Trial by Jury

The jury system has been in our legal system for hundreds of years. It was first established in the 1215 Magna Carta, later in the 1679 Habeus Corpus Act and now in s80 of the Australian constitution. The jury system has played an important role in the legal system and has laid out a defining role for each aspect involving the judiciary system. In the following essay I will be disclosing the relevance and necessity that juries play in the Australian legal system.

I will also discuss, what the advantages and disadvantages are by having a jury trial. Currently the Constitution s80 states, “The trial on indictment of any offence against any law of the Commonwealth shall be by jury…” This is a defined piece of legislation meaning that any indictable offence is to be trialed by jury. The Australian legal system also follows the Adversarial System (Habeus Corpus, 1679). The Adversarial system has the use of a jury to decide on a person’s guilt or innocence.

The Magna Carta 1215 was also another important legal document suggesting that their fellow peers should judge the guilt of a person. It states, “…No free man shall be seized, or imprisoned, or dispossessed, or outlawed, or in anyway destroyed; nor will we condemn him, nor will we commit him to prison, except by the legal judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land…” Jury means a body of people sworn to give a verdict in a legal case on the basis of evidence submitted to them in court via the prosecution or defense.

The twelve jurists are chosen by the electoral role. (S4 (1) and s4 (2) Jury Act 1995) The selection is normally done via computer (s16 Jury Act 1995); it has no influences and remains completely un-biased. This means that there is no secure selection of a jury, which could lead to a certain decision being made in a case. During the empanelling process both the prosecutor and defense are allowed to object to certain jurists with reasonable and just reasons, if the jurist would affect the trial in any way (s42 (3) Jury Act 1995).

Once the accused has been charged with a crime, the court will order a trial by jury in criminal matters. At the end of each trial when the jury is coming to a conclusion, each jurist has to believe with ‘BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT’ (s272. 72 (4(2) Criminal Code Act 1995) that the accused truly committed the crime, it is the standard of proof recorded in the criminal code. If one jurist believes with doubt the accused committed the crime it can lead to a hung jury. If a hung jury occurs a re- trial will be ordered unless a majority verdict has been granted.

In s59 of the Jury Act it states in what cases a majority verdict would be allowed and what cases a majority verdict would be denied. “Their role is to make the most important decision in any court case: whether or not the defendant is guilty as charged (or, in civil cases, who is? at fault). They bring to the task a wealth of experience, common sense and insight. ” Quote by Chief Justice Paul De Jersey AC (Juror’s Handbook) on the Jury’s importance and how they advantage the Legal system. In the legal system the jury is seen as fundamental and important part of the system.

The advantages to the jury system are under constant argument from many of the stakeholders such as; government, parliament, courts, general public and the defendant. The jury system is seen as an important part of our legal system due to it being involved in the law for hundreds of years. A main advantage we have through the use of the jury system is that all bias and prejudice would be cancelled through 12 different perspectives, morals and values of each person who is to assess the case, each different perspective can help provide the defendant with a ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ and more just decision.

“…The genius of the jury system is that it allows for the ordinary experiences of ordinary people to be brought to bear in the determination of factual matters. ” (DONEY V R (1990) 65 ALJR 45,47) The jury system manages to provide fairness and equality through the use of ordinary people who have no legal expertise and prejudices, which is what the above quotation was trying to provide. Whilst the Jury system is seen of such importance to the legal system, you cannot however forget the disadvantages and unsatisfactory standards or problems that occur through it.

In a recent law reform commission report by Queensland they argued a reform was needed, it stated, “…it is time for uncritical veneration of the jury to end. Juries and other tribunals, including magistrates ought to be opened up more rigorous scrutiny. The interests of justice demand that the mystery that surrounds such institutions be finally swept away. ” (Legal Studies for Queensland, Vol. 1, Sixth edition, pg. 205) This quote helps provide reasoning that many legal experts do not agree that the jury system is relevant and needed.

They argue that there is too much mystery to the jury thus meaning they do not provide true equality and justice. There have been many legal debates arguing that the jury is not equipped or have the mental capacity to understand complicated evidence or understand the meaning when shown in court such as; Forensic evidence. It has been analyzed that since shows such as; CSI, many jurists have more inclined to acquit suspects where there is no scientific evidence, even if the need for such evidence is irrelevant.

(Legal studies in Action One for Queensland, pg. 123) Another disadvantage facing the jury system in criminal trials that has become a major time consuming problem is that of a hung jury. A hung jury is when not all twelve jurists can reach a unanimous decision. To order a re-trial through a hung jury is costly and time consuming. The jury system has many important factors and is a controversial argument. There are many people involved in the productiveness of the jury system. These people are called stakeholders.

Some of the stakeholders in the jury system include; Australia’s government and parliament, the Australian public, judiciary system and anyone involved in the trials of particular indictable offences. This system is clearly important and relevant to not only the legal system but also society due to the trust and stability that it has provided to the general public. Jury trials have been seen and described as a way of protecting the accused’s rights. (Legal Studies for Queensland, Vol. 1, Sixth edition, pg.205).

There are specific laws that help keep the jury system honorable and trust worthy. These include; ‘Queensland Criminal Code Act 1889’ and the ‘Jury Act 1995’. There has been special acts including the ‘Jury Amendment Act 1957’ that provides evidence that the jury system will also change with time to make it more reliable and fair. So the answer to this hypothesis is yes, jury systems are relevant although there are many imperfections and flaws that the parliament needs to look at to improve the fairness and justice needed for each and every person involved in the law of Australia.