Cases of fraud and extended in civil cases

Trial by jury should be abolished in cases of fraud and extended in civil cases. Do you agree? The English jury system is regarded by many as one of the most essential and central features of the legal process: 'the bulwark of individual liberties. ' However, trial by jury is a controversial institution. Can a jury really understand and follow the issues in a criminal fraud trial? Would trial by professional judges be cheaper and quicker? Should trial by jury be extended in civil cases? Both the jury selection process and the value of decision-making by juries are frequently criticized.

In civil trials it is necessary to know the extent to which juries are used and the functions performed by them, particularly the extent to which jurors must decide issues other than liability, for example, compensation. On this matter it is important to understand the dilemma concerning 'excessive' awards, particularly in defamation cases (John v MGN Ltd [1996] 2 All ER 35). In addition, recent concerns over the length and cost of jury trials for serious fraud cases have added to the debate as to whether juries should be retained in such cases, particularly if jurors are unable to follow the evidence.

Proposals for reform in this area stem from the Roskill Report (1986), and it is important to be able to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of alternatives, such as trial by jury and assessors. There can be no doubt as to the antiquity of the institution of trial by jury, nor can there be much doubt as to its supposed democratising effect on the operation of the legal system. It is said that in the judicial process the members of a jury are essentially judges of fact. But this is not the whole story because, in reality, a jury's verdict is a decision of mixed fact and law (Ingman, 2002).

In those civil cases where a jury is still available, the jury will consider the evidence and any directions on the law given by the judge. The members of the jury then apply their understanding of the law to the facts of the case and decide whether to find for the claimant or for the defendant. If judgement is given for the claimant, the jury also decides, as a question of fact, how much the damages should be (Ingman, 2002). The use of juries has diminished considerably and automatic recourse to trial by jury is restricted to a small number of areas and, even in those areas, the continued use of the jury is threatened.

Under s. 69 of the Supreme Court Act 1981, the right to a jury is limited to only four specific areas: fraud, defamation, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment. Even in those four areas, the right is not absolute and can be denied by a judge under s. 69(1), where the case involves' any 'prolonged examination of documents or accounts or any scientific or local investigation which can not be conveniently be made with a jury' (Walker & Walker, 1998).

In civil trials it is necessary to know the extent to which juries are used and the functions performed by them, particularly the extent to which jurors must decide issues other than liability, for example compensation. On this matter it is important to understand the dilemma concerning 'excessive' awards, particularly in defamation cases (John v MGN Ltd [1996] 2 All ER 35).

In Beta Construction Ltd. V Channel Four TV Co ltd [1990], the Court of Appeal held that whether or not a libel action could be decided without a jury under s. 69 (1) depended upon a number of considerations, such as whether the jury would lengthen the trial, make it expensive, or documents prove to be too complicated for a jury (McDonald's v Steel and Morris [1995]). In all other civil cases, there is a presumption against trial by jury although, under s. 69 (3) of the SCA 1981, the judge has the discretion to order a trial by jury. The guidelines for the proper exercise of this discretion were laid down by a full Court of Appeal of five members in Ward v James [1966] 1 QB 273.

This was an action for personal injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. The Court of Appeal laid down the following guidelines: a) The judge's discretion is not absolute but must be exercised judicially; b) Normally, personal injury cases should be tried by a judge sitting alone so as to achieve the three basic objectives of assessability, uniformity and predictability of awards of damages; c) A jury is civil cases should be used only in exceptional circumstances, such as where there is substantial dispute about the facts (Ingman, 2002).