In recent times several cases in the courts have piqued public interest, not only because of the high profile, but the elements. It brings into sharp focus how we sometimes interpret justice in the public domain.
The long running case known as the “Klansman Trial” has highlighted the need for a look at criminal trials being held in “no jury” circumstances. There are some who believe it removes the protection of “jury of your peers” being able to assess the evidence as presented and give a decision after deliberation. In this case, there are some who believe the judge, who just happens to be the Chief Justice, is using a certain degree of overreach.
The absence of the jury has provided the almost unchallenged and unbridled opportunity for him to be performing constant assessments of defence and prosecution throughout the proceedings. There appears to be an academic analysis of the case with the judge playing the role of the jury, not at the end of the case, but with every passing day. It would be fair to say that both sides keep getting tips on what to ramp up, avoid, include, discard and reconfigure.
In a normal jury trial one would expect the case to be proceeding on its own merit with either side seeking to use advantage to their favour as the trial continues. Instead, it is the judge who has kept highlighting every possible element of the case long before summation. His handling of the trial has caused several ripples with some questioning the “appropriateness” of his actions and publicly revealed statements. The Chief Justice is aware the entire trial is placed in the public domain and I honestly believe he thinks there is an obligation for the public to be aware of the intricacies of the process.
The danger within that premise can provide the shadow of a bias on either side, not the natural run of justice, with it being more about satisfying the public. It must be remembered we exist within the context of a most violent society, the nagging perception that the courts do not function at times in keeping with what we deem “proper” sentencing in many heinous crimes. It is important for this case to display an even handed and reasonable outcome, which we expect a summation to do. However, it appears the summation started at the beginning of the case. Would a jury have made a difference? We won’t know now.
On another note, the trials that have many using early guilty pleas and getting sentences which greatly grate the conscience of the public need to be addressed as well. The issue of who gets bail on one matter with another individual having the same set of factors being denied to seemingly soothe the public uproar also makes one wonder if justice sits on a selective scale.
The law is a complex creature, but justice must not only be done, but must be manifestly seen to be done.