Essay on Arguments For and Against Juries

Essay on Arguments For and Against Juries

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Arguments For and Against Juries


The right to a trial by jury is a tradition that goes right to the
heart of the British legal system. It is a right fiercely fought for,
and fiercely defended at those times when its powers have been seen to
be under threat - as those backing reforms are finding. The tradition
of being "tried by a jury of ones peers" probably has its origins in
Anglo Saxon custom, which dictated that an accused man could be
acquitted if enough people came forward to swear his innocence. Trial
by jury was first enshrined in law in what has been seen as the
world's first proclamation of human rights - the Magna Carter.
The document, decreed in 1215 by King John after a rebellion by his
barons, stated that a "freeman shall not be... imprisoned... unless by
the judgement of his peers". The right to trial by jury was finally
established absolutely in the legal system following the trial of
William Penn in 1670. A jury of 12 randomly chosen citizens of London
refused to convict the Quaker of "leading a dissident form of
worship", despite being directed to by the judge and subjected to
imprisonment and starvation in a bid to force their hand. The latest
government proposals are seen by some as a direct attack on the
traditions established in the Magna Carta and confirmed in the Penn
trial.
The government wants some defendants to lose the right to choose trial
by jury over magistrates' hearing. Supporters say reform is practical
for an overburdened modern legal system. The proposed changes affect
an Act of 1855 allowing some crimes to be tried by magistrates instead
of a higher court if the defendant agreed. The act was ...


... middle of paper ...


...arch and policy
literature (Horowitz et al., 1996; Penrod & Heuer, 1997). Indeed, in
1998 the Home Office invited commentary on whether an alternative to
the traditional jury system was appropriate for cases of serious
fraud. This stemmed specifically from the proposition that lay persons
may not be competent to evaluate particularly complex evidence, and
was certainly fuelled by acquittals in well-publicised cases, such as
that involving the Maxwells in the UK (see e.g. Doran & Jackson,
1997). In this article, research regarding individual juror decisions
(not jury decision making) is introduced in respect of two questions.
Should trial by jury be waived for so-called complex cases? And are
there circumstances under which pre-trial publicity might so
'contaminate' the minds of jurors that a fair trial is not possible?

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