Confidence In British Jury System

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“The jury system is often described as “the jewel in the Crown” or “the corner-stone” of the British criminal justice system. It is a hallowed institution which, because of its ancient origin and involvement of 12 randomly selected lay people in the criminal process, commands much public confidence.” – Lord Justice Auld (1999) Review of the Criminal courts of England and Wales, Chapter 5, paragraph 1

Is such confidence in the jury system justified?

Trial by jury is the idea that 12 ordinary randomly selected people are chosen through a process called voire dire and are asked to be the arbiter of facts in a criminal trial. Under the Juries Act of 1974, in order to be eligible for jury service, one must be a) between the ages of 18-70, b) registered on the electoral roll, c) lived in the United Kingdom for the last 5 years, d) not been disqualified according to parts I & II of s.1. This essay will seek to argue that although several merits have been attributed to the institution in that it prevents the application of unpopular laws and allows for the facilitation of deliberate democracy, in recent times the role that juries play have cast a shadow on its true original function. My argument will focus on four main aspects; namely public participation and how this affects the nature of perverse verdicts, and the concept of the model jury in which it is so highly regarded upon, and the issues regarding impropriety which run counter to it. I will be using a range of cases and evidence to illustrate and highlight the most serious questions that the future of trial by jury poses. Essentially, how the notion of confidence is in jeopardy and shows no real sign of improving.

Participation v Perverse Verdicts

In essence, trial by jury in England and Wales effectively encourages public participation and deliberative democracy. Lord Denning describes the process of jury service as giving ‘ordinary folk their finest lesson in citizenship.’ (Elliot & Quinn: 2008, 251) This can certainly be the case. Twelve ordinary lay persons that belong to various walks in life, drawn into the trial procedure, without any formal training and are asked to be the arbiters of the facts of the case, can provide a fresh innovative and legitimate approach. Their relative diversity of experience and their knowledge of common people, combined with their means of thought and conduct can outweigh a judge or a bench of judges. They help to assist and decide upon the rights of their fellow-citizens, and therefore their verdict paves the way forward towards the justification of those rights. Clearly, such participation offers the public insight into the mechanics of the judicial system; it successfully enhances a solid sense and sobriety of judgement and encourages serious responsibility in matters of important affairs. With participation comes the ability to judge according to conscience. This is due to the fact they can ultimately decide whether a person is guilty or not,

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