The jury has three roles based on what cases or courts they are based in. In criminal cases, the jury sits at the Crown Court and their role is to deliver a guilty or not guilty verdict based on the facts presented. A jury is only used in about 2% of criminal cases, and juries only sit when the offence is either way or indictable. The jury represents society as it symbolises democracy when it must come to an unanimous verdict of either 11-1 or 10-2, and any other verdict results in a hung jury. In civil cases however, less than 1% of cases are tried by the jury. In civil cases, the jury must decide whether the defendant is liable or not liable, and if so the amount of damages the claimant should receive. The jury either sits at the High Court or the County Court on civil cases. According to S.66 of the County Courts Act 1984, a case must be worth from £25-£30,000 to sit at the County Court. According to S.69 of the Supreme Courts Act 1981, a case must be worth a minimum of £50,000 to sit at the High Court. At the County Court, 8 jurors sit, while at the High Court there are 12.
The Supreme Court also ruled that a jury may be used in the following civil cases: libel and slander (S.11 of the Defamation Act 2003, a trial is to be ‘without a jury unless the court orders otherwise’), malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, and fraud. Due to Ward v James (1965), juries are no longer used in personal injury cases as it can be too difficult to work out the amount of damages by looking at the claimant’s life story and earnings. Additionally, a jury can sit at the Coroner’s Court. A jury will sit at this court to decide a cause of death when a death has occurred in suspicious circumstances. Coroner’s Court juries are used in four circumstances, and these are when a death has occurred in police custody, in prison, through and industrial accident, and deaths where the health and safety of the public is concerned. Some examples of cases where a Coroner’s Court jury has been used was during the death of Princess Diana, and the Hillsborough Inquest.
The jury’s most crucial aspect is that it is random and representative. Under the Juries Act 1974, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, all jurors must be aged between 18 and 75, registered on the electoral register, and be a resident in the UK for at least 5 years since their 13th birthday. Before the Auld Review, the option for middle class workers to not attend jury duty was available. But following this review, the middle class ‘opt0out’ has now been scrapped, meaning that any profession can sit on the jury. This even includes, judges, police officers and members of the legal profession. This, however, can cause some problems, as demonstrated in Hanif and Khan v UK (2011). In this case a police officer on the jury knew one of the police witnesses in a professional capacity. This is then a breach of Article.6 of the ECHR, right to a fair trial. Today, the only people who are disqualified from the jury are those who are mentally ill, have serious criminal convictions, are currently on bail and those who have been convicted under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.
The Jury Summoning Bureau is the body responsible for the selection of the jury. This bureau ensures that members of the public urn up for jury duty when they are required to. The bureau deals with request for excusal from the jury, but it can only defer these individuals and not fully excuse them. The potential list of jurors is selected using a computer, which randomly picks individuals from the electoral register. Jury service usually lasts around two weeks, but this can often be more for more complex or serious cases. On the day, the jurors will receive a set of notes explaining the procedure and functions, and what they must do while they are in court.
Contempt of court:
Contempt of court is referred to as holding up the legal process by failing to attend jury duty or turning up intoxicated. If jurors fail to attend jury duty, or they turn up after taking drugs or drinking alcohol, they can face up to two years in prison for holding up the legal process in court. The Contempt of Court Act 1981 S.8 provides that jurors are forbidden to discuss the case after the trial is over. Additionally, jurors are forbidden from talking to anyone other than the judge or court officials until the verdict is given once the jury retires. An example of where contempt of court was committed was in the A.G v Seckerson and Times Newspapers Ltd (2009), whereby both the newspaper and the juror were fined for breach of the Contempt of Courts Act 1981.
Additionally, the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 brought in four new offences for jurors, which can result in up to two years in prison. This Act amends the Juries Act 1974, and also includes some recommendations made by the Law Commission. S.71 creates an offence for “researching” the case during the trial period. S.72 makes an offence for a jury member to intentionally disclose any information found under S.71 to another member of the jury. S.73 creates an offence for the juror to engage in “prohibited conduct”, which is defined as trying the issue otherwise than on the basis of the evidence presented in court. And finally, S.74 creates an offence to intentionally disclose information about statements made, opinions expressed, arguments advanced, or votes cast by members of the jury in the course of their deliberations. However, S.74 also states that intentionally disclosing information is only permitted for the purpose of an investigation by the court into whether contempt of court has been committed. In the case of R v Smith and Deane (2016), both Smith and Deane were charged with contempt of court.
Jury vetting involves research the background jurors to check their suitability, and to exclude any individuals who have extremist views or strong political affiliations from the jury. This process of jury vetting is extremely controversial as it goes against the concept of jury selection being completely random, and the jury therefore being representative. Following the ABC Trial (1978), where two journalists and a solider were charged with collecting secret information, the Attorney General published the Attorney General Guidelines (1980)(1988). These guidelines state that vetting may only be used in cases involving national security or terrorism and vetting can only occur with the permission of the Attorney General. In the case of R v Sheffield Crown Court ex.parte Brownlow (1980), Lord Denning and Shaw condemned jury vetting as “unconstitutional” and a “serious invasion of privacy”. However, this view is opposed in the case of R v Mason (1980), when jury vetting was approved by the Court of Appeal on the grounds that it promoted impartiality.
As the jury are called into court, they can be challenged in three ways before they are sworn in. The first way they can be challenged is for cause. This applies to the prosecution and the defence. Either side may be challenged on the grounds of disqualification or assumed bias. Secondly, they can be challenged to the array. This applies to the prosecution and the defence, and this is a challenge by either side to the whole jury on the grounds that the summoning officer has acted improperly or is biased. In the Romford Jury Case (1993), it was found that nine out of twelve jurors were from Romford, and two jurors lived in close proximity to one another. The third way they can be challenged is to stand by. This applies to the prosecution only, and the prosecution can ask the jury to ‘stand by’ for the Crown, with no reason give. This type of challenging is usually used in conjunction with jury vetting.
