The right to sit on a jury is a fundamental part of our society. Juries have been described as a 'bastion of liberty against the state'. Juries allow ordinary citizens to participate in the justice system. A survey by the Bar Council and the Law Society found that over 80% of people were likely to have more confidence in juries than any other people in the justice system. People have confidence in the fairness and impartiality of the system. Although juries deliberate in secret, the system can be said to be 'open' because it allows ordinary people to participate. Slapper has said that the public are more critical and socially aware than ever before, so juries are more likely to think for themselves.
Lord Devlin described juries as 'the lamp that shows that freedom lives'. Juries can base their decisions on the idea of 'fairness', rather than on the law. Juries protect individuals against oppression and they reflect a community's sence of justice. Clause 29 of the Magna Carta 1215 protects the right to trial by our 'peers' - this is by far preferable to having 'elitist' judges deciding whether the defendant is guilty. In R. v. Ponting, Clive Ponting was a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Defence during the Falklands conflict. He released confidential information suggesting that the British such an Argentinian battleship, the Belgrano, which was actually sailing away from British troops. He was charged under the Official Secrets Act 1911, and the judge directed the jury that he was certainly guilty. Even though he had clearly broken the law, the jury felt that he did the right thing in revealing the information and acquitted him. This was similar to Bushell's Case. Surely this is the greatest argument in favour of the jury trial: the jury enabled a man who did the right thing to go free, whereas a judge would have imprisoned him.
Better Decision-making on Guilt/ Innocence
Even the most complex trials requires decisions about simple facts - e.g. intention, witness credibility or identification. The jury is well-qualified to decide issues of fact. It has been suggested that because most jurors sit in criminal trials on only one occasion, they take their responsibility very seriously. Further, it would be dangerous to allow judges to decide both issues of 'law' and issues of 'fact'. One barrister said that the judge would have to do 'mental gymnastics'. He was describing R. v. Twomey - the 2010 armed robbery trial of the 'Heathrow Four' - the first criminal trial in over 400 years in England and Wales to go ahead without a jury. For example, if a judge excludes evidence as inadmisssible, he must try to put it out of his mind and pretend he has never seen it. Is that even possible? It is better to have a jury, with a judge to decide what evidence they should consider.
This can be seen as an advantage, since the jury are free from pressure in their discussion. Juries protected from outside influences (such as threats from the defendant) when deciding on the verdict. This allows them to give a verdict that may be unpopular with the people or with the judge (such as in Bushell's Case), and to ignore the strict letter of the law (such as in R. v. Ponting). It has been suggested that people would be less willing to serve on a jury if they knew that their discussions could be made public.
Research published in 2007 by the Ministry of Justice shows that there are no differences between white, black and minority ethnic people in responding positively to being summoned for jury service, and that black and minority ethnic groups are not significantly under-represented among those summoned for jury service or among those serving as jurors. The research also found that racially mixed juries' verdicts do not discriminate against defendants based on their ethnicity.
Lack of Competence
Jurors are selected at random, so there are bound to be jurors who lack intelligence/ seriousness. Lord Denning thought jurors should be chosen like magistrates - by interview, with references. However this would be expensive. Research has shown that jurors can have real difficulty understanding concepts such as 'reasonable doubt' and 'intent'. Complex fraud trials can take months - there is a compelling argument that judges should try those kinds of case as jurors would have trouble understanding the issues. However, many judges nevertheless support the competence of juries to decide these cases. Further, there are problems concerning the ways a jury might reach a verdict. The process is done in secret. The Contempt of Court Act 1981 bans anyone, including judges, from enquiring into the secrets of the jury room. In R. v. Young, a jury found the defendant Guilty of murder after one juror convinced the others to hold a seance with a ouija board - they apparently communicated with the dead victim, who spelled out the victim's name and the weapon. This reached the defence as a rumour and a retrial was directed because it is an improper method of reaching a verdict.
Some criminals will obstruct the process by intimidating jurors. The Criminal Justice Act 1967 permits majority verdicts after two hours and 10 minutes of deliberation, but there are fears that some defendants have enough influence to 'persuade' enough jurors to find a Not Guilty verdict. Jurors in the 1984 Brinks-Mat trial were given police protection to and from court. In R. v. Twomey, the defendant had two retrials after he intimidated each jury panel. He ended up being tried by a judge.
There have been suggestions that jurors are biased against certain groups. Some might be racist or dislike defendants who have certain political views. Some may be biased against the police, requiring stronger evidence than is actually needed to find the defendant Guilty. Judges may also be accused of being biased, but the difference is judges have to given reasons for their decisions; juries do not.
Jury trials are far more expensive than Magistrates' Court trials. Magistrates are unpaid and do not sit in twelves. Juries are being selected all the time and most Crown Courts will have more than one trial going on at one time. The process would be a great deal cheaper if juries were volunteers like magistrates, who sit on several cases, rather than just one. This would also make them more experienced and knowledgeable.
Difficulties with Appeals
Unlike judges, juries cannot give reasons for their decisions. The whole deliberation process is done in secret, so the public cannot learn the crucial reasoning behind the verdict. The Human Rights Act 1998 requires people to know the grounds upon which a court decision is based. Where does this leave due process (fairness) in trial by jury? If a jury is biased and incompetent, the public will not know.
- Public Participation
- Better Decision-making on Guilt/ Innocence
- Racially Balanced
- Lack of Competence
- Difficulties with Appeals