The Composition and Role of the Jury
Length: 942 words (2.7 double-spaced pages)
The jury has been a feature in criminal trials in England for hundreds
of years. It is a civic duty that consists of 12 people aged 18 to 70
who are chosen at random from the electoral register (Before 1972
property qualifications were required in order to be eligible for the
jury). Mentally Disordered or any person with a recent or serious
conviction is disqualified from jury service along with anyone who has
ever been sentenced for 5 years imprisonment or more and anyone who
has completed a shorter sentence within the last ten years or
community service within the last 5. Also anyone who has any
connection with the victim, the defendant or any of the witnesses is
unable to serve. If jurors don't attend they may face a possibility of
punishment for contempt of court. Jurors can be granted excusal from
jury service but only in exceptional cases for reasons such as ill
health, examinations or specific domestic or business problems.
Once the jury have been selected and sworn the jury's role is to act
as judge of fact. In cases the jury must use their experiences of
human nature and usually they must use experience of life rather than
any legal knowledge to decide a verdict.
In 1974 Lord Salmon estimated that about 2% of cases brought before
the jury are wrongly acquitted and about 5% of the convictions in
Birmingham were considered "doubtful" and even though there is always
a risk of convicting an innocent this figure is considered
unacceptably high. Appeals against convictions solely on evidence are
very rarely successful. About one third of the jury's acquittals were
questionable and were said to be mainly down to feeling sympathy for
the defendant or a general mistrust of the police evidence.
However although only 2% of cases brought before the jury are wrongly
acquitted people still stand divided on how beneficial and fair the
jury system is, and although the jury has been around for a long time,
is it now time to replace it with an alternative?
When being chosen to serve for the jury there is no kind of
intelligence test to be taken and there is no training or experience.
Many people would argue that this is the point of the jury and because
they have no experience they also have no previous bias so it's
considered fairer. Lord Devlin said juries are "the lamp that shows
that freedom lives", though at the same time criticisms of the justice
provided by the jury trial have been made. Some people think that the
jury is to eager to acquit and so many people charged of serious
crimes get away with nothing but a small fine. In a case in 1992 'D's
son was killed by 'T' who was sent to prison for 12 months which 'D'
felt wasn't enough. When he was released 'D' went to T's home and
fired at him with a sawn of shotgun causing injuries to his back and
arm. 'D' was charged with attempted murder and malicious wounding with
intent, but the jury at Maidstone Crown Court acquitted him and some
members later congratulated him on what he had done. This just shows
one of the problems with the jury and there are many more. Some jurors
maybe unable to cope with the difficult medical, financial or
technical evidence especially in complex fraud cases. One of the main
criticism of juries in civil cases is that when awarding damages they
were unpredictable because they weren't sure how much or how little to
award, so unlike a judge who could just look back at similar cases and
decide from there juries couldn't. The amount that a party maybe
awarded in jury cases could vary widely so it was difficult for a
lawyer to tell there clients what damages they might have won. This
was assessed in 1975 when the Faulks Committee expressed doubts as to
whether juries should be able to assess damages. In the case of
Aldington v Watts and Tolstoy (1989) the jury awarded damages of £1.5
million. This case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights,
which ruled the amount awarded so disproportionate that it amounted to
an infringement of Tolstoy's right to freedom of expression of the
European Convention on human Rights. Because of cases like these, the
appeal courts were given the power to alter the amount of money made
by the jury. Then in 1996 the Defamation Act extended the role of the
judges by making them able to set levels of compensation where the
defendant has offered to make amends.
Still even with all the juries problems some people still believe it
should be kept. It is belied that the jury system brings the good
sense and judgement of ordinary people into the legal system and its
said to be a feature of any domestic society. It's also though to be
fairer to have 12 people judging you rather than just than just one
judge, as judges are seen to side with the prosecution viewpoint.
There are other ways to tri defendants without a jury. Such as a judge
alone, a panel of judges, or judges and lay assessors together.
In a trial by a judge alone the judge must act as both a judge of law
and fact. However one argument against this is that judges may become
'case hardened' (cynical about the need to assume the defendant as
innocent until proven guilty because they hear a great number of
similar cases. Its also said that a judge is unable to have the same
understanding and experience as a jury as there are 12 people from
different backgrounds instead of just one judge. Though on the other
hand unlike juries, judges have been trained to evaluate cases as
lawyers and therefore don't have as much trouble in complex fraud
The benefits of a panel of judges are that its considered fairer as
with more than one judge present because the judges would be more
skilled in analysis so the trial would be cheaper than a jury trial.
However disadvantages with this method is that most judges come from
the same background so would not represent the range of experience
that the jury have and trying to find suitable judges may cause the
price to be more expensive than if it was to be with just one judge.
One advantage of using judges and lay assessors is that there would be
considerably shorter trials than with a judge and jury. Though the
magistrates used would only come from mostly middle class and upper
class backgrounds so don't also bring the different perspectives that
a jury would.
In Conclusion it seems as though while the jury is a fair way to reach
a verdict as it brings experience and view points from many different
people. However it does have its problems, more bad points than good.
It's obvious that not everyone is happy with the jury. Coloured people
believe that there are not enough black or Asian people on the jury
and that it's unfair to be tried by all whites, as to be tried by a
jury is to be tried by your peers and they expect there peers to be
the same as them. If the jury system was to be abolished what ever is
to replace it will end up with many the same criticisms, as the jury
is experiencing now. So even though the jury has quite a lot of
acquittals, nothings perfect and its better to have wrong acquittals
than wrong convictions.