Saturday, 27 February 2010

Football League Referee Appointment Checker

As you may know I am the editor of Vital Bradford and produce content for it (with appalling infrequency). One of the things I like to do is a little penpic of whoever will be in charge of the game.

The Football League launched a shiny, and fancy website at the start of the season called Refworld. It's a good place to find all sorts of information about the men in black. And it provides a feed of latest news stories.

However, if I'm honest, all I care about is the person who could be ruining my afternoon. I want to know who will be in charge of my fixtures. And I want to know as soon as possible when it's announced.

And there's no way of doing that. There's no way of seeing all upcoming fixtures for your club, or all past appointments. In a nice, easy fashion.

Yahoo Pipes is an excellent tool. I shared with you previously about how I put together something providing travel alerts from the BBC. And it's a similar principal behind the Football League Referee Appointment Checker.

Basically tell it which club you're interested in, or the referee who is notoriously dodgy and voila, you'll have the upcoming fixtures and the referee, his two assistants and the 4th official.

Subscribe to the RSS feed it generates, add an iGoogle widget, a Yahoo Pipes 'badge' or subscribe to it by email. In theory, it should update whenever the football league announce new officials.

It will be interesting whether or not it does but I hope that someone finds this useful. Even if you don't, I will.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Jury Service

On Thursday I finished my stint as a juror. It was a very interesting experience and one that I would happily repeat. I was lucky, I had as action-packed a fortnight as is possible; many others go on Jury Service to find that they sit around twiddling their thumbs, reading books or doing jigsaws.

So, what did that involve?
  • 1 book
  • 2 completed jigsaws
  • 3 cases
  • 2 court rooms
  • 3 judges
  • 6 barristers
  • 13 live witnesses
  • 34 jurors
  • over 8 hours of deliberation
  • 2 guilty verdicts, 1 'yes' verdict
Whilst in the middle of jury service I didn't talk about it very much. As jurors we 'judge the evidence', talking about the intricacies of a case with anyone else, no matter how briefly, could lead to us being influenced by people who haven't sat in the jury box and committed to truthfully carrying out our duties.

Now it's over, our verdicts are in and those involved in the cases are waiting on their fate I thought I'd sum up my impressions of the experience (and hopefully not find myself getting into trouble for doing so).

The first day of Jury Service was quite frustrating as we waited for court to spring into life.

We, the new jurors (9 of us - 8 men and 1 woman) were briefed and then left to our own devices. Eventually 6 names were called and they were taken away. I was one of the 3 who remained and after another pause we were taken next door to be combined with 11 of those who had started their jury service in the previous week. At about 3pm we were called for and a jury was chosen. Mine was the last name to be called and so my life as a juror began. What happened to the other 6, or the 2 who didn't make it I don't know but their Monday must have been very disappointing.

In the first case the defendant was unable to enter a plea because he suffered from an as yet undiagnosed mental illness. As a result we were not asked to come to a verdict of guilty, or not guilty but establish whether or not he was the individual responsible for committing the acts as they were alleged. The case spilled over onto Tuesday but once the Crown made its case we quickly reached a unanimous verdict to find that the defendant would be held on remand because no beds were available for him to be assessed at a secure hospital.

This was the first time that I came face to face with what was, for me, the most disquieting aspect of jury service - the aftermath. This young man needed care as well as punishment but due to a lack of space at the relevant place he was having to be held in an unsatisfactory environment. The judge made sure that he would not be left languishing in prison by placing his case under review in 2 weeks' time. That's this coming week. Hopefully a bed will have been found and a proper medical assessment can be carried out.

So, by Tuesday afternoon I was a seasoned juror and we very quickly started another case. This was a bit more involved and saw us given document bundles over 200 pages long (we were lucky, the judge's was about twice that). The Scarborough Evening News reported on this case so if you want to know the finer points you can follow this link. This was a complex case involving six different counts so when we started our deliberations on Thursday afternoon we knew it would take some time to reach our verdict and were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on all counts by the end of the day. At some point on the Thursday I was elected foreman and the following morning after we reconvened we reached unanimous verdicts and I had to stand up and tell the judge our decision.

Again the repercussions of that couldn't be part of our thinking. The defendant in this case had four children and one of the outcomes of our verdict we discovered was a custodial sentence having thought that unlikely when sat in the jury room. She will be sentenced in a fortnight.

Monday began with waiting but it was much shorter than the previous week (there wasn't enough time to complete a jigsaw). In fact we were set up and ready to go before lunch. This was the most difficult of the three cases and evidenced by the fact we spent over 5 hours deliberating from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday morning. At some point on Thursday the judge called us in to say that he would accept a majority verdict but didn't really want to hear from us unless it was unanimous, which, in the end, it was.

His sentencing won't take place for another 4 weeks during which time his life has to be dismantled. The defendant's barrister outlined the consequences of our decision to the judge who had been all set to immediately take him into custody. While you know that these are consequences of what he has done it's difficult because ultimately those other people will suffer because of the decision we made coupled to the crime he committed.

