The Jury; the most traditional and historically fair arbiter of guilt and innocence is tasked with one of the most daunting tasks imaginable. Has the person facing them been proven guilty to such an extent that twelve of their peers see fit to deprive them of their liberty? In the UK, and across the world, the role of the jury in court proceedings has been gradually whittled down to the most severe cases. Central to our faith in a fair and just criminal justice system is the faith which we have in twelve ordinary citizens to determine the defendant’s fate.
Like their countless predecessors before them, their verdict is in and their verdict is clear. After nine weeks of evidence, the eight men and three women tasked with determining the fate of Ulster and Ireland rugby stars Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have deemed them not guilty of the charges of rape and sexual assault they faced.
These three syllables caused both elation to the families of the four defendants, but trauma to those who surround the victim. As the public intrigue subsides following the nine weeks of evidence, and one of the most sensational trials in Northern Ireland concludes, have we just witnessed the Northern Irish version of the famed OJ Simpson trial?
Like the defendants we saw throughout this trial Orenthal James Simpson was a revered sportsman, a decorated American Football player and TV personality. When Mr Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were found brutally murdered at her home, an investigation rapidly established Mr Simpson as the main suspect. With Mr Jackson and Mr Olding sharing this same prestige, it was almost unthinkable that they could be party to such grave charges such as rape and sexual assault. The charges at first seemed impossible, how could athletes held in such high esteem be linked to such a grotesque crime? The context from the outset of the trial was not to determine if they were guilty, but how members of our society of such prestige could be thought to be guilty of such a heinous charge.
Mr Simpson faced an overwhelming burden of evidence. Forensic evidence linked the victim’s blood to Mr Simpson’s car, along with a trail of blood from his house and a credible timeline of witnesses to make the case for murder. Whilst not this strong, Mr Jackson and Mr Olding faced a troubling burden of proof – an emotive and articulate victim who delivered six days of powerful evidence, a medical report from the Rowan stating that the victim had both bruising around and a bleed in her vagina and supporting police interviews where the victim had conveyed many of her points.
Make no mistake, a defining point of this case was the fact Mr Jackson and Mr Olding had the courage to take the stand and face cross-examination, something Mr Simpson did not have the courage to do. But can a defendant exercising their right in a courtroom to be a witness to their own case be held in such high esteem? The mere fact a defendant elects to waive their right not to speak cannot be a clear sign they ought to be exonerated.
The trial of OJ Simpson became famed for its defence team representing their client. Dubbed the ‘Dream Team’ comprised of famed attorneys such as Johnnie Cochrane, Robert Shapiro and F. Lee Bailey, they embarked on defence based on alternate theories and questioning the work of the police. Suggesting that the murders might have been performed drug dealers who killed the victims using ‘Colombian Neckties’ or attempting to pedal the theory that Mr Simpson was framed by a racist LAPD clique. The insinuations and allegations pushed in the trial were unthinkable and brought Los Angeles to the brink of riots, all in the name of defending their client.
Whilst the collection of QC barristers assembled to represent the four men in the trial of Mr Olding and Mr Jackson may not appreciate being described as the ‘dream team’, their skill in advocacy was unquestionable during the conduct of the trial. Their case seduced the jury compelling them to question why the police did not ask the victim for a third interview, or through calling an expert witness to contest that the bleed in the victim’s vagina might be resulting from the victim being on her period. With defence counsel subtly seeking to taint and question the motives of the victim with every question, word and insinuation, the harrowing incident she experienced became less and less clear as defence clouded her every word.
But the problems faced by both trials was their length and the composition of the juries. Whilst the OJ trial spanned a remarkable 11 months, the nine-week trial of Mr Jackson and Mr Olding pales in comparison. But for a trial that was due to last five weeks, running four weeks over is such a monumental disruption to the lives of the jurors. Whilst Judge Smyth conducted the trial well, compared to Judge Ito in the trial of Mr Simpson, the fact that these proceedings lasted so much longer it left the jury in an impossible position to make meaningful deliberations.
If justice is to be served, the jury cannot merely rubber stamp an argument made by counsel in the court proceedings. It is their duty to make their determination based on the facts alone in the case, not simply the more appealing rhetoric or resonant stereotypes triggered. What disconcerts me most is the time taken to reach a verdict on six charges against four men in the trial of Mr Jackson and Mr Olding. Three hours and forty-five minutes. The fact that a jury can reach a determination on charges of such magnitude in the time it takes to fly to the Canary Islands or Greece is remarkable. What forced the people we entrust to deliver fair and prudent justice to rush their judgment in such a short period of time? Perhaps its weariness, perhaps it truly is certainty of innocence. But what it is concerning that on a matter so important the jury barely took the time to explore the evidence before coming to their conclusion of innocence.
Whilst the verdict is in and we owe it to our peers to respect their conclusion, it is our right and proper duty to question how they reached this decision in such a brief period of time. As the fallout from Mr Simpson’s trial should show, just because Mr Jackson and Mr Olding might have been declared innocent, it doesn’t mean their lives will ever return to the way they were before the incident in June 2016. Simply because Mr Jackson and Mr Olding have been declared innocent before the law, the coming days and months will see them face a much cruder form of justice in the court of public opinion. With the toxicity seen on social media since the verdict and without the hotshot barristers to defend them from this point forth, the future course of Mr Jackson and Olding will be determined in a much cruder environment than Court 12 at Laganside Courts.
The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.
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