Trial by a Jury of Peers.
The legal position.
In a criminal case, a jury is formed of 12 people who do not know you and who will have no direct knowledge of the case they are to try.
A jury is chosen at random from people on the electoral register. As such, the jury comprises individuals of various ages, with different life experiences and often from contrasting backgrounds.
As a group, they are the judges of the facts, so they weigh up the evidence, then apply the law as directed by the judge. It is the jury, not the judge, who decide upon a verdict and no jury can be told that they must find a defendant guilty. Juries pool their common sense and arrive at a verdict having listened to all of the evidence.
For many lawyers working daily in the criminal courts the jury system is considered to be the fairest method of reaching a decision, as to whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty, of a criminal offence
At the end of a trial, the judge provides a summary of the case, in which he or she directs the jury in matters of law and releases them, to consider their verdict, alone.
Our concerns relate to the capacity of the jury to understand and remember instruction given by the judge, to take the correct inferences and make the correct decisions, as well as the finality of their decisions in the trial process.
- What happens if the judge doesn’t always speak into the microphone in court, and the jury don’t hear every crucial detail of instruction from him or her? Does any member of the jury ever interrupt, to say “I didn’t hear that bit, can you repeat yourself please judge?”
- What happens if some members of the jury don’t remember the directions from the judge? What happens if they are familiarized with those directions, by someone who inadvertently didn’t hear properly or didn’t fully understand them?
- What happens if some members of the jury are confused by the judge’s direction? Has anyone ever spoken up in front of court to say, “I don’t understand.” ?
These concerns speak for themselves.
It seems straightforward therefore, to expect that occasionally, juries do make mistakes; they are human and therefore fallible. If we accept that this must be the case, why are juries not required to provide an explanation of their inferences and decisions, which can be scrutinized and acted upon by the judge, where necessary?
Surely, a ‘lay’ jury should be also be given assistance by experts, during their deliberations, or even, that experts comprise part of the jury itself. These people could bridge the knowledge gap between the judge and the jury, to provide pertinent observations and insights to assist in their discussions. Our concern is particularly critical in complex cases, such as murder and manslaughter and where jurors are also considering ‘joint enterprise’.
The accused have a right to hear their case being tried. No problem there. But what about situations where the jointly accused sit side by side in the dock? What systems are in place to ensure that one accused can’t direct the other, when giving evidence, through prompts such as coughing between a question being asked and an answer being given? We have witnessed this at first hand and no action was taken.
We have commented upon what we perceive to be disparities within the law, but there is also a huge inconsistency in the rights of convicted criminals, who are systematically able to challenge a conviction and their sentence, whereas no such right exists for victims or their families, to challenge what might be perceived to be, perverse decisions/acquittals. How can this be perceived as anything other than skewed in favour of those who have been proven guilty by law and convicted of their crimes?
We know that injustices do happen, not only when the innocent are convicted but equally, when the guilty are acquitted. The impact on the lives of those on both sides of the argument are devastating. The legal profession and government must acknowledge the fallibility of our laws and justice system and address the issues at the heart of its shortcomings. As a country we must move past the ‘impasse’ of scholarly legal debate and construct a system that is truly impartial, one that searches for the truth and is capable of being respected by all.