The English legal system today

Are the post arrangements concerning jury trial sufficiently flexible to cope with the trials of members of ethnic minorities or cases of serious fraud? The English legal system is not entirely dominated by legal professionals, for laypersons have been involved in the administration of justice in various ways. One prominent aspect of the courts involving the use of laypersons is the jury system. This system relies on twelve randomly selected ordinary persons, aged between eighteen and seventy, without legal knowledge to decide on criminal law cases and civil cases (defamation, malicious prosecution, fraud and imprisonment).

Unlike judges who are arbiters of law, juries are essentially arbiters of facts, taking into account the law explained by the judge. Over the years, this system has attracted considerable praise due to its democratic structure showing the involvement of society in carrying out justice. This point was expounded in R v Sussex JJ ex p McCarthy (1924): “justice should not only be done, but be seen to be done”. While these praises take into account the role of the jury in general, how far are jury trials able to deal with cases involving members of ethnic minorities?

A better way to answer this question is to review the history of the British society. Prior to the 1600’s England was still a nation involved mainly in the affairs of Europe, and the development of its society and industry. That period was referred to as the industrial revolution, which beginning from a few agricultural based inventions eventually brought England to the status of an industrial power. At that juncture, England was almost entirely populated by white Europeans and had no empire yet. However, by the 1700’s things began to change.

England, in order to search for new markets to feed her industries, embarked on a path of conquest that ultimately resulted in the nation occupying one-fifth of the world. While the British established more markets, they also subjugated many races from the territories the held in Africa, Asia, America and Australia. In fact, by the 1800’s only one-eighth of the 400 million citizens of the British Empire were white, and the fact that the whites were the colonial masters made them feel superior to the other races. When the British Empire went into decline after the Second World War, many nations were granted independence.

However, many people from those nations were offered British citizenship, as in the situation of Hong Kong where its people were given the choice to either become a Chinese citizen, or to remain a British subject. Hence the face of the British society can be said to have become more multi-racial and multi-cultural. The question here is whether the rising numbers of ethnic minorities in the UK can be treated equally, and with respect by the very peoples who subjugated them, and who were their masters until less than half a decade ago, especially in the field of law.

One of the most prominent features of a jury trial is the process of random selection (regulated by the Juries Act 1974), which randomly selects people from the electoral register to perform the role of the jury. The problem with this process is that it may not always result in a fair presentation of public conscience. One reason is that this process seldom takes into account of minority ethnic groups, and instead often result in a jury made up mostly of whites.

If a jury consisting mostly of whites, are told to judge the crimes of an Asian, they may not understand or be sympathetic to his reasons, as opposed to a jury with members of similar origins. Furthermore, older members of the British society may still cling on to the values of the former British Empire, which is superiority over the subjugated races. Racial awareness has been common in Europe for a long time, beginning from Europe’s colonial conquests. The whites of those times almost completely believed that they were infinitely more civilized and superior to the other races.

Such views could be seen even in recent times, for example the doctrines of the Nazis (and sadly their extermination of the Jews), and the apartheid system of the white South Afrikaans (which were only abolished when Nelson Mandela came to power in the 1990’s). If a jury trial were to incorporate juries with such views, it would be disastrous for the defendant if he were from an ethnic minor group. An example would be the trial of Irish ethnic minorities in the case of the Guildford Four, where a jury panel that was emotionally biased convicted innocent Irish citizens.

In a way, the jury system often results in jury trials unfair to members of ethnic minor groups, in that a jury consisting of whites that may be unsympathetic to them, or are simply discriminatory often tries the members of ethnic minorities. However, certain provisions made in recent years such as the introduction of interviews of jurors regarding their personal views, have made it possible for minor ethnic groups to receive fairer trials, and this shows that to a certain extent that jury trials are relatively flexible enough to at least provide fairer jurors for minor ethnic groups.

Furthermore, white juries are not always discriminatory, even for serious crimes such as murder, as seen in the case of R v Ahluwalia, where the jury was able to sympathize with the reasons of the abused wife. However, in my own opinion, the current arrangements of the jury, although flexible and adequate, still does not solve the problem of equal representation. If there are a hundred whites in an area, and only two or three people of other ethnic groups, it is most likely that the jury panel selected from the area would be entirely white.

Hence, I suggest that seats be “reserved” for ethnic minorities in the jury panel. For example two out of the twelve jury positions can be reserved for jurors who will be randomly selected from ethnic minorities. Although this will definitely result in more inconvenience, since there will be two sets of random selections – one for the whites and one for ethnic minorities, I believe this will result in a fairer and more equal representation of the pluralistic society the UK has today.