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HMA v Ian Higgins
Nov 6, 2023
On sentencing, Judge Young told Higgins.
“Contempt of court includes conduct that denotes wilful defiance of, or disrespect towards, the court, or that wilfully challenges or affronts the authority of the court.
You have already accepted that your behaviour in September 2023 constitutes a contempt of court, and I have made that finding.
This is not based on offending the dignity of the court, or any of the court personnel. It is based on interference with the administration of the law, as carried out by the court.
The criminal justice system in this country depends on the jury system for the prosecution of the more serious offences. This involves the participation of members of the public in trials as jury members. They are selected at random. They are not volunteers. This is a civic duty. It is undoubtedly an onerous civic duty. It requires time and effort. It is inconvenient. Expenses are paid, including limited compensation for loss of earnings, but it is not a task that is financially rewarding.
Criminal justice cannot be delivered without the citizens who respond to citation by attending court and, if selected, sitting as jurors. Every week of the year, dozens of people do just that. They give their time and they give their attention.
You were cited, as a member of the public, to participate and to do your civic duty.
In a telephone conversation the day before the ballot, you expressed displeasure at being cited, and stated that this would result in a loss of earnings. However, you did attend court as required on the day of the trial. I do not regard that telephone conversation as amounting to contempt. It is your statements and behaviour on the first day of the trial that do amount to contempt.
On 22 September 2023 the balloted jurors and substitutes attended at 0900. You and the others were placed in a room together. The clerk and macer each spoke to the group before the start of the trial.
The macer addressed the group of jurors and substitutes. He asked if any of the jurors or substitutes had any issues to raise which would affect their ability to sit. You raised your hand and said that you did. You stated in front of the other jurors and substitutes that you had zero interest in this case or any case. You stated ‘You will not get my attention at no point’. You stated that you did not want to be there and ‘You had better let someone know’. The macer stated that he would relay that to the clerk. You replied “Yes, you do that”.
The macer found your tone to be abrupt and somewhat aggressive. The macer noted that other jurors looked towards you when you spoke, as if they were also surprised at the way you spoke.
The clerk then spoke to you. She took you away from the other members of the jury and spoke to you in private. You stated ‘I have zero interest in this’. The clerk stated that this was not a reason that justified excusal. She explained that the trial would be relatively short and that you would be excused for a period after sitting as a juror. You responded ‘That’s fine but I just want to highlight to you that I have zero interest. I will just sit there like a statue’.
The case then called. You were in position no 6. The clerk read out the indictment to the jurors. She paused twice during the reading to observe that juror no 6 appeared to be sleeping. When she did so, I noticed that you were sitting with your eyes closed. On one occasion, I asked if all jurors were paying attention. You looked up at me at that point, then looked to the side with a slight shrug of your shoulders. When the clerk started reading again, you shut your eyes again. At later stages you opened your eyes from time to time, but kept your gaze downward.
After hearing the charges and the estimated length of trial, the jury were asked to retire to consider whether they needed to inform the court of any matters that might affect their ability to carry out the duties of juror.
When the jurors and substitutes had left the courtroom, the accused’s representative stated that he and his junior had been observing juror 6 while the charges were read. They had noticed that the clerk’s intervention had not done much good. They therefore submitted that you should be replaced by a substitute. The Advocate Depute stated that he had noticed juror 6 making a deliberate show of closing his eyes as if he was not participating. He joined in the motion. I adjourned the case and left the bench.
During the adjournment, the macer went to the jury room to enquire if any jurors had matters to raise. You stated that you had already told ‘her’ that you had zero interest, and you felt the same way. You said ‘You won’t get any attention from me’.
Your statement to the macer 'You will not get my attention at no point' is a clear indication that you were not willing to pay attention to the evidence during the trial, or otherwise engage with the trial. This amounts to a stated refusal to carry out the duties of a juror.
The role of the juror does not simply require presence at court. It also requires participation in the trial process. This involves listening to the evidence, speeches and legal directions, participating in the deliberations, and voting on a verdict. A juror who sits like a statue and does not give his attention is not carrying out the duties of a juror. He is therefore thwarting the administration of justice. His actions are deliberately directed at, and threaten to interfere with the authority of the court and the administration of justice.