What happened in the jury room is not for public consumption but it definitely made me believe in the jury system as a tool of delivering justice. When you sit in that jury box you are one of 12 people asked to make a judgement on evidence that has the potential to alter the future of whoever is sat in the dock, and those who are dependant on them. None of my juries decided they wanted to make the evidence fit a particular version of events. None of my juries pre-judged the verdicts after one or two sessions. All of my juries carefully considered the issues, pieced together the evidence, understood the law as the judge directed and came to verdicts that were, for us, beyond doubt.

It's hard because in two of the cases that absence of doubt has consequences far beyond just the individual represented there whether it's for family members, employees or customers. The human cost of a crime isn't just counted by the direct victim(s).

It's hard because that can mean we have more compassion for those affected by the activity of court than for those affected by the original crime (although I imagine that depends largely on the nature of the case).

It's hard because we weren't present when decisions were made, actions taken and words written. We know that someone who has taken to the stand has got the wrong end of the stick either maliciously or accidentally - not everyone has told us the true version of events.

It's hard because there are legal professionals who sit in robes and wigs making the case for the prosecution, defending the accused and judging the law. They go through masses of preparation and sit in court all year round. They will see similar cases and will expect a particular verdict. After all, not only are they as capable of judging the evidence as us, they actually know the ins and outs of law and crime.

Being a juror is not easy. It shouldn't be. Being a juror ought to be difficult, it ought to keep you thinking about justice, criminality and perception because then you're not just treating it flippantly. It has been suggested that we should have professional juries but the idea of being tried by 'a jury of your peers' means that real men and women sit round a table and hammer out a decision.

Across the two weeks people brought papers into the jury rooms. We had Guardians, and Suns; Mails and Mirrors and we discussed the nature of justice. There was a lot of reflection in those rooms about the ease with which we jump to conclusions, the way in which the media portray the decisions reached by jurors and the wider perception of how judges respond (generally with too much leniency). Whilst people might not reconsider their response to crime, or the way they treat former offenders the act of serving on a jury clearly affords the opportunity to ponder what justice and truth look like for ourselves because we can't refer to anyone else.

Those waiting to be sentenced probably don't think that they're very lucky at the moment. Having been on the inside of the jury room I think they were. I think all involved with those three cases were because the 34 people charged with considering the evidence did so even-handedly, carefully and fairly.

I would have loved to be writing this saying that I sat on three cases and found three people innocent, to have cleared the names of the accused. Sadly, unanimously, the evidence in front of us did not let us do that. If our minds were even 1% doubtful then we could not have returned the verdicts we did. Perhaps that surprised our judges, our lawyers and those who stood accused. I hope it didn't.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010


I'm doing jury service at the moment. And the courts are full of spiritual connotations. If it's not bowing in reverence, or calling judges 'Lord' or 'Worship' it's the very presence of an advocate interceding on behalf of someone else. Mind you, it's hardly a surprise that an environment built to house truth and justice should remind me of God.

However, what's most striking is the spiritual barometer of trustworthiness, the swearing of an oath on the Bible.

'I swear by Almighty God that I will faithfully try the defendant(s) and give a true verdict (true verdicts) according to the evidence.’

All those on my jury chose to do this. I didn't.

And you may think that's quite strange given that I am a Christian, that I believe in a personal relationship with God and that the Bible is a phenomenal tool for equipping us to live to our potential (actually irrespective of whether you have faith or not).

I don't know whether the 11 people who swore on the Bible would describe themselves as Christians. If they wouldn't then it seems a little strange to start court proceedings with what amounts to a falsehood (not that this is an accusation of perjury!).

It might make the Daily Mail weep but I just don't understand the reason for having a spiritual barometer of trustworthiness. And the reason for that is because Jesus tells his followers that oath taking, that swearing by heaven or by God isn't necessary.

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most well-known chunks of Jesus' ministry (and another one of those moments in the Life of Brian where the two figures are demarcated). In amongst the Beatitudes and a warning about our thoughts rather than just our acts Jesus talks about oaths.

Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. (Matthew 5:33-36)

And why shouldn't, as followers of Jesus, we take oaths? Because Christians should 'let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one'.

Part of being a Christian is being trustworthy, of having integrity, of being credible and living a life that reflects the person of Jesus (or tries to). This is what Jesus is saying. He's saying if you follow my teachings then you don't need to swear oaths to make a promise. If you promise to do something, why would you do anything other than keep it?

When I said I was affirming there was slight confusion about what that meant. Someone said it was "for those who aren't religious". Obviously, for me, it was actually for completely the opposite reason.

If the court system was to lose the spiritual barometer for trustworthiness there would be OUTRAGE and it would be further evidence of a creeping secularism. Would it? Wouldn't it actually be Christians recognising that it's in conflict with what we believe and for those that don't have a relationship with God, or even any faith in Him, creates a situation that may actually ring hollow?