The jury’s unlikely champion

Author and former Sunday Telegraph editor, Trevor Grove, used the time he spent doing jury service putting the system itself on trial, writes Philip Hoult.

Trevor Grove recounts one incident in the kidnapping trial on which he based his book, The Juryman’s Tale, which should be a salutary lesson for all criminal lawyers.

He laughs as he mimics the way barrister Michael Gale QC, who represented the main defendant, said “Do you follow me?” when asking a witness a question at the same time as looking down his nose at the jury. This mannerism of Gale’s quickly became the jury’s catch-phrase.

Grove, perhaps feeling a touch guilty, is quick to point out that the court clerk thought Gale was a very good advocate.

But he still feels that too many lawyers adopt, consciously or sub-consciously, a “patronising air” or are out of touch when it comes to dealing with the jury.

Any lawyers involved in criminal or libel trials would be well-advised to read Grove’s book, which covers the four-month kidnap trial from the selection of the jury to the delivery of a verdict.

For Grove sheds important light on the psychology of the jury – how they face up to the responsibility of their task and how they react to the treatment meted out by the court and the lawyers.

He was selected for a four-month trial dealing with the kidnapping of Greek shipping broker, George Fraghistas, in London in April 1996.

Grove describes himself as “a believer” in section 8 of the Contempt of Court Act 1961, which prohibits the disclosure of a jury’s discussions once it has been sent out to deliberate and produce a verdict.

So perhaps frustratingly his book contains nothing of how the jury came to their decision nor the mechanics of what goes on in the jury room.

Rather the reader is left outside the door and given an overview of the system and a one-man perspective on how it works.

Grove, however, does give biographical outlines of his fellow jurymen although their real names are not used.

Despite the limitations placed by section 8, Grove makes a better fist of justifying the continued use of the jury system than many seasoned legal commentators writing without the experience of a trial behind them.

In some ways he is an unlikely champion of the jury trial. After all, as a member of the middle class he is exactly the type of person that usually runs a mile from the possibility of actually having to do jury service.

As he freely admits, he did attempt to get out of service by claiming that as a self-employed writer he could ill-afford to spend much time living on the lowly daily fee paid for jury service.

The idea for a book, Grove says, gestated “when it became clear that the trial would last a great deal longer than the original two-month estimate”.

He admits that he was “lucky” to have been selected for this particular trial rather than a “famously tedious fraud trial”.

Starting off “with the occasional note on a scrap of paper”, the book quickly developed momentum as the trial wore on and in the end this juror put the jury system on trial

Asked what would be the one change he would make to the current system, Grove points to the fact that “middle-class people get off jury service so easily”.

He advocates a major overhaul of the rules of exemption from service to prevent the liberal intelligentsia, who if asked would passionately defend the jury system, from escaping service.

With a twinkle in his eye, he mischievously suggests that lawyers should be forced to do jury service – then we might at last see the judicial process speed up.

On a more serious note, he says the tightening of the rules of exemption to get rid of the “nod and a wink” situation where the professional classes avoid jury service through sympathetic court staff who see a skiing trip as a genuine excuse.

Archaic legal language is another bugbear with Grove, who says the language used by the court should be much more accessible to jurors.

“Points of law, such as beyond reasonable doubt, are seldom explained,” he says.

“Why not have the judge sum up key points of law at the beginning of a trial, not just the end?”

He recalls an American judge’s comment that the current system was “like telling jurors to watch a baseball game and decide who won without telling them what the rules are until the end of the game”.

Some sort of system of volunteers, allowing people to sit on juries more regularly, would also improve the quality of juries – so long as it was properly vetted.

But perhaps surprisingly he rejects the idea of televising trials as he feels that this would only “intoxicate juries”.

Grove cites the US experience where jury members in high-profile trials become Oprah fodder, engaging in an endless round of television appearances.

Despite advocating change, and despite writing a book, Grove is keen to preserve what he calls the “mystique” of the jury system.

However, he realises that mystique alone is not a valid justification of the jury’s continued existence and believes that research into jury psychology would be a worthwhile exercise.

Grove is still clearly captivated by his experience and the “Blitz spirit” that jury service engenders among the 12 chosen people.

Asked if juries can also end up hating each other, Grove suggests this would be rare.

“People do bond and feel a tremendous sense of responsibility – there are very few non-participants.”

“They do not want to make fools of themselves,” he says.

He speaks of the euphoria the jury felt when, after convicting the defendants, the court was told of the extensive criminal past of Constantinos Korkolis, who masterminded the kidnapping.

Korkolis was sentenced to 25 years, the judge describing him as “the most evil and dreadful man I have ever met”.

Korkolis’ accomplices were also sentenced to 16 years in prison, although the sentences were subsequently reduced slightly by the Court of Appeal.

Grove and a few of his fellow jury members still meet for an occasional drink one year on and it is here where he confesses to being much more nervous about their reaction to the book than he is of the opinions of any lawyers.

But in a rare public endorsement of the English legal system Grove’s says his faith in the jury system remains unshaken.

“By some mysterious means juries do reach the right decision,” he concludes.

“There is still something slightly magical about it.”