[clarification: I'm posting this question here because it is arguably a better forum than scifi.SE]

In "The Reichenbach Fall" (Sherlock season 2, episode 3), Jim Moriarty breaks into the Jewel House at the Tower of London, the vault of the Bank of England, and Pentonville Prison. Of relevance here is the fact that he wants to get caught in the act (e.g., he deliberately stands unmasked in front of security camera, and then waits for the police to find him inside the locked-down Jewel House, sitting on the throne and wearing the Crown Jewels). At his trial, however, the jury unanimously finds him not guilty, and he walks free, much to everybody's surprise. Shortly after, he reveals to Holmes that the jurors declared him not guilty because he had his minions threaten them and their families with death and other horrible consequences, should they find him guilty. The whole chain of events is Moriarty's way of showing Holmes and Watson that he is beyond the reach of ordinary justice.

Question: in UK law, is the judge obliged to accept the jury's not-guilty verdict, even in cases where the defendant is so obviously guilty as in this episode? More precisely, does the judge have the power to ignore the jury's verdict (on the grounds that the verdict is inherently incompatible with the available evidence) and start a retrial with a different jury?

This question, of course, presupposes that the judge either hasn't been threatened or has decided to maintain his/her integrity in the face of threats.

2 Answers 2


Currently, following Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 sections 54-57, the court can certify that interference or intimidation has resulted in acquittal, in which case the acquittal can be set aside.

  • Wouldn't a new trial and jury then be needed for the interference case? And in that case, couldn't Moriarty hypothetically, with his vast criminal organization, intimidate the jury again, resulting in him walking free?
    – Griffin
    Apr 26, 2020 at 20:42
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    @Griffin At that point Moriarty would have demonstrated that he was beyond the legal power of the State. The State would react by treating him as an existential threat and would Cry Havoc! and unleash the Dogs of War. Mar 18, 2021 at 14:02
  • In the U.S. the Judge can make a directed verdict in a jury trial, essentially saying that the verdict is a matter of law (the prosecution doesn't have a crime to charge the defendant on) and not fact. These are very rare and can only be used to declare the defendant not guilty. Additionally Jury tampering is a crime, and doing so is one of the few ways to void Double Jeopardy of the original crime.
    – hszmv
    Apr 23, 2021 at 17:16
  • @Griffin The prosecution could apply for a trial without a jury. cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/non-jury-trials
    – richardb
    Aug 16, 2021 at 18:21

This (pretty much) actually happened in England on 23rd April 2021, when a jury acquitted a group of Extinction Rebellion protestors despite the judge directing the jury that the defendants had no defence in law. See here.

  • The question asks about an acquittal due to a threat to jurors. In this case there were no threats, at elast5 none is mentioned in the kinked news story. Presumably this is a case of Jury Nullification that is the jury thought these people should not be convicted whatever the law might say. Not really the same thing, IMO. Apr 23, 2021 at 17:26
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    "This question, of course, presupposes that the judge either hasn't been threatened or has decided to maintain his/her integrity in the face of threats." seems to be a mention of a threat. Apr 23, 2021 at 17:55
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    At least under US law, Jury tampering, whether by threats or bribes, gets the verdict thrown out, while jury nullification does not. I suspect, but am not sure, that the same is true in UK law, so it makes a difference. Can you cite statute or case law saying otherwise? Apr 23, 2021 at 20:11
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    Re English law, I think you are correct. (Scottish law could say absolutely anything, and probably does, just to be different..) I'm not sure about jury tampering by jurors - The Runaway Jury by John Grisham springs to mind!
    – Neil T
    Apr 23, 2021 at 20:25
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    The Grisham novel occurred to me also. I don't know of any roughly comparable case in real life, however. There was a well-known case in the US where a mobster got off via bribery and was eventually re-tried. It was held that he has never been in jeopardy and so Double Jeopardy did not apply Apr 23, 2021 at 20:35

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