16 July 2010
Updated – 6/8/10
Five activists were recently acquitted for causing £180,000 damage to an arms factory after successfully deploying the defence of lawful excuse. But did the judge’s politically coloured summing up of the evidence to the jury render the trial a miscarriage of justice?
Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantee a “fair and impartial tribunal”, and it is sometimes claimed in courts that a judge or judicial panel are biased and therefore cannot preside over a fair trial. While not often successful, the complaints are always taken seriously. As any law student knows, justice must not only be done but also be seen to be done.
To this end, judicial impartiality has been much in the news of late. Cherie Booth QC, an observant Christian, was apparently rapped by the Office for Judicial Complaints for reducing a defendant’s sentence on the grounds that he was a “religious man” who knew what he did was wrong. Meanwhile, in a less successful challenge to a judicial decision, Lord Carey failed to convince the Court of Appeal that a judicial panel of special religious expertise was needed in the case of a Christian marriage councilor sacked for refusing to counsel gay couples.