Jury system in providing justice

Are jurors rational and impartial decision makers? What are the inconsistencies and weaknesses of the jury system in providing 'justice'? "The jury is an anti-democratic, irrational and haphazard legislator whose erratic and secret decisions run counter to the rule of law"1 "Our procedure for sentencing is probably one of the most inefficient ways we could have devised of presenting a large amount of information on a great many different subjects to a decision maker".

The concept of juries has long been embedded in England's political history as a mechanism to balance the power of the monarch and in turn create a more "democratic" legal system. 3 As time has progressed however, the disadvantages of trial by jury seem to outweigh the advantages in a system that is dependant on conducting justice under the rule of law in an efficient and cost-effective matter. The increased volume and complexities present in today's legal system necessitate an arrangement that may deliver equal justice to all, and juries seem incapable of such a task.

Although the philosophy behind juries reasonably attempts to uphold democratic values, the inefficiencies found in juries ultimately question the democratic foundation that first brought them into the legal system. However, before one can properly analyse whether juries deliver adequate justice we must first ask ourselves, what is justice? Wrightman, Nietzel, and Fortune, authors of Psychology and the Legal System, define justice quite simply and effectively as: 'fairness'. They suggest, "Justice is an outcome of the process in which people receive what they deserve or are due.

"Therefore, justice ultimately may be interpreted as receiving proper and fair treatment under the rule of law. If a defendant is suspected of a crime, he/she should be treated without biases and should receive a conviction that fits the crime and is reliant on the fact of the case. However, the key question is: can juries deliver this type of justice or are they unable to separate fact from fiction? In order to fully analyse whether juries are helpful in the legal system one must contemplate the pros and con's found within juries.

Over the years, several inefficiencies have been cited, ultimately causing one to question whether trial by jury provides better justice at all. Some of the problems presented by critiques involve: intelligence of jurors, potential racism in the jury box, and the secretive nature of jury deliberation. The educational background that most jurors possess has been a constant debate within the legal system. Kate Malleson, author of The Legal System explains, "… professional people are routinely excused and juries are disproportionately made up of housewives, the elderly and the unemployed.

"5 With this makeup of people, the common feeling is that juries are incapable of understanding the complexities of a trial and the legal language used. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent and author of Only 43% of jurors grasp all the details, conducted a study and found that "only 43% [of jurors] said they understood everything that was happening… jurors were confused by such legal concepts as 'beyond reasonable doubt', and were unsure about how to ask the judge a question, or whether they were allowed to take notes.

"6 These empirical findings are extremely relevant when questioning whether juries provide better justice than magistrates. Yes, juries consist of 12 individuals that must come to a conclusion, which in philosophy should limit a subjective decision by one person, but how is this relevant if the jurors themselves cannot understand the proceedings in the courtroom? Evidence shows that jurors have at times made decisions based on things they were ultimately unclear about.

Moreover, researchers of the Centre of Criminology at Middlesex University of London determined that some jurors felt frustrated because they were unaware of the mechanisms for bringing these to the attention of the authorities. 7 Ultimately the class of individuals that generally tend to make up the jury seem to represent a sect of society that might not adequately comprehend the complexities of the court system, leading one to be concerned and question how fairly and intelligently jury decisions have been reached.

Yet another vice of juries that questions the legitimacy of the decisions they make is the racism that may be present in the jury box. Clare Dyer, author of The dirty dozen, questions the integrity of juries when she explains that judges must take courses in racial awareness while the methodology of jury decisions remains unexamined and left open to bias decision-making. 8 Additionally, Sir Louis Blom-Coper, author of A judge can do the work of 12 amateurs, and better explains, "the trial judge is required to state the reasons for a conviction… while the verdict of the jury is universal, formulaic and therefore inscrutable.

