Jury System in India

This research article attempts to explain what exactly is jury system and the objective behind having jury trials. Also, we talk about its relevance in India and Indian judiciary. Tracing right from the period after independence when jury system prevailed in India, later when it was abolished and the present times where it is nowhere to be seen in our judiciary system, I have tried to gauge its suitability and feasibility in India and find whether the decision of abolition of jury system really a right decision or should we have jury system back incorporated in our judicial system like before.

1In order to find about the feasibility, pros and cons and relevance of jury system we first need to understand what exactly do we mean when we say jury system. According to Black’s law dictionary:“ Jury is a group of persons selected according to law and given the power to decide questions of fact and return a verdict in the case submitted to them. ”This definition gives us some basic characteristics of a jury, let us examine them.

  • Group of people – it refers to a group of a few adult citizen picked from voter list.
  • Selected according law- after being selected from the voters list, a panel is formed and assigned to a courtroom where they are made to sit randomly. They are then questioned by the judge and/ or by the attorneys. Attorneys can then raise challenge for cause if they someone is felt to be unfit for jury on panel. In common law countries, both the prosecution and defense may object to a juror, this principle is known as VOIR DIRE.
  • Decide questions of fact and return a verdict – it may be noted that the role of jury is to listen to trial and thereby decide and reach a verdict guilty or not guilty to judge while exercising reason according to jury instructions and rules of law as informed by the judge. The penalty is then decided by the judge. Although in Russia after judicial reform of Alexander II, another option of “Guilty, but not to be punished” was given to them. The "petit jury" (or "trial jury") hears the evidence in a trial as presented by both the plaintiff (petitioner) and the defendant (respondent).

After hearing the evidence and often jury instructions from the judge, the group retires for deliberation, to consider a verdict. The majority required for a verdict varies. In some cases it must be unanimous, while in other jurisdictions it may be a majority or supermajority. A jury that is unable to come to a verdict is referred to as a hung jury. Civil juries are available in theory in the United States and Canada in almost all cases where the only remedy sought is money damages, although in practice they are sought only in large dollar cases.

Chapter -2This chapter talks about the relevance of the jury system in India. History of jury system in IndiaTrial by jury in India was a western innovation. It is true that in the earliest time known to us justice was administered to by arbitrators known as Panches or Panchayats chosen from the particular caste, tribe, trade or locality to which the parties belonged ; but there is little in that system analogous to English trial by Judge and Jury in criminal cases, and no attempt has been made yet to introduce into Indian Trail by Jury in civil cases.

The Trial by Jury of capital crimes committed by the Company’s servants was enacted by an Ordinance of James I dated 1623/4, and jury trial became the rule for criminal trials on the original side by the Supreme Court in Calcutta. This system passed on naturally to the Chartered High Courts, but this involved so small a part of the volume of criminal cases as to be negligible, except in so far as it provided an exemplar for the establishment of juries in the Ordinary Courts of Sessions. The first case decided by an English jury in India happened in Madras (today Chennai) in 1665. It is described by Professor M.P. Jain in his Constitutional history.

• One Mrs Ascentia Dawes (probably a British woman) was charged by a grand jury with the murder of her slave girl. Then a petty jury, with six Englishmen and six Portuguese, found her guilty “but not in manner and form”. The Governor asked the jury for a second clearer verdict… and Mrs Dawes was acquitted.

• This first case is almost the summary of a rather sad story: the introduction of the jury as a biased institution in favour of British colons, with many acquittals taking aside acts of extreme violence committed by colonizers against indigenous people.

• One century later, with the development of the East India Company empire in India, the jury system was implemented inside a dual system of courts:

• In Presidency Towns (Calcutta, Madras, Bombay), there were Crown Courts (with a first Supreme Court in Calcutta since 1774, later in the two other towns) and in criminal cases juries had to judge British and European people (as a privilege) and in some cases Indian people.

• In the territories outside the Presidency Towns (called “moffussil”), there were Company Courts (composed with Company officials) without jury to judge most of the cases implying indigenous people (British and European people tried to avoid them).

• When Macaulay arrived in India in 1834 as a penal law reformer, he was immediately struck by this unequal system and the risks of partiality, especially in cases of Violence committed by colonizers towards their domestics.

