Helston pub affray conviction 'unsafe' as court bailiff slammed

A TRURO Crown Court official who gave legal guidance to a jury was today criticised by senior judges after a man's conviction over a fight in a Helston pub was quashed at the Court of Appeal.

Maxim Peter Mole, aged 30, of Church Street, Helston, appeared at crown court in Truro last December after violence erupted at the Red Lion pub, leaving one man with a fractured jaw.

He was convicted of affray and given a 12-month community order, but today took his case to the Court of Appeal, alleging that serious “jury irregularities” meant the conviction was unsafe.

Giving judgment and overturning the conviction, Lord Justice Treacy had harsh words of criticism for an unnamed crown court official who, the judge said, had “in effect, usurped the judge's position.”

The London court heard that, following Mole's conviction on December 19, a member of the jury came forward and complained that she had felt pressured into delivering a guilty verdict. She said the jury had written a note for the judge, describing how they had not been able to agree unanimously on a verdict, and that a court official had told them what might happen.

She said they were told that they would stay in the jury room “as long as it takes” or until the judge decided that they had been deliberating for long enough that a majority decision could be accepted.

The jury bailiff was asked to provide an explanation of what happened and admitted reading the note which was intended for the judge.

He said he had explained to them that they had been asked to reach unanimous verdicts and, if they passed the note up, the judge might tell them to continue.

The jury had then decided not to send the note and proceeded to deliver unanimous guilty verdict, the bailiff said.

Lawyers for Mole argued that that was a breach of the rule banning communication with jurors while they are deliberating, meaning Mole's conviction was unsafe. Lord Justice Treacy, who heard the appeal with Mr Justice Wilkie and Mr Justice Andrews, said the bailiff had “crossed the prohibited line.”

“The jury was seeking guidance from the judge, they weren't seeking guidance from the jury bailiff,” he said.

“The bailiff interposed himself between the judge and jury in a way that should not have occurred. The bailiff in effect usurped the judge's position, reiterated parts of the judge's directions and predicted how the judge would proceed to deal with the jury's note.

“The jury bailiff's note demonstrates that there is substance in the claim of irregularities raised by the appellant. The prohibition of improper communication with a jury whilst deliberating is a strong one. A jury bailiff cannot trespass upon the territory which is reserved for the judge. The effect of the bailiff’s intervention was one which interfered with the free communication between the judge and jury. In the circumstances, we consider that the only option is to hold that there was a very serious irregularity in this trial which of itself renders the verdict unsafe.”

The court did not order a retrial.

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