"9 The issue of racism within a jury is an obvious problem due to the potential bias nature of decision-making and this flaw in the system has lead critics to dispute whether or not juries indeed deliver "fair trials. " Dyer gives evidence to these miscarriages of justice involving racism when she highlights a case of a Pakistani chef who was convicted of indecent assault. After the jury delivered a decision, a juror serving on trial alleged that fellow jurors were "racially biased and had argued that the chef relied on an interpreter as a 'devious ploy' to gain more time to answer questions.

"10 Moreover, J. E. Pfeiffer, author of Is there an effective way to establish whether juries are racist, highlighted a study done by Gray and Ashmore in which jury racism was found. In the study, the subjects tested were asked to read a description of a crime from a pool of individuals of mixed races. The subjects were told that the defendants had already been found guilty and they were asked to suggest a sentence. The study found that overall the individuals participating in the study gave longer sentences to black defendants as opposed to white defendants who received a lesser sentence.

Additionally, Pfeiffer also highlights a study done by McGlynn, Megas and Benson that yielded similar results of racism. Specifically, they found that in 69% of the cases black defendants were found guilty compared to 54% of white defendants being found guilty. 11 Overall, Pfeiffer ultimately suggests the trends in racism that have been highlighted through empirical evidence ultimately showing how in many cases jurors seem to have pre-conditioned biases which may lead to a racist conviction.

It seems as if juries are ultimately allowed to reach a decision without public explanation thus allowing the barriers that protect jury rooms to give rise to irrational decisions that cannot be questioned or studied. John Spencer, professor of law at Cambridge University maintains that the legal system is "gravely deficient" in failing to guard against the "obvious danger" that there might be racists among a jury plucket at random from the electoral roll.

Ultimately, it seems as if the jury's rights are protected more then those of the defendant, thus showing a fundamental flaw of the jury system. The secretive nature of the jury system is apparent when observing the rules that guard jury deliberations. For example, The Contempt of Court Act of 1981 bans obtaining, disclosing, or soliciting statements made, views expressed, arguments advanced or votes cast by jurors during their deliberations. Moreover, the Act also bans reporters or academic researchers from analyzing the "inside workings" of the jury system.

While such confidentiality is justified on grounds that jurors should be free to express their views on the case, such secrecy ultimately casts a dark shadow over jury deliberation, leaving no room for transparency. 13 It is such secrecy that ultimately threatens the legitimacy and accuracy of a jury decision. Even supporters of jury confidentiality such as Sir Robin Auld acknowledge that amending Section 8 "to permit, where appropriate, inquiry by the trial judge and/or Court of Appeal… into alleged impropriety by a jury" may be a useful modification in the jury system.

14 In addition, Paul Robertshaw, author of How ethical bugging can improve selection, explains "We must be cautious… jurors in real trials are responsible for their decisions… and untrammelled access to the jury should not be contemplated. "15 Thus one can see how the guards surrounding jury deliberation ultimately undermine the accuracy of a decision that may not be researched and studied. Unless increased research and access is supported, the jury system will continue to be a more ambiguous method of providing justice.

When analyzing the quality of justice that juries provide, many aspects of the jury system reveal the potential for inefficiency. Namely in the areas of qualification, potential racism, and lack of transparency, juries appear to be inadequate devices in the legal system. Thus the weaknesses and inconsistencies that are prevalent in today's juries ultimately make attachment to trial by jury destructive. Though trial by jury is embedded in the culture of the English legal system, it should not be accepted as the most effective way of delivering justice.

Increased criticism of juries displays the need to openly consider the type of justice that they deliver. When a defendant's future is on the line, the individual(s) convicting he/she should be qualified, objective, and accountable to ensure justice – and in many cases juries seem to portray opposite characteristics.

Works Cited

Blom-Coper, Sir Louis "A judge can do the work of 12 amateurs, and better" The Times, 21 October 2003. Darbyshire, Penny "The Lamp that Shows that Freedom Lives: Is It Worth the Candle? " Criminal Law Review 740, 1991.