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JURIES ARE WORTH KEEPING

12angrymen

The Jury System is a cornerstone of justice and liberty. However, they are also controversial. On the one hand, there are those who see the jury system as an integral part of a free and impartial justice system. On the other hand, there are those who doubt the jury’s ability to deliver fair and honest verdicts.

Let’s start with the obvious fact that juries are far from perfect. They are imperfect because the people who make them up are imperfect. Ignorance is one major problem. Opponents of the jury system argue, with some justification, that it is too dangerous to place the fate of another human being in the hands of people incapable of understanding the complexities of the cases they are judging. Often those tasked with deciding the outcome of cases lack the technical or legal knowledge to adequately interpret the evidence and testimony being presented to them. It has been suggested that in these cases individual jurors will often resort to pre-conceived beliefs or allow themselves to be influenced by jurors with more knowledge – whether real or perceived – than they have.

Ignorance, however, is an easily solved problem. Why not select jury members based on their familiarity with the subject matters under discussion? Someone who works in the finance industry – bankers, financial advisors, accountants, and so forth – would be more equipped to judge financial-based crimes than the layperson.

Then there’s the question of who can sit on a jury. In the United Kingdom an individual needs to be aged between eighteen and seventy, have been a resident of the UK for at least five years since the age of thirteen, and must be mentally stable to serve on a jury. It would more than reasonable to suggest that qualifications for jury duty ought to be more stringent than they are. It is more than reasonable to suggest that the age limit ought to be raised from eighteen to perhaps twenty-five (if not older) and that jurors under the age of forty ought to have certain intellectual qualifications. This would ensure that those tasked with determining guilt or innocence would have the wisdom and/or intelligence to comprehend the grave nature of the responsibility they have been burdened with.

Those who criticise juries also argue that they are prone to bias and prejudice. In one shocking case, Kasim Davey was jailed for contempt when he boasted: “I wasn’t expecting to be in a jury deciding a paedophile’s fate. I’ve always wanted to fuck up a paedophile and now I’m within the law.” (Seemingly it never occurred to Mr. Davey that the man he was judging may have been innocent). Likewise, it is well known that many African American defendants were condemned by all-white juries in the Jim Crow South.

However, much of this is a red-herring. Professor Cheryl Thomas, the director of the Jury Program at University College of London, spent ten years analysing every jury verdict in England and Wales taking into account the race and gender of both defendants and jurors. Professor Thomas concluded that:

“There’s no evidence of systematic bias, for instance, against members of ethnic minorities, or that men are treated differently than women, that if you live in a particular part of the country or you have a certain background that you’re more likely to be convicted than others.”

Besides, those who criticise the jury system forget that juries reflect the values and principles of their society. If juries repeatedly deliver unjust verdicts it is because there is a sickness in that society. The fact that all-white juries tended to convict African American defendants merely because they were black is a reflection on the virulently racist nature of that society, not of the jury system itself. Today, the legal system is careful to disqualify those jurors who may harbour prejudices that will inhibit their ability to judge the facts impartially. Courts are very quick to disqualify jurors who may know the defendant or alleged victim, those with emotional links to the case (i.e. a victim of rape sitting on the jury of a rape trial), and so forth.

Lord Devlin, the second-youngest man to be appointed to the English High Court in the 20th century, once described the jury system as “the lamp which shows where freedom lives.” The principle behind juries is that the individual ought to be judged by his peers based on community standards, not by the politically elite. Without juries, our legal system would be dominated by judges and lawyers. What lies at the centre of the debate over juries is the question of whether the whole of society or just the elite should be involved in the dispensation of justice.

Contemporary Arrogance is the Perfect Fodder for Human Evil

irancouple

At this present moment there are three Australians sitting in Iranian prisons. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Jolie King, and Mark Firkin have all been charged (and, in Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s case, convicted) with espionage. Jolie King and Mark Firkin have been accused of flying a drone over a military installation without a permit whilst the charges against Kylie Moore-Gilbert remain unclear.

To say that Jolie King and Mark Firkin were naïve would be an understatement. The couple, who raise money for their global adventures on Patreon, stated on their vlog that their ambition is to “inspire anyone wanting to travel and also to try to break the stigma of travelling to countries which get a bad rap in the media.”

Some countries have a bad reputation for a reason, a fact Jolie King and Mark Firkin seemed unwilling to comprehend. Iran, in particular, has a bad reputation for political repression, human rights violations, and corruption. Iran has been noted for using excessive violence against political dissidents, suppressing the media, carrying out arbitrary arrests, and using inhumane punishments.

No wonder Amnesty International has stated that the human rights situation in Iran had “severely deteriorated.” Iranian prisoners lack access to adequate medical care, trials can hardly be described as fair, and confessions obtained using torture are freely admitted in court. It was even reported in June 2018 that defendants accused of breeching Iran’s national security laws were being forced to choose from a list of just twenty state-approved lawyers.

There is nothing new about Jolie King and Mark Firkin. History is filled with people who deny the existence of evil. And many of them have paid the ultimate price. Jay Austin and Lauren Geogehan claimed in their blog that “evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives that are not our own.” This beautiful sentiment didn’t stop them being stabbed to death by Islamic State jihadists in Tajikistan.

