The Contempt of Court Act

"The first object of any tyrant in Whitehall would be to make Parliament utterly subservient to his will; and the next to overthrow or diminish trial by jury, for no tyrant could afford to leave a subject's freedom in the hands of 12 of his countrymen. So that trial by jury is more than an instrument of justice and more than one wheel of the constitution: it is the lamp that shows that freedom lives". But Professor Hogan of Leeds University, one of the leading academic experts on criminal law, put the opposite:- "In my view, trial by jury has long awaited its usefulness.

We preserve it because it's a scared cow. It's been with us for so long and we're failing to look carefully into it, to see what it does, and to see whether there are rational grounds for defending it. If we'd never had trial by jury in this country and our practice had been to try cases by judges, rationally finding the facts and drawing inferences, and I were to come boldly along with the suggestion that this professional judgement should be replaced by an almost inscrutable verdict, by the first 12 men and women you meet in the street, I think any sensible person would believe that I'd gone out of my mind".

Lord Devlin also said that the jury is "the lamp that shows that freedom lives", though Lord McCluskey, the 1986 Reith lecturer suggested that the wick on the lamp had been trimmed recently". In Criminal Law Review (1991) (Crim Law 740), Penny Darbyshire discusses the jury system and concludes that juries are far from being either a random or a representative section of the population. She states that the jury is "an anti-democratic, irrational and haphazard legislation, whose erratic and secret decisions run counter to the rule of law".

But Michael Mansfield QC claimed that the jury "is the most democratic element of our judicial system" and the one which "poses the biggest threat to the authorities". Juries have been around for 800 years, but their functions and compositions have changed considerably over that period. Juries in civil trials have all but disappeared, except for the occasional libel case or false imprisonment, e. g. Jeffrey Archer libel case, in 1987, Koo Stark in 1997, Sonia Sutcliffe in 1990. Juries are now governed by the Juries Act 1974 as amended by subsequent Criminal Justice Acts.

The Function of the Jury The jury has to weigh up the evidence and decide what are the true facts of the case, i. e. what actually happened. The judge directs them as to what is the relevant law, and the jury then have to apply the law to the facts that they have found and thereby reach a verdict. Jury service is compulsory. QUALIFICATION FOR JURY SERVICE: – Home Office research in 1999 found that only 1 of 3 people summoned for jury service actually turned up to do it. Forty percent (40%) were excused for personal reasons – work, holidays, exams, medical etc.

Many believe that potential jurors easily escape their duty for no valid reason, as the courts do not have the resources to check every application to be excused. ELIGIBILITY To be eligible to serve on a jury you must be on the electoral register, aged between 18 years and 70 years. Selection is made by random numbers on a computer. In 2001, a Central Juror Summoning Bureau was established to administer the juror summoning process for the whole country.

There are categories of people, who cannot serve on a jury and are therefore ineligible,e. g. judges, magistrates, lawyers, police, prison warders and others connected with the administration of justice; the clergy, the mentally ill. EXCUSED Other categories are eligible but in practice are automatically excused: members of the Armed Forces, MP's, peers of the realm, doctors, nurses and others in the medical field, and anyone can be excused because of particular personal circumstances, e. g. the blind or deaf, mothers with very small children, people running one man businesses, holiday, student taking examinations etc.


Where there is some doubt about a potential juror's capacity to serve because of e. g. deafness, language problems, the judge can discharge the person under Section 41 Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994. Media attention was drawn to this issue in 1999 when a deaf person, Mr McWhinney was discharged. Mr McWhinney wished to fulfil his role as a citizen by sitting on the jury with the help of a signer – but his appeal was not allowed as the addition of the signer would make the jury 13 rather than 12 in number. DISQUALIFIED Finally, no one with a serious criminal record is supposed to sit on a jury.

