Posted by: John Brace | 8th January 2019

What happened on the 2nd day of the New Ferry Explosion Trial?

What happened on the 2nd day of the New Ferry Explosion Trial?

                                          

Queen Elizabeth II Law Courts (Liverpool Crown Court), Derby Square, Liverpool, L2 1XA (5th January 2019)

Queen Elizabeth II Law Courts (Liverpool Crown Court), Derby Square, Liverpool, L2 1XA (5th January 2019)

This report of a criminal trial in the Liverpool Crown Court continues from What happened on the 1st day of the New Ferry Explosion Trial?

The reporting restrictions I referred to in my report on the first day linked to above mean I can only report on what happened after around 3.15 pm. The following may be of interest to those ever called for jury service wondering what happens.

After some preliminary legal discussions a pool of around thirty potential jurors entered Court Room 5-2, Judge Mernary QC said that they were running out of chairs and asked some to come to the end nearer himself. Jokingly he said he wouldn’t ask them to sit two to a chair.

He apologised that they hadn’t got seats, continuing he explained that it would be not very long before he would send them to a more comfortable room. The potential jurors were told that the case was expected to take longer than the normal jury summoned jury service of two weeks. Reassuringly he referred first to newspaper reports of cases that had lasted six months or even a year, but this would not be one of those and would probably be three to four weeks (four weeks was a pessimistic estimate).

For cases of that sort of timespan, there was a larger panel from which twelve jurors would be selected to try the Defendant Mr Pascal Blasio (who he described as the person in the grey jumper in the dock).

Judge Mernary QC explained that Mr Blasio occupied that position conventionally in an English criminal trial and that it was for no other purpose but that convention.

He warned the jurors that it was important that they do not know Mr Blasio or know any witness in the case. Describing it as an interesting case, he explained that a significant allegation had been made against the Defendant, which all arises from events that many of the potential jurors (if not all) had seen reported in the newspapers to do with the substantial gas explosion in New Ferry in March 2017.

Continuing he explained that the devastating explosion had caused massive damage and injury to the people in the area and that the criminal allegations had arisen connected to that. Mr Blasio was accused of allegations that he denied which was why he was being tried which was the background to the trial.

The fact that a potential juror knew about the event, may have read a newspaper or even driven past New Ferry Town Centre wouldn’t be a reason to not be on the jury. However there may be good reasons or personal reasons why a juror could not serve beyond the normal two weeks.

To find out their own personal circumstances, availability and suitability a questionnaire had been prepared. Potential jurors were to fill in their name and answer a series of questions designed to ascertain whether or not there were particular reasons why they shouldn’t or couldn’t serve on the jury.

Jurors shouldn’t know the Defendant or any witnesses or be connected to anyone affected by the explosion or be directly or indirectly affected which were what part of the questions were on. Knowledge of people involved or a connection to the Defendant may also be reasons why they couldn’t legitimately be part of the trial.

The trial would last more than two weeks, perhaps three to four weeks, so for example if a potential juror had a holiday booked in the next four weeks, which was booked and paid for that the potential juror had been looking forward to which would be put at significant risk by jury service he would take it into consideration.

Joking he continued by informing potential jurors that did not mean that they were to rush out and start booking holidays, it referred to if the holidays were pre booked or for example a potential juror had a hospital appointment.

He expressed no doubt that their employers were disappointed that they were at work and on jury service and there was no doubt that employers regarded them as valuable, critical employees. However employers have to make people available for jury service however long it will be.

Some people would be critical to an organisation, such as a small organisation or one person business that would have to find cover for weeks which would lead to real financial liabilities. The answers to the questions would record this in detail.

However he warned them that the fact that their employer did not want them to be on jury service was not a good enough reason and it would have to be a very good reason indeed not to be part of the jury.

He had no difficulty with potential jurors answering none or not applicable, but he asked potential jurors to please answer all questions even if it was just no or nothing. If there was any doubt at all, it should be put on the form, when it was considered finished the questionnaire was confidential and only he would look at it. He would not raise matters in it with counsel unless the matter required their assistance and he would attempt to do so in a way which would not betray confidential or sensitive information.

Judge Mernary QC told potential jurors not to be afraid and it was much better to raise an issue now rather than half way through the trial. As it was now half past three, he instructed them to fill in the questionnaires. As the potential jurors had their mobile phones they had permission to use them to call anyone that they may like. For example if they have a partner, their wife or husband or if they needed to make a call to their employer or partner. He asked them to complete the questionnaire as far as they can, but would give them overnight to think of any possible reason.

This didn’t mean that they should strive to unreasonably find an excuse out of a long case, but they may be someone with childcare or caring responsibilities and would be able to cover two weeks but struggle beyond that.

However this may lead to further questions about why reasonable arrangements couldn’t be made to continue beyond two weeks as it was vitally important that there be a full number available after random selection.

Jury service was important, but it could be challenging. The case was likely to be interesting and rewarding. Potential jurors would receive a copy of the questionnaire on their way out and were asked not to forget to put their name on it.

When all potential jurors had performed this task it might then well be time to go home. Completed questionnaires should be given to court staff and when all potential jurors had done it they would be permitted to go home.

Finally he said that if there was anything arising from the questionnaires then he would ask jurors about it in the morning.

Shortly after this, the potential jurors left.

Judge Mernary QC said it appeared to him now that before he sent away he should have ordered the potential jurors not to attempt to research the case or use the internet overnight and asked his court associate to inform the jurors of his direction in that regard.

Due to the ongoing nature of the trial comments are turned off.

However apart from stories I will publish in the future when reporting restrictions are lifted, at the moment due to schedule clashes Leonora and I are unable to cover further days of this trial.

The first week of this trial was discussed in Letter from the Wirral – audio podcast – episode #1 New Ferry Trial 13th January 2019

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