In the four long weeks that the jury were out deliberating the fate of the accused, the defendants sat in Birmingham Crown Court waiting. After a week or so, partly as a way to pass the time and partly out of interest in a world that he still knew very little about, Rob began sitting in on various trials that were taking place. He was astonished by how different his jury looked to the jurors he witnessed in these other trials. These short trials were being heard by jurys that appeared to be composed of a true cross section of people across ages, classes and income brackets. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you get a bit of an idea…
The concept of trial by your peers is what our justice system is founded upon, but in this case I would argue strongly that this was not the case. Here’s the thing: It was estimated that this trail would take 9 months. If the defendants had gone on to give evidence, which they had always assumed they would and for which Rob had prepared an 1000 page proof setting out every conceivable thing about the business, movement of money, films made, services provided etc, the trial would certainly still be running now and would probably have lasted for a year. Who can sign up for a nine to twelve month trial? Certainly not anyone who runs their own business. We don’t know much about the jurors on this trial, except that they could read. One potential juror was unable to read what was on the card she was given during the swearing in and so the judge passed on her, but that was where the bar was set… They had to be able to read.
I want to make it quite clear from the start that I don’t blame the jury for what happened, but I will say this. A system that asks 12 random people, all under the age of 40 (this may be slightly generous), and most in their 20’s, to decide on complicated tax arrangements that the top legal minds in the country argue about, needs to be questioned.
The judge certainly questioned it by throwing the case out. He knew beyond doubt that this was not a criminal case, but sadly the Court of Appeal is known to have a vested interest in decisions being made by jury. The image that comes to mind is a class of five year olds in an undergraduate neuroscience lecture. The prosecution knew this of course, which is why they did everything they could to get this in front of a jury (more on this another time) because it is a fact that you never know what a jury will do or why they do it, or how in this case they constructed whatever it is that they imagine happened here.
I would love to speak to someone from the jury about how they came to their decision, because to this day no one knows their rationale for the conviction. They are not required to give one.
I honestly have no idea what went on in that court room where it was decided that these men had planned and executed a huge fraud, because that is what has to happen for a verdict of fraud to be returned… You can’t commit a fraud by accident. You have to set out to commit a crime – you have to have intent. In a criminal trail such as this was, it is also for the prosecution to prove that the defendants are guilty of the offence upon which they have been indicted and not for the defendants to prove that they are innocent, and this was a key factor in why the accused never gave evidence.
How the jury got to a place where they could make this call based on the relevant evidence, (or lack of it) in front of them is a mystery. I do know this though, because I was there: IFC was not just a business but also dream over which my husband agonised and to which he gave his life for many years. He is a born entrepreneur and this was a brilliant idea, or so it seemed at the time.
I do feel genuinely sorry for the jury. When you are asked to do jury service you hope for a nice juicy case: A Miss Scarlet in the library with the candlestick kind of affair, so to have to sit day after day, listening to the kind of dry legal jargon that is a feature of any kind of tax case, being constantly sent out of the room whilst the lawyers and judge debate what can and cannot be said or presented must be more than tedious.
I understand therefore that what made the most impression on them was probably the opening week when the prosecution made their allegations. The fact that this was not backed up by relevant evidence (as we know for certain because of the case’s half time dismissal), was perhaps understandably lost on them, and the closing statements of the prosecution followed the same line. I find it extraordinary that a QC can get up in court, present documents out of context and talk about circularity in funding, arms length control of funds and off shore companies as if they are illegal when in fact, they are not.
Can I blame the jury for not knowing this? I didn’t know it before I was forced to take this involuntary crash course in tax law and why should they? What is more difficult to understand is why they were not told that the judge had thrown the case out, and that they were not party to vital information such an opinion from any tax expert.
I went up to Birmingham only once, to hear Robs QC deliver his closing speech. It was the only thing the jury had heard directly on Rob’s behalf due to the fact that he didn’t give evidence. I watched in dismay as two jurors slept, totally out for the count on their benches, throughout the entire day. Others looked around the room, fiddled with their courtroom iPads, and did nothing to conceal their general disinterest as vital information which they had not yet heard was relayed about how the schemes worked, why they complied with tax law and the efforts made to ensure this etc. Again, I don’t blame them for this – for all I know the sleeping jurors may have genuine medically diagnosed narcolepsy, who knows? Whatever the reason, they slept, then they convicted.
I don’t blame them for being bored and only listening to the hype. Perhaps there was someone, even a few people, who fought for us in that locked room. Someone who knew what they didn’t know, and was prepared to admit it. Perhaps they looked at these handsome, arty looking men from London and presumed them to have perfect lives with perfect wives in mansions and assumed they were righting some social wrong. Perhaps they wanted to send a message to the huge corporations out there not paying their taxes and thought that the men whose lives they had in their hands were all part of the club?
In fact the very business that HMRC destroyed by informing every one of the producers involved in the film collective that Rob and the others were being investigated for fraud, was aimed at supporting independent film makers: ordinary men and women scrabbling around in this apparently glamourous, but actually very difficult and mostly financially unrewarding industry. They did not damage a big corporation and they did not just take a bulldozer to our lives, but also those of many others, trying to make good films that would inject cash into the uk.
Despite the best efforts of HMRC, the scheme provided development money that helped to make films which generated many more millions for the economy than would have been lost if the investors had been paid out, which they weren’t, so there was never any loss to the tax man in any case…Confused? The jurors certainly were.