having the jury lose sight of the bigger picture, but the onus was on the SFO office to explain properly.

Mr Bradshaw said the length of complicated fraud trials was a serious problem, with jurors required to sit through complicated legal arguments for as long as 3 months.  The Serious Fraud Office and the Law Commission were discussing whether 10 to 2 or II to I verdicts, rather than the existing unanimous verdict, smaller juries, and providing technical advisers to juries, might help.  "We are asking the Law Commission, 'Is our justice system ensuring we are getting fair outcomes?'" Mr Bradshaw said.

Labour justice spokesman Phil Goff asked if the prosecution rate had declined since the resignation of former SFO director Charles Sturt.  Mr Goff said 3 recent high profile cases - against District Court judge Martin Beattie, former Pacer Kerridge executive chairman David Phillips, and former ACC head Gavin Robins and his brother Anthony Robins - had not succeeded.  Mr Bradshaw said he did not accept that prosecution rates had fallen.  Mr Sturt might have been selective in the cases he took on, he suggested.

Mr Beattie said the prosecution success rate under Mr Sturt was 93%, well above the stated goal of an 85% success rate.  Its annual report shows SFO prosecutions succeeded in 90.78% of cases, and against 87.8% of defendants in the year ending June 30.  Court findings were determined in 76 cases taken by the SFO against 123 defendants in the year.  Of those, 69 against 106 defendants were successful, and 7 cases against 15 defendants were unsuccessful.

The Phillips case went back to Mr Sturt's time.  Mr Phillips was acquitted on 6 counts of fraud, and a further 4 charges were stayed by the solicitor-general.  Mr Bradshaw said the solicitor-general had decided, after a lengthy trial, that "enough was enough" on the outstanding charges "so it goes down as an unsuccessful prosecution".  In the Robins and Beattie cases, the evidence clearly showed there was unauthorised use of money, even though the jury did not find there was fraud.

Bradshaw said the SFO had begun a campaign to "demystify" its role, by publishing a brochure on its work, taking speaking engagements, and liaising with other agencies.

Source: The Dominion Thursday 10 December 1998

The SFO is taking "speaking engagements"?  To cover their expenses, maybe?

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