A Conversation for Talking Point: Trial by Jury

An Ex-Lawyer's View

Post 1

Peregrine, 22nd Duke of Earl ~ What would Magnum P.I. do ? ~

My two groatsworth ...

I practised as a Barrister for nearly ten years in GB, and although a lot of my work was "civil", I did a fair few jury trials, representing the Defendant.

In GB, the Defendant has the right, through his/her solicitor, to challenge any individual (randomly) selected to sit on the jury. The Prosecution can also challenge, although they have fewer chances to do so. The only information which either "side" will possess on the background of each potential juror is that juror's name, address, and occupation... and a good look at each of them as they step forward to the jury box. Depending on the nature of each case, a defence barrister may want an "intelligent" jury, or an "unintelligent" jury. They will attempt to challenge those who they see as potentially too smart, or too thick. Or too male, or too female. And so on. Of course, this is just about the most inexact science you can imagine - just how successful IS judging a book by its cover? Exactly. That juror in the pinstripe suit, clutching a copy of Margaret Thatcher's autobiography, may turn out to be a radical anarchist who won't, on principle, convict ANYONE; the chap with the skinhead, pierced nose/tongue etc., may be the son of the local Chief Constable, who is determined to convict your client, even though he has no idea what the case is all about. I won't even mention the solicitor I worked for a few times, who tried to pick only attractive women for the jury...

Juror selection is literally a lottery. But still, in my view, it is an indispensable part of our Justice system. Here's a quote which I like:

"For all this, juries are anything but stupid. Make no mistake about that. There is some sort of alchemy which comes about when a small crowd of twelve people gather together in odd and unfamiliar circumstances and are asked to decide something. They usually manage to do everything that justice could hope of them. The jury is a special kind of animal, a canny, shrewd, and reliable animal. It is a clever beast, not to be handled carelessly..."

- "Advocacy at The Bar", Keith Evans.

Without the jury system, Defendants would face trial by judge alone. Now while there are many excellent judges out there, it is unfortunately the case that, over the course of many years sitting on the bench, listening to Defendants say the same things over and over again ("It wasn't me, it was my twin brother/sister" etc etc..), a certain amount of cynicism inevitably sets in. In a minority of cases, this can manifest itself in a complete disregard for ANYTHING which the Defendant might say. This, in my view, is a bad thing.

Why does the present "Labour" government wish to do away with the right to jury trial?

Is it cost? Surely when looked at in relative terms, the cost today cannot be much greater than the cost 50 years ago? In any event, what price do you put on Justice?

Is it that some cases are too complex for the "ordinary man on the street" to handle? This is an insult to the ordinary man - or woman. See the quote above. If prosecutions in complex cases such as frauds are not successful, surely the reason is more that those cases have been poorly presented to the jury? Blame the Serious Fraud Office, or the Crown Prosecution Service, not Mr or Mrs Smith from 69, Acacia Avenue.

Is it because too many Defendants are acquitted? From memory, approximately 70% of jury trials end in acquittal. It has always been the case that a jury is more likely to acquit than a single magistrate/judge - there has been no great sea change in the last fifty years. Perhaps this figure is difficult for the government to swallow? Tough.

I could go on, and on, but most other points have already been raised in the discussion below. If anyone is interested in a very good look at how the jury system can operate to counter the worst effects of a "bad law", they should read Geoffrey Robertson's book, "The Justice Game".

I'm off for a pint of Chateau Thames Embankment 2003.

smiley - smiley

Key: Complain about this post

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more