AFTER sitting for eleven weeks and hearing one hundred witnesses the jury in the inquest on the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes - who was killed in July 2006 in London after being misidentified by the police as a terrorist -- has been told that it cannot consider a verdict of unlawful killing. The judge conducting the inquest, Sir Michael Wright, told the jurors that the evidence did not justify such a conclusion and that they must therefore choose between deciding that Mr Menezes was lawfully killed and bringing in an open verdict.

This instruction to the jury has been described as “surprising” which, in all the circumstances, seems an understatement. It is, of course, the duty of a judge to instruct members of a jury on points of law that may need clarification before they retire to discuss their verdict. But in this case Sir Michael explained that “All interested persons agree that a verdict of unlawful killing could only be left to you if you could be sure that a specific officer had committed murder or manslaughter.” Who were these “Interested persons” and why have they the right to decide that the jury would be incapable of “being sure” about what happened? Yesterday, before the jury retired to begin their deliberations, four members of the Menezes family walked towards the jury box and opened their jackets to display messages reading “Your legal right to decide.” Menezes's mother, who had sat through the 11-week inquest, walked out when the judge made his surprise announcement.


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