The fact that ordinary members of the public attend in judicial hearings, evaluate evidence, give verdicts etc. became an important distinguishing feature of the English legal system. Although the jury as an English legal institution can claim a very long history, controversies surrounding professional judges and juries are still under debate. The jury in comparison with judges have certain advantages such as objectivity, possibility to represent the same social class as defendants, rare cases of corruption, but judges differ in qualification, experience and responsibility for the cases.
The first and most important advantage of the jury is their objectivity. The twelve jurors are completely unknown to the person accused and can give him/her a fair trial. Furthermore, the jurors have no prior knowledge of the case and will be able to reach their verdict entirely on the evidence presented at the trial. Thus, the responsibility for law and order is a community responsibility. It is clear that the person accused leaves his/her freedom in the hands of ordinary people rather than entirely in the hands of the lawyers.
So, the jury for their objectivity can be called an instrument of justice. The second advantage of the jury is the fact that most jurors represent the same social class as defendants. In fact, the jury consists of twelve individuals chosen at random from the community. The jurors are likely to be a cross – section of the people and thus represent the views of the common man. Society appears to have an attachment to the jury trial which is emotional or sentimental rather than logical.
As most English judges belong to the nobility, they seem to be unfair when they try cases of the common man only according to proved facts and collected evidence. That is why society believes that the jury trial is the fairest form of trial. The final advantage of the jury is rare cases of their corruption. First of all, there are less possibilities to bribe twelve members of the jury than one judge. As the juror has no prior knowledge which case he/she will have to try next day, the person accused does not know who will represent his/her interests and thus cannot bribe the member of the jury.
On the other hand, the legislation permits the juror to receive a subsistence allowance and a financial loss allowance in order he/she would not be interested in illegal money. Thus, the jury are placed above any influence or corruption. So, it is clear that trying to bribe or persuade the juror otherwise is a predictable failure. Speaking of controversies surrounding judges and juries, it can be noticed that judges also have some advantages versus jury. One of them is the legal qualification of the judges.
It is known that the jurors are not law specialists and that they are chosen at random. The judges, on the contrary, have the legal intelligence and perfect knowledge of law. This fact enables them to examine documents or accounts or any specific investigation which cannot conveniently be made with the jury. Due to the lack of the legal knowledge the jurors have difficulties in understanding evidence and this fact can cause an unfair decision for the defendant. So, the qualification of the judges is a weighty argument versus the jury.
The second advantage of the judges and argument against the jury is the experience of the judges. A minimum period of experience as practising advocates is required for the judges, increasing from ten to fifteen years. It is clear that during this period the judges learn to cope with complexity of many cases, to give reasons of crimes in judicial hearings etc. Most jurors do not have such skills and that cause difficulties in giving verdicts. Therefore, the jury are easily swayed by the eloquence of a barrister in judicial hearings and are more vulnerable to persuasive arguments than the judge.
So, being the experienced lawyers, the judges have an advantage over the jury and can better support their arguments according to principles of law. The final advantage of the judges is their responsibility for the cases. The essential difference between the jury and the judge comparing their responsibility and functions is the fact that the jury only pronounce verdicts whether defendants are guilty or not guilty. If the jury find the person accused guilty, that person is convicted and the sentence of the court is the responsibility of the judge.
So, the jury have no part to play in the decision as to sentence and this is within the competence of the judge. On the other hand, the guilt of the person accused has to be established to the satisfaction of the twelve jurors and a majority verdict is also permissible. The judge, on the contrary, has to sentence the defendant alone. In conclusion, feeling the great responsibility for the cases and the persons accused the judges try the cases more carefully and seek to discover the truth only on a point of law.
Summing all pros and cons in controversies surrounding juries and judges, it is useful to remind that both juries and judges have their advantages and disadvantages. The jurors in comparison with the judges are more objective and less predictable to corrupt representatives of all social classes, but the judges are qualified and experienced specialists carrying responsibility for the cases. To decide whether legal institution is better is a very debatable question. Indeed, the fact that both juries and judges take part in English courts propose a conclusion that they both are useful and necessary.