Your comments to the clerk 'I have zero interest in this.' 'I will just sit there like a statue' are further express statements of your refusal to carry out the duties of a juror. You do not suggest in mitigation that these were either careless comments or idle threats. After saying this, you did appear to sit in court 'like a statue'. Your demeanour was noted by the legal representatives in court, by court staff, and by me. The legal representatives were sufficiently concerned by your behaviour in court to move for you to be dismissed from the jury.
Your intention, as you accept, was to avoid jury duty, and you were successful in this. Thankfully, there was relatively little delay to the progress of the trial, due to the presence of another member of the public who appeared as a substitute juror and did not shirk her responsibility. You therefore avoided giving up your own time and attention by passing that burden on to another, responsible member of the public. She was therefore inconvenienced in your place. The trial lasted a week.
You accept that this behaviour was not a momentary lapse of judgement. Your statement was made publicly in front of the other jurors. You declared your attitude both before and after the case called. Your second statement to the macer was made after the charges had been read. By that time you were well aware of the gravity of the charges, which included charge of rape. At that stage, you had sat in court with the other jury members, before the court personnel and the accused. Your behaviour had twice been drawn to the attention of those present in court, but you did not either change the way you behaved, or offer any explanation. This cannot be regarded as a single spontaneous comment that you immediately regretted. This was a stance that you adopted and expressed throughout your appearance at court.
The facts set out above comprise a deliberate and public attempt to evade your civic responsibility. You have now explained that there were particular reasons why you did not wish to sit as a juror. However, you did not state these reasons to anyone concerned with the case until after the day in question. Instead, you indicated a refusal to carry out the duties of a juror, in front of other unempannelled jurors.
Behaviour of this sort has a wider potential implication than the effect on that single trial. If other people selected for jury service were to act this way in order to avoid jury duty, then the system would be undermined. The court must therefore consider what disposal is appropriate for the wilful and public thwarting of the jury selection process in a High Court trial.
I have now heard from your counsel in mitigation. I have seen a Criminal Justice Social Work Report and a medical report from your GP.
Matters have been raised that, looking back, cast a different light on your behaviour if taken at face value.
First, you say that a long-term relationship had broken down relatively recently. You say that this had significantly affected your mental health. You had taken time off work as a result. You are prescribed medication, and you have had troubling thoughts.
You were suffering low mood at the time of jury service. However, you chose not to mention this to the court staff. The reasons you give is that you were ashamed.
Secondly, you say that you first heard the nature of the charges when these were read out by the clerk. You say that this triggered memories of events in the personal life of someone close to you. I heard more about this from your counsel today. You say that your emotional reaction was the reason for your behaviour in the jury box.
Once again, you chose not to mention this to the court staff.
You say that you felt that no-one would listen to you if you did explain the true reasons. However, you have given no reason for this supposition. These are the sort of matters that are commonly raised by prospective jury members.
I am prepared to accept that both of the circumstances you have referred to are grounded in reality. That being so, you came to court with information known only to you, that may have been relevant to your ability to sit as a juror.
Prospective jurors are repeatedly told that court staff want to know if there are any matters which would make it difficult for them to sit as jurors. This procedure is not carried out in public. Jurors first have a private conversation with the court clerk by telephone. Once they come to court, they have another opportunity to speak in private to the clerk. A face-to-face meeting is offered on request, where delicate information can be disclosed.
Individual decisions on whether jurors can be excused are made on a case-by-case basis. However, the two matters that you have now raised would at the very least have been matters that court staff and the judge would have considered carefully if they had been disclosed.
Instead, by your own account, you repeatedly chose to conceal the true reasons for your reluctance. You repeatedly gave false reasons and acted in court in a way that aroused concern.
Be clear about this: it is not contempt of court for a person to be genuinely unable to sit as a juror in a particular trial. This is a common occurrence.
Instead, it is your deliberate and repeated behaviour, including statements that you now say were false, made openly in front of the other jurors, that brings about these contempt proceedings.
I consider that the matters mentioned today do provide significant mitigation of your behaviour. As a result, I am going to reduce the penalty significantly below the level that I would otherwise find appropriate.
The sentences available are restricted to admonishment, a fine, and a custodial sentence. Given your behaviour on the day, as mitigated by the new information provided to me, I consider that this case falls between the extremes of custody and admonition. Therefore a financial penalty is appropriate.
I have considered all of the information provided. This includes your lack of previous convictions, your work history, your caring responsibilities, your remorse, and your income.
Overall, I consider that an appropriate fine is £400. As stated, this is considerably less than would have been appropriate without the mitigation which has been provided.”
6 November 2023