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Appeal on Behalf of Six Men Convicted of Conspiracy to Murder Rejected

The Court of the Justiciary in Glasgow has refused a joint appeal against the convictions of six men convicted of conspiring to murder, on the basis that the trial judge had failed to investigate allegations of jury bias.

The six men were convicted after a lengthy trial in 2019 and were sentenced to imprisonment ranging from 13 to 20 years. 

At the trial, which took place through April 2019, it was alleged that three jurors had been overheard by the partner of one of the accused discussing the case at a bus stop outside the court. It was reported that she heard the jurors claim that they had “made up their minds” and that nothing that the counsel for the defence would say in their closing speeches would influence them to change their mind. 

This remark was reported to the Clerk by the counsel for one of the then-accused. The Clerk allegedly claimed that the partner had been “lying”, a claim that was passed to the trial judge. After this matter was brought up in court, the trial judge determined that the matter should be investigated. The sheriff recused himself from the investigation as to remain an impartial decision-maker, charging the Clerk to carry it out instead. 

The Clerk determined that there was no evidence for the claim by the partner of the then-accused, and that whilst the jurors had spoken to one another outside the court, it could not be proven what they discussed. The investigation was subsequently reported to the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service on the basis that the Clerk has been prejudiced towards the partner of the accused and had already made his feelings known before carrying out the investigation. 

At the appeal, counsel for the appellants submitted that the Clerk had no authority to carry out the investigation, that his bias affected the investigation and that there was no statutory authority for a Clerk to investigate and report on trial matters. It was submitted that the investigation should have been the responsibility of the Sheriff and was fatally flawed.

The opinion of the Appeal Court was handed down by the Lord Justice General, sitting with Lord Pentland and Lord Matthews. It was determined that the investigation was handled in a proper manner and that the Clerk had acted with his power to investigate and to report on the matter. 

Delivering the decision, the Lord Justice General stated that: “If any party considered the investigation to be inappropriate, for whatever reason, they could have objected to such a course then, before the investigation had commenced”. 

He went on to hold that the Clerk indeed did have the authority to carry out the investigation in such a manner, saying: “This particular Depute Clerk was a clerk of many years’ experience. There is no reason to doubt his competence to carry out the delegated task”. 

The Appeal Court concluded that even if the Clerk was determined to be biased due to his comments, it would not mean there was an unfair trial. The Lord Justice General said: “Even if it were accepted that such a remark had been made, it was at best an ill-informed and perhaps flippant remark made prior to the calling of the trial diet. As such it provides no stable foundation for a plea that the trial thereby became unfair”. The appeal was accordingly rejected, unanimously. 

 

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