Criminal Appeal Act Paper Example

Judges have the power to direct juries to acquit the accused where there is insufficient evidence to convict them which acts as a safeguard against juries finding defendants guilty in spite of insufficient evidence. Conversely a judge cannot instruct juries to convict but a judge can sum up in such a way as to make it clear to the jury that there is only one decision they can reasonably make and that it would be perverse to reach any other verdict but guilty. But a judge cannot pressurise a jury to reach a guilty verdict and if he does, the conviction can be overturned.

In R v McKenna [1960], the judge told the jury, after they'd spent two and a quarter hours considering their decision, that, if they didn't come up with the verdict in ten minutes he'd have them locked up for the night. They returned a verdict of guilty which was later quashed for interference with the jury. Under Criminal Appeal Act 1968 s. 1 in extreme circumstances can overrule a jury's guilty verdict. CHALLENGING THE JURY Until 1989, the defendant had the right of peremptory challenge, i. e. the defendant could reject 3 potential jurors without giving reasons.

This right applied to each defendant. The use of peremptory challenge was criticised because when there was a multi-defendant trial the type of jury could be materially affected. It was, therefore, said to be an assault on the principle of randomness of juries. In the famous Cyprus Spy Trial case in 1986, in which there were 8 servicemen defendants who between them challenged 24 jurors to obtain a handpicked jury where the average age of the jurors was under 24 years (i. e. an anti-establishment jury). The servicemen were all acquitted.

The 1988 Criminal Justice Act abolished the right of peremptory challenge but the prosecutions equivalent right remain – called "stand by for the Crown" but it is rarely used and is subject to strict guidelines issued by the Attorney General. Each side do have unlimited rights to challenge for cause – i. e. to reject a juror for a reason e. g. knows the accused. (Contrast with USA). JURY VETTING Jury vetting is the process in which the Crown checks the background of potential jurors to assess their suitability to decide particular cases. This procedure is clearly contrary to the principle of random selection.

It is justified on the basis that jurors will not divulge secrets heard in sensitive trials or those jurors with strong political views should not try and influence other jurors in political trials. The 1978 ABC Trial brought to light prosecution practice of vetting potential jurors to find those that might be "undesirable" or "disloyal". In this case two journalists and a soldier were accused of collecting secret information in breach of the Official Secrets Act. During the trial it became known that the jury had been vetted to check their "loyalty", under guidelines laid down by the Attorney General and a new trial was ordered.

It was admitted that these guidelines had been in use since 1974. The practice of vetting is now only allowed in cases of sensitive nature, e. g. "national security" and "terrorist" cases. In such cases, checks of police special branch records may be made on authorisation of DPP, and if as a result there is a "strong reason" for believing the potential juror to be a "security risk", or open to bias or improper suggestions, counsel for the prosecution can exercise the right of standby without the need to discuss the reason. Vetting is also done by an initial check into police criminal records and Special Branch records.

Also in R v MASON [1980], the Court of Appeal approved the checking of criminal records to establish whether potential jurors have been convicted of a criminal offence in the past and were, therefore, not eligible to serve. The limits of vetting was stressed in: – R v OBELLIM & OTHERS [1996] The case concerned a criminal trial in which the judge had received a written question from the jury which displayed a lot of knowledge about police powers and led him to suspect that one of the jurors might have such previous convictions that should have disqualified him.

The judge ordered a security check on the jury without telling the defence counsel who only discovered it had been done when one of the jury complained after the verdict had been given. The defendant convicted, appealed on the grounds that the check might have prejudiced the jury. Court of Appeal Held: – agreed and quashed the conviction stating that it was questionable whether the check should have been ordered at all on such grounds. Lord Denning in his book 'What's next in Law' 1982, suggested vetting the background and education of all potential jurors, even drawing up a list of persons "recommended" for jury service.


Once they retire to consider their verdict, jurors are not allowed to communicate with anyone other than the judge until after the verdict is delivered. Under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 they are forbidden from revealing anything that was said or done during their deliberations. DOES THE JURY GET IT RIGHT? The crucial question is whether or not they get it right. It is not easy to tell. People who are wrongly acquitted are hardly likely to advertise the jury's mistake. The police believe that juries often do acquit the guilty.

Nor can we assess how often juries wrongly convict from the number of successful appeals against their verdicts. Because juries never give reasons or their decisions, it is often very difficult to find something wrong with the trial itself, e. g. an irregularity in the proceedings, or the judges misleading summing-up. It is impossible to go behind a jury's verdict and it is not enough an appellant just to claim that the jury were wrong. It is quite possible, perhaps probable, that juries have mistakenly convicted people where no appeal was possible because no specific ground for appeal could be found.

Two lecturers at Birmingham University, Dr John Baldwin and Dr Michael McConville, have researched into juries and in 1977 they conducted a survey to try to assess how many wrongful verdicts juries reached. They looked at 370 trials in Birmingham and spoke to the trial judge, prosecution and defence counsel, and often the police officer in charge of the case. They compared the views of the participants with the actual verdicts reached. For the most part they tallied, but in a surprisingly large number – 56 of the 370 – the trial judge and at least one other party disagreed with the jury's conclusion.

Even making certain allowances, that survey suggests that if the Birmingham figures are applied throughout the country, hundreds of people are being wrongly convicted by juries every year. ADVANTAGES & DISADVANTAGES Defenders of the jury system say that the judge would become too casehardened and would be unable to take a fresh look at every case before him. More importantly, many feel that juries have a value above that of the verdicts they deliver. They are the direct link between the ordinary person and the administration of justice. The jury system provides a vital element of community participation in the workings of our society.

It is a necessary reassurance that justice is not meted out by a remote elite but is something in which every city in a democratic society can play a part. Lord Denning described jury service as giving "ordinary folk their finest lesson in citizenship". Juries are important too as a barometer of public feeling on the state of the law. They can and do express their displeasure about a particular law or a particular prosecution by refusing to convict, as they did when Clive Ponting was prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act for leaking information about the background to the Falklands War.

During the latter days of the death penalty juries were often reluctant to convict of murder even when the facts supported the charge. It seems that, for the foreseeable future, the jury system is firmly entrenched. It may be the subject of further calls for reform, especially of the age qualification and perhaps the need for some sort of language or comprehension test. It may be tinkered with, but it is a reasonably safe bet that it will be there, more or less as we know it today, in the next century. 1. The verdict of juries is more acceptable to the public and there is public confidence in the system.

The jury system reflects the involvement of ordinary people in the administration of justice. 2. Juries are independent of the prosecution and defence "The just face of the Law" and if there is a danger of bias the trial can be moved to a different location. e. g. 3. The judge is there to ensure a fair trial and he can instruct the jury to forget what they have seen or read outside the courtroom. If the jury has been influenced and has been biased, there can be a challenged to the "array" and the judge can dismiss the whole jury. 

The common sense of jury verdicts can correct harsh law and eventually influence the changing of the law. Ability to judge according to conscience. 5. During the trial there is clarification of the law as the judge must explain terminology and nature of offences to the jury. 6. Other countries have copied the jury system. Per Lord Denning "It has been the bulwark of our liberties too long for any of us to seek to alter it. Whenever a man is on trial for serious crime …… , or when one or other party must be deliberately lying then trial by jury has no equal court".