Juries in criminal cases: The most important use of juries today is the Crown Court where they decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. Jury trials account for less than 1% of all criminal trials. This is because 97% of criminal trials are dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court and of the cases that go to the Crown Court about 2 out of every 3 defendants plead guilty.
Juries in civil cases:
Juries in civil cases are now only used in very limited circumstances but where they are used they have a dual role. They decide whether the claimant has proved his or her case or not, then, if they decide that the claimant has won the case, the jury also go on to decide the amount of damages that the defendant should pay to the claimant. A jury can be refused if the judge feels the case involves complicated documents or accounts or scientific evidence and is therefore thought to be unsuitable for jury trial.
The qualifications for jury service were widened in the Criminal Justice Act 1972 and were based on the right to vote.
The present qualifications are set out in the Juries Act 1974 so that to qualify for jury service a person must be:
Aged between 18 and 70
Registered to vote – as a parliamentary or local government elector
Resident in the UK, Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for at least 5 years since their Thirteenth birthday
They must not be:
- A mentally disordered person, or
- Disqualified from jury service
Disqualified permanently from jury service are those who at any time have been sentenced to:
Imprisonment for life, detention for life or custody for life
Detention during Her Majesty’s pleasure or during the pleasure of the Secretary of State
An extended sentence
A term of imprisonment of 5 years or more or a term of detention of 5 years or more.
Those in the following categories are disqualified for 10 years:
At any time in the last 10 years served a sentence of imprisonment
- At any time in the last 10 years had a suspended sentence passed on them
- At any time in the last 10 years had a community order or other community sentence passed on them.
Prior to April 2004 people in certain essential occupations such as doctors and pharmacists had a right to be excused from jury service if they did not want to do it. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 abolished this category. Other people who had the right to excusal were lawyers, judges, police officers etc. They are no longer able to refuse to do jury service but they can apply for discretionary excusal.
Anyone who has problems which make it very difficult for them to do jury service may ask to be excused or for their period of service to be put back to a later date. The court has discretion to grant such an excusal but will only do so if there is a sufficiently good reason. Such reasons include being too ill to attend or suffering from a disability that makes it impossible for the person to sit as a juror, or being a mother with a small baby. If a person is not excused from jury service they must attend on the date set or they may be fined up to £1000 for non attendance.
Once the list of potential jurors is known both the prosecution and the defence have the right to see that list. In some cases it may be decided that this pool of potential jurors should be ‘vetted’ –
checked for suitability by routine police checks or by a wider check of the juror’s background. Vetting should only be used in exceptional cases involving national security or terrorist cases and vetting can only be carried out with the Attorney-General’s express permission.
Selection at Court
The jurors are usually divided into groups of 15 and allocated to a court. At the start of the trial the court clerk will select 12 out of these 15 at random. If there are not enough jurors to hear all cases scheduled for that day at the court there is a special power to select anyone who is qualified to be a juror from people passing by in the streets or from local offices or businesses.
Challenging - To the array
Once the court clerk has selected the panel of 12 jurors these jurors come in the jury box to be sworn as jurors. Before the jury is sworn in both the prosecution and defence have certain rights to challenge one or more of the jurors. There are two challenges which can be made and in addition the prosecution have a special right of ‘stand by’
These are – To the array, for cause and prosecution to stand by jurors.
To the array –
This right to challenge is given by section 5 of the Juries Act 1974 and it is a challenge to the whole jury on the basis that it has been chosen in an unrepresentative or biased.
Fraser (1987) this was used because the defendant was of an ethnic minority and all the jurors were white. The judge in this case agreed to empanel another jury.
Challenging - For cause
For Cause –
involves challenging the right of an individual juror to sit on the jury. To be successful the challenge must point out a valid reason why the juror should not serve on the jury. An obvious reason would be that a juror is disqualified but a challenge for cause can also be made if the juror knows or is related to a witness or defendant.
In R v Wilson and R v Sprason (1995) the wife of a prison officer was summoned for jury service. She had asked to be excused attendance on the ground but this request had not been granted. She served on the jury which convicted the two defendants of robbery. Both defendants had been on remand at Exeter prison where her husband worked. The Court of Appeal said that justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done and the presence of Mrs Roberts on the jury prevented that so that the convictions had to be quashed.
- The judge decides points of law and the jury decides the facts.
- At the end of the prosecution case the judge has the power to direct the jury to acquit the defendant if he decides that in law the prosecution’s evidence has not made out a case against the defendant. This is called a directed acquittal and occurs in about 10% of cases.
- If the trial continues the judge will sum up the case at the end, to the jury and direct them on any law involved. The jury retire to a private room and make the decision on the guilt or innocence of the accused in secret.
- Initially the jury must try to come to a unanimous verdict (they all agree).
- The judge must accept the jury verdict even if he or she does not agree with it – this long established principle goes back to Bushell’s Case (1670). The jury do not give any reasons for their decision.
- If after at least 2 hours they cannot reach a unanimous verdict the judge can call them back to the courtroom and direct them that he now accepts a majority verdict. Where there is a full jury of 12 the verdict can be 10-2 or 11-1 for either guilty or not guilty. A jury cannot go below nine.
- Where the jury convict a defendant on a majority verdict, the foreman of the jury must announce the numbers both agreeing and disagreeing with the verdict in open court.
- Section 8 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 makes disclosure of anything that happened in the jury room a contempt of court which is a criminal offence.
Public confidence - jury is considered as one of the fundamentals of a democratic society. The right to be tried by one’s peers is a bastion of liberty against the state and has been supported by eminent judges. Lord Devlin said juries are ‘the lamp that shows that freedom lives’. People have confidence in the impartiality and fairness of jury trial.
Jury Equity – as juries are not legal experts, are not bound to follow the precedent of past cases or even Acts of Parliament, and do not have to give reasons for their verdict it is possible for them to decide cases on their idea of ‘fairness’.
Open system of justice – the use of a jury is viewed as making the legal system more open. Justice is seen to be done as members of the public are involved in a key role and the whole process is public.
.A jury is not case hardened since they only sit for 2 weeks and are unlikely to try more than three or four cases in that time.
Perverse decisions – the jury can ignore an unjust law however this type of decision can be seen as perverse and one which was not justified. Juries have refused to convict in other clear-cut cases such as R v Randle and Pottle (1991) where the defendants were charged with helping the spy George Blake to escape from prison. Their prosecution did not occur until 25 years after the escape, when they wrote about what they had done and the jury acquitted them, possibly as a protest over the time lapse between the offence and the prosecution.
Secrecy – no reasons have to be given for the verdict, so there is no way of knowing if the jury did understand the case and come to the decision for the right reasons
Racial bias – although jurors have no direct interest in a case, and despite the fact that there are 12 of them, they may still have prejudices which can affect the verdict. Some jurors may be biased against the police
Media Influence – media coverage may influence jurors. This is especially true in high-profile cases where there has been a lot of publicity about police investigations into a case. Prosecution agencies are aware of problems that media coverage can cause.
Lack of understanding – jurors may not understand the case which they are trying
High acquittal rates – juries are criticised because they acquit too many defendants. 60% of those that plead not guilty at the Crown Court are acquitted.
Jurors may be against the whole system of jury service as it is fairly unpopular.
Jury service can be a strain especially where jurors have to listen to horrific evidence. Jurors in the Rosemary West case were offered counselling after the trial to help them cope with the evidence they had had to see and hear.
Jury ‘nobbling’ does occur and in some cases jurors have had to be provided with police protection.
The use of juries makes trials slow and expensive. Each point has to be explained carefully to the jury and the whole procedure of the case takes longer.