Juries, bomb detectors and homoeopaths

After the inane questions asked by Vicky Pryce’s first jury, the conviction of James McCormick of fraud by selling fake bomb detectors shows that our jury system is, after all,  in robust good health.

It also shows the Avon and Somerset Police to be a great deal less gullible than, amongst others,  the Royal Engineers (which publicly endorsed the detectors), the United Nations (which bought a few before realising their mistake), as well as security forces in Iraq, Kenya, Thailand, Hong Kong, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, all of whom were taken in by the McCormick’s ludicrous blarney.

Of course juries do not always make the right decisions. Part of the fascination of the system is that, because they do not have to give reasons for their verdicts, they can sometimes be remarkably lenient. Notable acquittals in what might be thought the teeth of the evidence were those of Clive Ponting in 1985 for revealing government secrets, my Lord Melchett and his fellow Greenpeace protestors for damaging crops in a protest against genetic modification in 2000, Greenpeace protestors again in 2008 for causing criminal damage to Kingsnorth Power Station after running the defence of “lawful excuse”, and perhaps most incomprehensibly of all,  the two “useful idiots” Randle and Pottle in 1990 for assisting the spy George Blake to escape from his thoroughly deserved 42 year prison sentence.

Surprising though these acquittals may seem they do not fundamentally undermine the jury system. Built into the very foundation of our criminal law is the notion that it is better that 10 guilty men go free than that one innocent man is convicted and I am happy for any number of, in my view wrong-headed,  protestors to get off to preserve that principle.

Fortunately however a good old fashioned English jury saw that Mr McCormick was talking tommy rot, and making vast amounts of money as a result. It may well be that people died in Iraq as a result of his actions, though I suppose it is just possible that, in something like a placebo effect,  some potential bombers were as convinced of the efficacy of the devices as the policemen that were waving them around, and were deterred as a result.

But now that the fake bomb detector jury has shown itself to be immune to the sort of psuedo-scientific nonsense peddled by Mr McCormick, how about prosecutions of some more quacks and purveyors of snake oil? There may well be a few dieticians and psychoanalysts, some of them pretty rich, who should be asked to explain themselves in front of a jury.

And the prosecution of some homoeopaths at the Old Bailey would be public money well spent. Such people prey on the credulous and sick with their absurd and fraudulent gobbledegook. Mr McCormick argued that he was not a fraud because the Government actually helped him to sell his silly machines. In the same way public money is still being given to homoeopaths, giving them a respectability that they do not deserve.

So go on Avon and Somerset Police, fresh from your well deserved triumph against Mr McCormick, what are you waiting for?

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Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

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