Laypersons are members of the public. They are legally unqualified personnel, making decisions on individuals’ guilt or innocence. Their participation in the criminal system is based on the principle that an accused should be judge by his peers (his equals). Such laypersons are either members of the jury or magistrates. They are not paid for their involvement but do receive expenses and a contribution to possible loss of earnings if appropriate.
Some may say, therefore, it is cheap justice and perhaps potentially dangerous to leave such important decisions that may affect people lives to members of the public, some of whom may not fully understand the law and what is being argued. However, others say that it is the crux of British justice, ‘Hallowed by time’ and essential to the system of criminal trials. Members of the jury serve both advantages and disadvantages. Arguments that favour the jury system are Public participation, Certainty, Secrecy and Ability to judge according to conscience.
In Public Participation juries allow the ordinary citizen to take part in the administration of justice, so that verdicts are seen to be those of society rather than of the judicial system, and satisfy the constitutional tradition of the judgment by one’s peers. Lord Denning described jury service as giving ‘ordinary fold their finest lesson in citizenship’. The jury then adds certainty to the law, since it gives a general verdict which cannot give rise to misinterpretation.
In a criminal case the jury simply states that the accused is guilty or not guilty, and gives no reasons. Consequently, the decision is not open to dispute. Secrecy ensures freedom of discussion in the jury room; protects jurors from outside influences and prevents reluctance to sit on juries. It further ensures finality of verdict regardless of whether popular or not. An ability to judge according to conscience came from a major milestone in the history of the jury was in Bushell’s Case (1670).
Before this, judges would try to bully juries into convicting the defendant, particularly where the crime had political overtones, but in Bushell’s Case it was established that the jury’s members were the sold judges of fact, with the right to give a verdict according to their conscience, and could not be penalized for taking a view of the facts opposed to that of the judge. The importance of this power now is that juries may acquit a defendant, even when the law demands a guilty verdict.
Because juries have the ultimate right to find defendants innocent or guilty, they have been seen as a vital protection against oppressive or politically motivated prosecutions, and as a kind of safety value for those cases where the law demands a guilty verdict, nut genuine justice does not. For example, in the early nineteenth century, all felonies (a classification of crimes used at the time, marketing out those considered most serious) were in theory punishable by death.
Theft or goods or money above the value of shilling was a felony, but juries were frequently reluctant to allow the death penalty to be imposed in what seemed to them trivial cases, so they would often find according to their consciences often concerning issues of political and moral controversy, such as R v Kronlid and Others (1996). The defendants were three women who broke into a British Aerospace factory and caused damage costing over 1. 5 million to a Hawk fighter plane. The women admitted doing this, and left a video explaining their actions in the plane’s cockpit.
But they claimed that they had a defence under Section 3. Of the Criminal Law Act 1967, which provides that it is lawful to commit a crime in order to prevent another (usually more serious) crime being committed, and that this may involve using ‘such force as is reasonable in all the circumstances’. The defendants pointed out that the plane was part of a consignment due to be sold to the Government of Indonesia, which was involved in oppressive measures against the population of East Timor, a region forcibly annexed by Indonesia in 1975.
However, the prosecution gave evidence that the Indonesia Government had given assurances that the planes would not be used against the East Timorese, and the British Government had accepted this and granted an export license. Acquitting the women was therefore a citizen of the British Government’s position of the issue, as well as the actions of the Indonesian Government, and in the face of the clear evidence that they had caused the damages and were widely expected to be convicted. The jury found them all not guilty.
As for arguments that criticise the jury system are Lack of Competence, Bias, Manipulation by defendants, Jury Nobbling, Cost and time, and Distress to jury members. In Lack of Competence, Lord Denning argued in What Next In the Law? (1982) that the selection of jurors is too wide, resulting in jurors that are not competent to perform their take. Praising the ‘Golden Age’ of jury service when only ‘responsible heads of household from a select band of the middle classes’ were eligible to serve, he claimed that the 1972 changes have led to jurors being summoned who are not sufficiently intelligent or educated to perform their task properly.
Denning suggested that jurors should be selected in much the same way as magistrates are, with interviews and references required. This throws up several obvious problems: a more complicated selection process would be more time-consuming and costly; finding sufficient people willing to take part might prove difficult; and a jury that is intelligent and educated can still be biased, and may be more likely to be so if drawn from a narrow social group. It is also known the jurors may be biased for or against certain groups. For example, they may favour attractive members of the opposite sex, or be prejudiced against the police.
Bias appears to be particular problem in libel cases, where juries prejudiced against newspapers award huge damages, apparently using them punitively rather than as compensation for the victim. Examples, include the i?? 500,000 awarded to Jeffrey Archer in 1987, and the i?? 300,000 to Koo Stark a year later, as well as Sutcliffe v Pressdram Ltd (1990, in which Private eye was ordered to pay i?? 600,000 to the wife of the Yorkshire Ripper. Manipulations by defendants choose jury trial in a bid to make use of the delays. This may pressurise the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to settle with a less serious charge.
Prosecution witness may not turn up or forget facts, and time on remand is more privileged than time in prison as a convicted offender. Jury Nobbling is always a problem despite the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which makes it an offence to intimidate or threaten to harm jurors. The Criminal Procedure and Investigation Act 1996, allows the prosecution to retry an acquitted defendant if someone is subsequently convicted of interring with jurors. It also takes about cost and time. A Crown Court trial currently costs the taxpayer around 7,400 per day, as opposed to 1,000 per day trial by magistrates.
The jury process is time-consuming for all involved, with juries spending much of their time waiting around to be summoned into court. It further causes Distress to jury members. Juries trying cases involving serious crimes of violence, particularly rape, murder or child abuse, may have to listen to deeply distressing evidence, and is some cases to inspect graphic photographs of injuries. Magistrates also serve as an advantage as well as a disadvantage. Arguments that favour magistrates are the Cheap Cost, Lay involvement, Weight of numbers and Local knowledge.
It has traditionally been assumed that because lay magistrates are unpaid volunteers, they are necessarily cheaper than their profession colleagues. Magistrates deal with an enormous amount of summary offences (road traffic and trivial/petty crime) which would be a waste of a qualified judges time. Lay involvement in judicial decision making ensures that the courts are aware of community concerns. However, given the restricted social background of magistrates, and their alleged bias towards the police, the true value of this may be doubtful.
Magistrates do not have the option, as juries do, of delivering a verdict according to their conscience. It also weight of numbers. The simple fact that magistrates must usually sit in threes may make a balanced view more likely. Local knowledge is necessary as magistrates must live within a reasonable distance of the court in which they sit, and therefore many have a more informed picture of local life than professional judges. Local knowledge also means that they understand local problems. However, when considering the disadvantages certain questions must be raised!
Is cheap justice good justice? Are they that cheap? They have a legally qualified clerk who has to be paid and they are much slower than judges (one judges handles as much work as 30 magistrates). Do they fully understand the law? Although, they do have a qualified clerk sitting with them to advise on the law if necessary (but does not means they will understand it? ) Are they trained adequately being in mind someone’s livelihood is at stake being ‘true representatives of the people’ does not necessarily mean they are capable of handling out justice.