• In 1858, the end of the powers of the Company and the establishment of the Crown Government of India (Raj) was followed by the adoption of the Indian Penal Code (1860) and the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure (1861, amended in 1872, 1882, 1898).

• The criminal jury was obligatory only in the High Courts of the Presidency Towns; elsewhere,it was optional and rarely used. According sections 274 and 275 of the Code of CriminalProcedure, the jury was composed from 3 (for smaller offences judged in session courts) to 9 (for severe offences judges in High Courts) men.

• When the accused were European or American, at least half of the jurors have to be European or American men. The argument was that the jury must be “acquainted with their feelings and dispositions”

• A recent study of Elisabeth Kolsky has shown how many “perverse verdicts” were delivered by white juries in trial of “European British subjects” charged with murder, assault, confinement of Indians. • In 1920 a British Governor wrote that.

“trial by jury in India was an exotic plant which is unsuitable to the country”

• In 1931, Gandhi said that he was unconvinced by the superiority of “untrained juries” in comparison towards trained judges; for the future independent India, he wanted a judiciary independent from religious and castes prejudices.

• When Gandhi was assassinated on 30 January 1948 by Nathuram Godse in Delhi, it was decided (according a Delhi Act of 1912) to use a special court without jury. The court composed of a single judge, sentenced Godse to death.

It was argued that a “vindictive” jury would have frustrated justice in a climate of political violence.

• The jury found no place in the 1950 Indian Constitution, it was ignored in many Indian States and the Law Commission recommended its abolition in 1958 (14th report). The Nanavati Case 2

• In April 1959, Commander Nanavati of the Indian Navy (a Parsi linked with the Nehru-Gandhi family) shot deadly his wife’s lover. He was acquitted by a a Bombay jury (by a majority of eight to one). According to the law, the verdict was returned to the High Court.

Two judges sentenced Nanavati to imprisonment for life.

• The sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court in 1961. It was said that the verdict was “perverse” and influenced by medias.

• Curiously the jury trial was abolished in India by a very discrete process during the 1960s, finishing with the 1973 Code of criminal procedure, always in force (Court of sessions without jury). 2AIR 1962 605 SC. Chapter – 3This chapter seeks to discuss the pros and cons of having jury system in order to ascertain the feasibility of the same in India.

  • Since there may be people from all sorts of different backgrounds in a jury any individual prejudices may be cancelled out.
  • Juries represent the common public and therefore are more likely to judge in line with generally accepted values of the society.
  • Discussions among jury are more likely to lead more thorough considerations of all aspects of the case.
  • Ofcourse it is more difficult to corrupt 12 jurors than to corrupt one or three judges.
  • This can act as an important source of check against the state power.
  • Alexis de Tocqueville also claimed that jury trials educate citizens about self-government. 
  • Jury is more likely to provide a sympathetic judgement than a fairer judgement.
  • Another issue with jury trials is the potential for jurors to be swayed by prejudice, including racial, religious and various other considerations.
  • It is considered bizarre and risky for a person's fate to be put into the hands of untrained laymen.
  • Jury trials in multi-cultural countries with a history of ethnic tensions may be problematic, and lead to juries being unduly biased and partial.
  • A major issue in jury trials is the secretive nature of the process. While proponents may say that secrecy allows the jury to remain impartial by protecting it from undue pressure or attention, opponents contend that this prevents there from being a transparent trial.
  • One issue that has been raised is the ability of a jury to fully understand statistical or scientific evidence. Conclusion Considering all the pros and cons and the historical background of jury system in India it seems that the decision to abolish was rather more appropriate.

When it can certainly not be denied that the jury system has its own advantages and prime of all of them being its democratic nature in theory, it still stands at a loss when it comes to its practical application. It has been seen that jury being unqualified is not really able to give the righteous decisions which can be fatal for judiciary for any nation. If the judiciary wouldn’t be able to do justice people will just lose their faith in it and it would just kill the very purpose of it being there at all.

Also since it is a long drawn process and considering the current amount of already pending cases it is really not feasible to have jury system for India. It can’t be said that jury system is the only reason for delay or wrong decisions, faults lie there in the judge system as well but it is more of what is less likely to be faulty that drives this conclusion. Thus, we can conclude that due to the higher efficiency and accuracy of judge system it is more suitable than jury system here.