Jury is undoubtedly part and parcel to the essence of a fair trial in the context of the English Legal system or in a wider context, the common law system. So what are juries? And what are their contributions to the English Legal system? The word ‘jury’ derived from Anglo-French, ‘Jure’ which means ‘sworn’. Historically, the modern concept of jury has its roots from old Germanic tribes which a council of men were used to judge the accused. In Anglo-Saxon England, the role of juries is to investigate crime. Post Norman Conquest period, Jury service was used to assist in crime investigation.
The modern jury conquest derived from this custom during the 12th century of King Henry’s reign. The Magna Carta, a document which regarded as the first legal document that upholds Human Rights later on provided for the implementation of Juries, and its practice was established absolutely following the trial of William Penn in the year 1670 . The practice of use of jury in trials is one of the key traits of the English legal system and also the common law system. Now a bench of jury consists of 12 independent men (or women) with no previous knowledge of the case and the parties deciding solely based on the evidence presented in court.
This article focuses on the position of jury in times of the digital era where social media is prominent throughout our daily life. How Are Juries Selected? The matter of selection of juries is under the jurisdiction of the Juries Act 1974. Prior to the Morris Committee report in 1972, to be qualified for jury service, one has to be a property owner. This was seen as unrepresentative to the society as whole, as property owners are predominantly men, and that means that women and young people are seldom summoned for jury service as only a small percentage of them own or rent property.
The current qualification of jury in the UK is as below: (1)Aged between 18 to 70 (2)Registered as voter, be it parliament or local government (3)Resident in the UK Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for at least 5 years since their Thirteenth birthday There are also criteria to disqualification from the jury service. To be permanently disqualified from serving as jury are one who have at any time been sentenced to: (1)Imprisonment for life, detention for life or custody for life (2).
To imprisonment for public protection or detention for public protection (3)A term of imprisonment of 5 years or more or a term of detention of 5 years or more. (4)An extended sentence (5)Detention during Her Majesty’s pleasure or during the pleasure of the Secretary of State Also an interesting point to note that is that deaf people are not allowed to sit in as jury as they require a translator thus amounting the jury bench to be 13 people as it amounts to contempt of court. Prior to 2004, people from certain professionals such as doctors or pharmacists had a right to be excused from jury service subjected to their choice.
But then the Criminal Justice Act 2003 has abolished that rule. The same rule applies to people from professions such as, judges, lawyers, police and such. Under The Criminal Justice Act, they are no longer able to refuse service from jury but they can still apply for discretionary excusal. Application of Juries in Criminal Trials Although the use of jury is an essential element to criminal trial, however jury only deal with a handful of the cases. Criminal offences can be categorised into three categories.
Summary offences, indictable only offences and triable either way offences. Summary offences are minor offences of the lowest degree, such as minor traffic offences, summary offences are only available to trial at the Magistrate’s Court. The most serious offence is the ‘Indictable only’ offence which can only be tried in the crown court. Triable either way offences are offences that is of optimum severity, the defendant can chose to try in the Magistrate’s court subject to the Magistrate’s choice and also the defendant’s consent or at the crown court.
The defendant has the right to insist to be tried in the crown court, so either the defendant or the magistrates can choose to try in the Crown Court. If the defendant pleads not guilty, a jury trial is enable to try at the crown court, and the trial will go on so that the defendant will be tried before a jury. The majority of the criminal cases are summary only because they arecommonly committed and least serious, and as a result 95% of the cases are tried in the magistrates courts, where there is no use for jury.
This also includes those cases in which accused plead guilty in either way offences. Out of the remaining 5% of the cases heard in the Crown Court, in majority of the cases either defendant pleads guilty, so there is no need of a jury or the judge directs the jury that law demands that they acquit the defendant. The Criminal Law Act 1977 removed the right to jury trial in a number of offences by making relatively minor criminal damages cases summary only. This was the government’s effort to reduce the use of jury in criminal trials in order to save money.
Since then, many cases have been subjected to summary only offences and thus reducing the use of jury in the crown court. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 has also increased the sentencing power of the magistrate from 6 months to 12 months in a single offence and this could be increased further to 18 months. The notion behind this is that magistrates court will try more cases rather than being referred up to Crown court for trial by jury; this is an effort to save cost.
Although the use of jury in criminal trial only accounts to only around 1% every year, however the 1% amounts to around 30,000 trials per year and these are the most serious ones that come before the court. Application of Jury in Civil Trials Prior to the year 1846, all common law civil cases were tried by jury until the introduction of a juryless trial in the new County Courts. The section 6 of Administration of Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1933 guaranteed the right to trial of jury in the Queen’s Bench Division for fraud, libel, slander, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, seduction and also breach of promises.
However the act by fact brought upon an end to the civil jury trials in England and Wales. The act provided that ‘… but, save as aforesaid, any action to be tried in that Division may, in the discretion of the court or a judge, be ordered to be tried either with or without a jury. ’ Lord Denning in the case of Ward v James held that personal injury cases were unsuitable for trial by jury as it involves technical expertise and experience in assessing damages.
Also section 69 of the Senior Courts Act 1981, which replaced section 6 of the Administration of Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1933 in view of high court trials, provided that trial shall be by jury on the application of a party where it has satisfied the court in two issues which are ‘a claim of fraud against the party; or a claim in respect of libel, slander, malicious prosecution of false imprisonment’ unless the court is of the opinion that the trial requires any prolonged examination of documents or accounts or any scientific or local investigation which cannot conveniently be made with a jury. Jury Equity Jury has power to change the course of the law through jury equity.
Jury equity or Jury nullification is defined as a doctrine which allows jury to make a law void, or ‘the process whereby a jury in a criminal case effectively nullifies a law by acquitting a defendant regardless of the weight of evidence against him or her. ’ An example of application of Jury Equity would be the acquittal of Clive Ponting in the case of R v Ponting.
Charged for revealing secret information, a breach against the provision of the Official Secrets Act 1911. The jury acquitted Ponting based on the notion of Ponting’s revelation of secret information is for Public Interest although being directed by the trial judge to convict Ponting. Advantages of Jury Trial One of the main advantages to jury trial would be that it is an involvement of lay people thus ensuring public confidence, in many occasions, legal knowledge is rather unnecessary to come to a verdict of guilty or not.
Right to be judged by one peer can be argued as part and parcel of the fundamental right of right to a fair trial. Furthermore, the jury is independent from the judiciary and also the executive, with a bench of 12 individual lay people selected at random, any form of biasness would be kept at a minimum level. ‘Trial by jury is the lamp that shows that freedom lives’ best explains the advantages of a jury trial Disadvantages of Trial by jury The lay nature of jury is a double edged sword; it can be seen as an advantage and also a disadvantage.
The fact that jury has no legal knowledge whatsoever has risen to criticisms that they are incompetent to give fair judgments as compared to trained judges. There are cases where jury has resorted to unreliable means to come to a decision; this can be seen in the case of R v Young where four of the jurors used an Ouija board to contact the dead victims thus influencing their decision. There is also the issue of racial biasness which can be seen in the case of Sander v UK.