Anyone who has had imposed on him a sentence of imprisonment, or youth custody or community or suspended sentence service within the previous 10 years is disqualified, as is anyone who has received a sentence of imprisonment or youth custody for 5 years or more. Also, anyone placed on probation within the previous 5 years is also disqualified. A typical jury today is likely to be much younger, have a closer ratio of men to women and have more working-class members than one 10 years ago. Some lawyers take the view that the lower age limit should be 25 years. INTELLIGENCE

Juries are also criticised on the basis that their level of comprehension of cases, and perhaps their level of intelligence, are too low. The Frauds Trial Committee, chaired by Lord Roskill, recommended that juries should be abolished in complex fraud trials to be replaced by a panel of accountants and tax experts, but this was not taken up by the then government. In 1998, the present government in its 1998 consultation paper suggested abolishing juries in fraud trials replacing them with a specially trained judge and 2 lay people with expertise in commercial matters or a panel of judges but such proposals have not yet been implemented.

The jury for a particular case is chosen by random ballot in open court and the 12 are sworn in. The juror must promise, "I will faithfully try the several issues joined between our sovereign lady the Queen and the prisoner at the Bar, and give a true verdict according to the evidence". In 1997, a judge sentenced two women jurors to 30 days in prison for contempt of court for their failure to deliver a verdict. One of the women claimed that the case, involving an allegation of fraud, had been too complicated to understand and the other said she could not ethically judge anyone.

The judge said "I had to order a re-trial at very great expense. Jurors must recognise that they have a responsibility to fulfil their duties in accordance with their oath". Following a public outcry their sentence was overturned and the two women spent only one night in jail. RACIAL BALANCE The Commission for Racial Equality argue that consideration needs to be given to the racial balance in particular cases, i. e. the judge should have power to ensure that a percentage of the jury should come from the same ethnic minority of the defendant or victim.

The Review of the Criminal Courts (2001) endorsed this proposal but it has not been implemented. The problems caused by lack of racial representation on juries can be seen in the Rodney King case in America, where a policeman was found not guilty of assaulting a black motorist despite a video tape of the incident showing brutal conduct. The case was tried in an area with a very high white population, while the incident occurred in an area with a high black population.

However the decision in R v FORD [1989] that there is no principle that a jury should be racially balanced still holds. THE VERDICT The jury then sits to hear the trial. The judge, at the end of his summing-up, emphasises that the jury must try to reach a unanimous verdict. If they find they cannot reach a 12-0 or 11-1, the judge may accept a majority verdict. How long a judge will wait before telling them about the majority verdict depends on the complexity of the case, but it must not be less than 2 hours.

The foreman of the jury must state in open court the numbers of the jurors agreeing and disagreeing with the verdict. Majority verdicts were introduced to stop jury nobbling (i. e. one juror being bribed or threatened to return a not guilty verdict). In October 1994, the Court of Appeal ordered the re-trial of a man convicted of double murder on the grounds that four of the jurors had attempted to contact the murder victims using an Ouija board as a "drunken experiment". NO REASONS GIVEN FOR VERDICT

Juries do not have to justify, explain or give reasons for their decision. Under the Contempt of Court Act 1981, it is contempt of court to try to obtain information from a juror about the verdict. These factors place the jury in a very strong position to take decisions that are "unjustifiable" in accordance with the law. Juries have, therefore, sometimes delivered perverse decisions. In R v CLIVE PONTING [1985], the defendant was a civil servant, was prosecuted after passing confidential information to a journalist which showed that the government of the time had lied.

The judge made clear beyond doubt that the defendant was guilty under the Official Secrets Act 1911, but the jury still returned a not-guilty verdict. In R v KRONLID [1996], 4 protestors were charged with criminal damage amounting to i?? 1. 5M regarding an attack on Hawk Jet aeroplanes which were about to be sent to Indonesia. They did not deny causing the damages but defended their actions by stating that as the planes were to be used by Indonesia against the people of East Timor, they were preventing the crime of genocide.

The jury returned a not-guilty verdict. Not all cases are overtly political. In R v OWEN [1992] the defendant's son had been knocked down and killed by a lorry driver who had never taken a driving test and had a long criminal record for drink driving and violence. The lorry driver was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison and was released after 1 year. At no time did he display any remorse for what he had done. On release from prison he resumed driving unlawfully. The defendant took a shotgun and injured the lorry driver.