The jury system

Briefly outline where juries can be found and explain the selection and qualification procedures used in the jury system. Juries can be seen in many areas of our legal system. The most obvious is when they are found in the Crown Court, deciding the verdict of the trial. However jury trials account for less than one per cent of all criminal trials, but nevertheless play an important role in cases such as murder and rape.

Juries are also seen in the High Court, dealing with such cases as defamation, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and allegations of fraud, they will decide if the accused is liable and if so decide the amount awarded in damages. The County Court also uses juries for the same types of cases as the High Court, and their role is also identical. The last court to use juries is that of the Coroner's Court, where the jury will decide the cause of death in circumstances such as deaths in prison, in police custody, industrial accidents or where the health and safety of the public is involved.

In the Crown Court, an official is appointed who is responsible for summonsing enough jurors to sit at the cases to be heard over the course of the fortnight. The jurors are randomly selected from the electoral register, for the area that the court covers. Summons are then sent to the correct number of people required, these people must attend for two weeks jury duty. It is necessary to order for more than the actual number of jurors needed, as some may be disqualified and others may not turn up, this allows the cases to proceed regardless of these setbacks.

To sit as a juror you must be aged between 18 and 70, have your name listed on the Register of Electors for Parliamentary or Local Government elections, and have lived in the United Kingdom, The Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for a length of 5 years since the age of 13. Possible jury members are not qualified if they have ever been sentenced to imprisonment for life, to imprisonment or youth custody for 5 years or more, to be detained during Her Majesty's Pleasure.

If they have in the last 10 years served a sentence of imprisonment, youth custody or detention, received a suspended sentence of imprisonment or an order of detention, or have been subject to a community service order. An individual is also disqualified from jury duty if in the last 5 years they have been placed on probation or are placed on bail awaiting criminal proceedings. Any people concerned with the administration of justice, such as a solicitor are not allowed to sit in a jury and those who operate within the judicial system like judges cannot sit. Any members of the clergy will find themselves ineligible for jury service.

Citizens could find themselves barred from being in a jury due to mental disorders. Those who are residents in a hospital or who regularly receive treatment for their illness, or people who are in guardianship following section 37 of the Mental Health Act 1983. Finally disqualification will occur if a judge has ruled that the person in question is incapable of managing their property or affairs. Certain professional people can attain excusals as of right, such as MP's, Medical people, The Armed Forces or practising members of a religion that is incompatible with jury service.

B) Critically analyse the advantages and disadvantages of the system. There are many positive and negative points that arise from trial by jury. Such an advantage is that of the general public having confidence in our legal system, decisions regarding possible long-term jail sentences are not left to just one person, but 12 independent strangers. However with only around 1% of cases using juries, most of the decisions still fall to people such as Judges, it is also unclear as to how confident the public are in our system, and so using this as an advantage is somewhat dubious.

Juries are not bound over by the law, their decision can be made without giving reason, this is a positive point as some defendants may not deserve a sentence and yet under the precedence of the law would be given one. This is the last line of defence against old laws, which give no leeway even if the circumstances are exceptional. Although, with so many perverse verdicts it would seem that defendants who blatantly break the law are found not guilty, simply because the juries fail to follow the law and come to a verdict simply through their own hearts.

This certainly cannot be good and therefore questions have to be raised about how guilty people walk free. Using juries is widely seen as opening up the legal system and making it less secretive, involving the general public and giving them a key role in the cases, yet the jury deliberate in secrecy and need to reason for their verdict whereas a judge must deliver a explanation as to their decision, if a mistake therefore has been made, it can be appealed against.

The privacy of the jury room allows them to consider the case free from the intimidation of other people, as well as allowing the law to some extent to be ignored. On the other hand this secrecy leads to questions such as whether the members of the jury actually fully understood the case, any mistakes could have lead to the wrong verdict being made. The whole point of any legal system is to free the innocent and to punish the guilty, but if we cannot be sure if juries are getting it right how can we have confidence in the system.

If we were to allow one person to hear each case, then the chances are that they would become somewhat hardened to each type of trial, allowing 12 strangers to do the same job reduces decisions being made which come directly from knowledge of other cases. Any prejudices within the jury should be cancelled out by other members, even though it has be noted that one or two strong willed people can sway the decisions of other people, meaning the wrong verdict may be reached. In high profile cases, it is possible that the media coverage will influence the jury; this is something that we can only hope does not stop the right to a fair trial.

We cannot shield off 12 members of the public from the world for the length of the case, but the possible repercussions of the media are quite worrying in terms of getting the right verdict. Trials involving fraud can cause problems for juries, the sheer complexness of the case and lengthiness, some lasting for months, cause great strain to juries. It is rather unfair to expect citizens to sit for such lengths of time, and with the difficulty of the case, they may again reach the wrong verdict.

The very aim of trials being to reach the correct verdict and yet with juries there are problems which can cause this not to happen, it is important that these are prevented. Statistics show that around 60 per cent of all defendants who plead not guilty are in fact acquitted, therefore juries it would seem are reasonably unsure when coming to a guilty decision, the consequences for the defendant obviously influence the juries decision and not necessarily the law, so the point of juries again is put into question.

However as with all statistics, they can be made to look different than they are, on closer inspection of the information to hand it can be learnt that most of the acquittals given where in fact by a judge without a jury even being sworn in, so the current acquittal rate cannot be blamed entirely on juries.

Finally it is very possible that jurors are prey to jury nobbling, the temptation of a bribe to influence a verdict is very much real and to some impossible to refuse. It is rather hard to prevent this from happening, but a retrial can be ordered if it is found that someone interfered with the proceedings. This is just an upshot of trial by jury and all the disadvantages does not constitute the end of juries, 'the lamp that shows that freedom lives'.