Ian Workman – first prosecution under the new Juries Act offence?

Ian Workman – first prosecution under the new Juries Act offence?

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Photo from the BBC

Introduction

On 19th December 2011 Ian Workman was convicted of killing his wife, Susan Workman, and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a tariff of 17½ years. He has maintained his innocence since then and has the support of his family in trying to clear his name

 

Fresh Evidence

His family believe that they have “new evidence that categorically disproves the prosecution’s case“. If so, they will have to take that to the CCRC for them to consider.

So far, so normal in cases of alleged miscarriages of justice. What is unusual is that his family took out an advert in the papers (the Lancashire Evening Post – the local newspaper that covered the area that the jurors for the trial would have been chosen from).

They were offering a payment of £1,000 to any of the jurors who would come forward and give their opinion on the fresh evidence.

 

What’s the (legal) problem?

It’s always been an offence (under s8 Contempt of Court Act 1981) to “obtain, disclose or solicit any particulars of statements made, opinions expressed, arguments advanced or votes cast by members of a jury in the course of their deliberations in any legal proceedings“.

Governments like to legislate and by virtue of s74 Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, a specific offence to “disclose information about statements made, opinions expressed, arguments advanced or votes cast by members of a jury in the course of their deliberations in proceedings before a court” or to solicit or obtain such information“.

What’s the difference between the two offences? The new one is a criminal offence and thus is tried in the criminal courts, but other than that – not much.

Anyway. A lawyer reading the advert would hear alarm bells. The family said that they had “taken legal advice and were confident they were doing nothing wrong in placing the advert.

And, just about, that seems right. Talking about the fresh evidence of itself is not enough to breach the law.

However, it does seem that it is impossible to do what they were planning on doing, which was “to create a film of the jurors discussing fresh evidence about the case and publish it on YouTube” without touching on the “statements made, opinions expressed, arguments advanced or votes cast” the first time the jury met.

But right now, before any of this was done, it does not appear that any law has been broken.

 

Isn’t the only way to know if the verdict is safe to ask the jury?

Any criminal lawyer who has been to the Court of Appeal on the basis that there is fresh evidence or a legal misdirection, will have  had the experience of being told that notwithstanding that, the verdict is the safe as the jury would have convicted anyway.

Is that right? Surely the only way is to ask the jury themselves?

There is a certain logic there. However, the Court of Appeal have made it clear that once a verdict is given by a jury, then that’s it – the role of the jury is no more, and they cannot change their mind (see Vanegas [2014] EWCA Crim 2911 for an example of things that can go wrong and a bit of background).

It follows from that, that the view of a juror down the line is of no relevance. This does make sense – there’s all sorts of things that the jury could have heard that would influence them and it is impossible to isolate just the new evidence.

So, the CCRC will have just analyse the fresh evidence without the benefit of what the jury actually thought of it. But, the Workman family have not done anything to fall foul of the law.

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

3 COMMENTS

  1. A fascinating article. The family might have been better too have sought a legal opinion on the ‘new evidence’. The jurors are being asked to test this evidence without hearing any challenge to it or rebuttal of it from the prosecution; hence being asked to express a subjective rather than an objective view. Arguably, the view of the jurors on the new evidence would be objective to the extent that it would be compared to evidence already given and challenged by both sides.

    • Assesment of witness evidence is in itself a subjective exercise whether from the prosecution or defence. The jury can not know the truth in what will be differing opinions and versions of events. They will use subjective assessment based on their own experiences, preconceptions and limits of understanding. That being said I see what the family are to do, but it would surely be better taking the fresh evidence to the authorities. But there again judges are never keen to overturn verdicts it seems .

      On a separate note, I don’t see why jury members after the case is finished can not give their reasoning behind whatever verdict they have reached .

      • It always used to be the case that jurors could comment (I think) up until 1981. A cynic would suggest that the reason it was stopped is otherwise too many appeals would be launched on the basis that it was clear that the jury did not understand the directions, etc etc …

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