TRIAL BY JURY, HABEAS CORPUS, PEACE BY ORDEAL by Donal Kennedy

 

 

It’s thirty one years since I served as a juryman. It was THE YEAR OF THE BIG WIND when many millions of trees were knocked over like ninepins in the South of England. Including Six of the Sevenoaks which gave that town in Kent its name. 

I was on four juries and it was an educational experience. Twelve adults, selected at random on each jury regardless of colour, creed or educational attainment. I was impressed how seriously nearly all the jury-persons took their responsibility to weigh up the testimony of all the witnesses. I think only one jury-person, female, had Fintan O’Toole’s capacity to determine a life-and-death matter (in favour of death) in 30 seconds. She was a Solicitor’s Clerk and believed the police always got their man or woman bang to rights. The other eleven managed to dissuade her and the accused was acquitted unanimously. The offence he was charged with was relatively minor, but might have carried a penalty of death or transportation to Botany Bay in the days of our great-great-grandparents

Some writings by Thomas Keneally might convince you, as they do me, that those days are not that remote.

I was impressed also by the counsel for prosecution and defence, and most of all by the razor sharp intelligence of the various judges, their recall of every word spoken by witnesses, and their consideration of against and for those accused and their rights. I’m told by an experienced counsel that some judges are stupid, snobbish, prejudiced ,out of touch, arrogant, overbearing and otherwise obnoxious, but that many are as I found them, fully paid up decent members of the human race.

England revels in being the home of trial by jury and Habeas Corpus and rightly so. But far, far too often, both protections have been withdrawn from accused persons. Suspended, hanged as high as men and women have so often been for the Wearin’ of the Green.

But the cases I and my fellow jury-persons tried had no political complexions. The cases were heard in Kensington Crown Court, just beside Harrods, a celebrated department store, which charged, at its convenience, a pound for a gentleman, or commoner to have a leak. At that price I’d have expected its owner to adjust my dress. At least.

The Court’s address was in Hans Place, an address I knew of, since about 35 years previously I first read  PEACE BY ORDEAL by Frank Pakenham, his masterful study of the Anglo/Irish negotiations of 1921. 

It was in Hans Place that the Irish Delegation (with the exception of Michael Collins) stayed at that time.

Those who have seen GUYS ‘N’ DOLLS    may recall the famous crap game in the New York sewer, where BIG JULIE, a Chicago hood  and his sidekick (who carried guns) played with  unmarked  dice which only Big Julie could read. In the Anglo/Irish negotiations the British side played by Big Julie’s rules and the Irish were given an OFFER THEY COULDN’T REFUSE. Not in the circumstances.

In the early hours of a morning last December when similar negotiations at a similar hour were in progress in London, I re-read the passage by Pakenham, on the signing of the Articles of Agreement.

And I prayed for Ireland.

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