Case for the defence;Books

28th August 1998 at 01:00
THE JURYMAN'S TALE. By Trevor Grove. Bloomsbury pound;11.99

Jury service can be a chore. But for one journalist it provided the material for a compelling defence of the jury system. Caroline St John-Brooks examines the evidence

In the spring of last year, Constantinos Korkolis was sent to prison for 25 years. He and three accomplices had kidnapped a Greek shipping magnate, demanded a pound;5 million ransom from his family, and kept him gagged and blindfolded in a windowless closet for nine days - until the police broke down the door. Korkolis's sentence was the longest ever imposed for kidnapping in Britain.

The trial at the Old Bailey took more than four months. The jury - a randomly picked group of Londoners - were in each other's enforced company for 64 days. Providence decreed that one of them should be Trevor Grove - journalist, one-time editor of the Sunday Telegraph, and husband of the Times columnist, Valerie Grove. He has written a riveting insider's account of this complicated case, in which the jury took three and a half days to reach a verdict.

But his aim in telling his tale is not just to trace the ins and outs, the surprises and subterfuges, the shifts in sympathy and under-standing as this courtroom drama unfolded. He also throws a revealing spotlight on the jury itself. The day the trial finished, Grove writes, he and his 11 fellow jurors might have been seen drinking in a pub not far from St Paul's Cathedral, "packed tightly round a single table. You would have judged that there was something odd about the mood of the group as we exchanged telephone numbers and addresses, a kind of stunned hilarity. We must have looked like the survivors of an air-crash".

His account of the process by which this disparate group of people welded themselves into a working unit, is not just fascinating - it is inspiring. Everyone had a role to play. Bob, a postman, had a knowledge of cars; Anna's Mediterranean background gave her a special understanding of the Greek family; Eddie, an office cleaner, knew about electronics and telecommunications - crucial in a case in which mobile phones played a key role.

But, above all, the book is a plea for the retention of the jury system at a time when it is under threat. Virtually anyone who has served on a jury has been impressed with the seriousness with which people from all walks of life set about their daunting task.

In the second part of his book, Grove interviews judges, barris-ters, police, academics and jurors who support the current system - and some of its fiercest critics. Some see it as an ancient and integral part of our democracy; others as a cumbersome procedure which has outlived its usefulness and too often results in perverse decisions.

Trevor Grove, after serving no fewer than four times, is a staunch defender of an institution which he describes as not only very old and very English but "gloriously democratic, uniquely classless, disinterested, down to earth and fair". But, he admits, "no one would claim that the jury is a precise instrument for discovering the truth".

Reform of the current system - if only on grounds of cost - is now on the cards. So Grove offers his own suggestions as to how it could be enabled to work more effectively:

* Make it harder for the middle classes - often potentially useful jurors - to get off jury service, perhaps by allowing jurors to choose the dates on which they will serve within a given period of, say, a year or 18 months; * allow individuals to volunteer; * swear in a 13th juror so that if one has to drop out during a trial the costly business of starting again can be avoided; * urge members of juries to keep written notes; * require new jurors to watch a trial as part of their induction; * and improve the quality of citizenship education in schools.

Grove's book is a must for anyone who wants to see a crucial aspect of our public life working at its best. What's more, as a clear and comprehensible account of how our justice system operates, it cries out to be used as a source book by anyone involved in teaching citizenship to the jurymen and women of the future.

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