A large part of this problem comes from the social disease of moral relativism. We have lived with peace, prosperity, and freedom for so long that we’ve forgotten what it is like not to have them. Our complacency has led us to believe that all moral beliefs are equally valid. And it has led us to believe that there is no such thing as evil.

The problem with moral relativism is that it is not true. Actions have consequences and some consequences just happen to be bad. Saying that all moral beliefs are equally valid is no different than saying that one cannot make judgements about the behaviour of others because there is no absolute standard of good and evil. It’s a rather convenient argument when people are doing the wrong thing and know it.

There are two fundamental problems with moral relativism. The first is that it is a self-defeating argument. By saying that there is no absolute morality you are, in fact, making an absolute claim. The second is that hardly anyone actually believes that morality is relative. If they did, they would regard rape and murder as being equally acceptable behaviour as charity and kindness.

Rather, people use moral relativism to justify their own immoral behaviour. It gives people an easy way out by allowing them to behave in whatever manner they please without moral justification. And this, when you think about it, is precisely what people want: the freedom to do whatever they please without having to feel guilty about it.

Socially progressive people like to see themselves as so sophisticated that they can do away with good and evil. Jolie King and Mark Firkin bought into such a worldview. They now find themselves sitting in Iranian prisons for their troubles. Such is the price of modern arrogance.

THE RIDDLE OF INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY

Defendants At Nuremberg Trials

On November 20th, 1945, twenty-four leaders of the defeated Nazi regime filed into Courtroom 600 of Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice to be tried for some of the most reprehensible crimes ever committed. Over the next ten months, the world would be shocked to learn of the depth and extent of the Nazi regime’s mechanised horrors. By the end of the trial, twelve of the defendants would be sentenced to death, seven would be sentenced to periods of imprisonment, and three would be acquitted.

Contrary to what one may believe, the perpetrators of the Holocaust were not psychopaths, sadists, or otherwise psychologically disturbed individuals. Rather, their actions arose, as psychologist Gustave Gilbert (1911 – 1977) concluded, from a culture which valued obedience. The observation that mass-horror is more likely to be committed by normal men and women influenced by social conformity would later be categorised by Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975) as the ‘banality of evil.’

This shouldn’t be as too much of a surprise. After all, human beings are hard-wired to obey orders from people they deem superior to themselves. In 1961, Yale Psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933 – 1984) carried out a famous experiment which explored the conflict between authority and personal conscience. Milgram’s experiment was inspired by an interview with the Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss (1900 – 1947). Höss was asked how it was possible to be directly involved in the deaths of over a million people without suffering emotional distress. Chillingly, Höss answered that he was merely following orders.

The process of the experiment was simple. Two participants, one who whom was actually a researcher, would draw to decide who would take the role of teacher and who would take the role of student. (The system, needless to say, was rigged to ensure the actual participant took the role of teacher). The teacher and student were then separated, and the teacher was taken to a room with an electric shock generator consisting of a row of switches ranging from fifteen to four-hundred-and-fifty volts.  Supervising the teacher was an experimenter in a grey lab coat (an actor in reality). Through the experiment, the teacher was to ask the student questions and administer an electric shock every time the student got a question wrong. As the experiment continued the student would deliberately give wrong answers. As the shocks got more and more severe, the student would scream and beg for mercy. When the teacher expressed concern, however, the experimenter would insist that the experiment continue. By the end of the experiment, Milgram had concluded that all participants would continue to three-hundred volts whilst two-thirds would continue to full volts when pressed.

The Nazis were able to create such obedience through a well-calculated propaganda campaign. Hitler outlined the principles of this campaign in Mein Kampf:

  1.  Keep the dogma simple. One or two points only.
  2.  Be forthright and powerfully direct – tell or order why.
  3.  Reduce concepts down to black and white stereotypes
  4.  Constantly stir people’s emotions
  5.  Use repetition.
  6.  Forget literary beauty, scientific reasoning, balance, or novelty.
  7.  Focus solely on convincing people and creating zealots.
  8.  Find slogans which can be used to drive the movement forward.

Similarly, Hitler’s speeches also followed a very specific and calculated formula:

  1. Hitler would unify the crowd by pointing out some form of commonality.
  2. Hitler would stir up feelings of fear and anger by pointing out some kind of existential threat.
  3. Hitler would invoke himself as the agent of a higher power.
  4. Hitler would present his solution to the problem.
  5. Hitler would proclaim the utilisation of the solution as a victory for both the higher power and the commoners.

In essence, the Nazi propaganda machine facilitated feelings of group identity and then used conformity to gain control over that group. They gambled that the majority of people preferred being beholden to a group than identifying as an individual.

If there is any lesson which can be derived from the Holocaust it is that the distance between good and evil is shorter than we like to believe. As clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson is fond of pointing out, if the Holocaust was perpetrated by ordinary people and you’re an ordinary person, the only logical conclusion is that you too are capable of horrendous evil. It is not enough to be critical of those in powers, eternal vigilance means being critical of our own need to conform and obey. Our freedom depends upon it.