Conviction quashed for possible juror bias

Posted: 25th February 2013

A businessman who was found guilty of being knowingly concerned in an attempt to ship machinery to Iran in breach of an export ban has had his conviction quashed due to the trial judge’s refusal to discharge a juror who had himself raised doubts about whether it would be fair for him to remain on the panel.

The defendant had been charged under section 68(2) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 with being knowingly concerned in an attempt to export to Iran electrical switchgear which the prosecution claimed was capable of being put to a military purpose. He was convicted and received a suspended sentence.

The Court of Appeal rejected the defendant’s arguments that his conviction was unsafe on grounds that he had not been adequately notified in advance by the authorities that an export licence for the goods was required. Arguments that his trial had been prejudiced by inappropriate comments made by prosecuting counsel during the course of the trial were also dismissed.

containers But allowing the appeal, the court ruled that the trial judge had not dealt adequately with a note from one of the jurors in which he revealed that, in his professional capacity, he was frequently involved in the supervision of similar transactions. The juror’s special knowledge and experience was directly related to the central issue raised during the trial and, although he was deeply committed to returning a true verdict, the possibility of unconscious bias could not be excluded.

The court concluded: “We are driven to the conclusion that, on the particular facts of the case, a fair minded and informed observer would have concluded that there was a real possibility of unconscious jury bias such that a fair trial was not possible. Accordingly, justice has neither been seen to be done nor, in such circumstances, can the safety of the conviction be maintained.”