The jury is also known to face some racial challenges. At this point in time, the jury is not racially representative. The Auld report suggested that there be racial equality on the jury, but this proposal was rejected by the government. In the case of R v Ford (1989), it was held that there is no power for a judge to order a multi racial jury. In addition to this, the Lammy Report 2017 found that although the jury is not racially representative, there is no evidence to suggest that juries are racist. The Lammy Report 2017 however found that B.A.M.E judges were not as common, and that the Magistrate’s typically sentence B.A.M.E women harder than anyone else.
The first advantage of a jury is that is includes lay participation. The Magna Carta (1215) states that everyone has ‘a right to be tried by one’s peers’ and as the jury is made from members of the public, this idea has been upheld. In addition to this, because the jury is made up of regular people, the verdicts given by the jury are seen to be those of society, and therefore justice is seen to be done. Secondly, the jury is not case hardened. As jurors are ‘one-time players’, they are not case hardened like judges may be. As judges have tried hundreds of cases, their opinions can often be impacted, so having the jury who has not seen cases like this before, can often be better. Next, this concept of having a jury is ancient and has been around for centuries. The whole trial system is based upon juries, and what they stand for. As Lord Devlin said, “the lamp that shows freedom lives”.
Also, juries are reliable in the sense that they can come to common sense decisions. Although juries have no special or legal training before they sit at court, they are able to come to common sense decisions based on the facts and evidence they are presented with. Jurors are also impartial, as they do not know anyone on the case, so they cannot make decisions to favour those they know. In addition to this, juries are less prosecution minded than other legal professionals or judges who have years of experience dealing with cases. The jury consists of a mix of ages and social and cultural backgrounds. Furthermore, a jury offers a bigger range of opinions. Usually, cases are tried by one person, and one opinion only, the judge. By having a jury, the verdict can be seen as more reliable as 12 opinions are better than one. Additionally, s.8 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 makes any discussions outside the jury room forbidden. This means that members of the jury are free to make a verdict without the influence of outside pressures like the media.
Moreover, jury’s convict more than they acquit, which shows that they are capable for upholding the law. Research by Professor Chery Thomas (2010) found that juries convict 2/3 of the time. She also found that there is no evidence that the jury is racist, which is what the Lammy Report 2017 found as well. Finally, unlike judges, the jury is not afraid to give verdicts of conscience. Juries offer some defendants protection against harsh or unjust laws. They represent society’s views and can give verdicts which they believe is morally right and fair rather than legally correct. For example, in the Coulston Four (2022) case, the jury acquitted the case as they felt that the defendants had done what was morally right, by tearing down a statue of a slave trader, after there being requests for it to be taken down for many years.
Firstly, the fact that jury duty is compulsory can sometimes become a disadvantage. As members of the public are required to attend if they are called for jury duty, this can sometimes cause resentment or strain towards the whole process. If a juror resents sitting on the jury, they could go along with the verdict of the majority of jurors just to bring the trial to an end and leave faster. Secondly, the jury can sometimes be faced with particularly disturbing cases. Unlike other legal profession, members of the jury may not be used to or comfortable with seeing graphic images, which must be viewed to make the verdict. Some jurors who face very disturbing cases may need professional counselling afterwards, and this can be expensive and time consuming. For example, in the case of R v West (1996), the jury had to look at images of bodies, that Fred West had buried under his patio.
Thirdly, juries can sometimes make biased decisions. This does not apply to every juror and verdict, but sometimes jurors can be biased towards particular genders, ages, races, sexualities, religions, lifestyles or even be anti-police. However, some jurors can be stopped from taking part in jury duty if they have views that are too extreme through jury vetting. Next, there is a worry about what level of understanding jurors have about the case they are trying. Middlesex University research for the Home Office found that only 43% of jurors actually understood everything that was happening during the trial. For example, in R v Pryce (2013), the trail collapsed after the judge found that the jury was struggling to understand the basics of the case. Also, the influence of social media and news platforms can also be seen as a disadvantage. The majority of people sitting on the jury will have social media, and it often can be hard to ignore these posts about cases. For example, during the case of the death of Angela Wrightson in 2015, a large number of comments on Facebook about the case after just one day in court, caused the trial to be scrapped and moved to another city.
Furthermore, jurors can sometimes be unpredictable in their verdicts. According to Professor Penny Darbyshire, juries are “irrational and haphazard”. Jurors can often disregard the evidence presented to them, and instead give verdicts based on other things. Statistics also show that juries have a much higher acquittal rate in the Crown Court of 43%, as opposed to 26% in the Magistrates’’. For example, in R v Young, the judge ordered a retrial as members of the jury were caught using a Ouija board to try and contact the dead victim involved in the case. In addition, the opinions of juries can be easily convinced by barristers, and jurors can even be distracted and manipulated while in court. This was seen in the case of R v Alexander and Steen (2004), where a retrial was ordered when a juror bombarded a member of the prosecution with romantic proposals. Finally, due to the Contempt of Court Act 1981, all jurors are forbidden to discuss the case or their reason for the verdict. This makes it very difficult for research into the jury to be completed, as the jury are sworn to secrecy. In the cases of R v Mirza (2004) and R v Connor and Rollock, it was held that S.8 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 did not breach A.6 of the ECHR, right to a fair trial.
Jury tampering is when jury members are bribed, intimidated, or manipulated into making a certain verdict. The police can be used to protect the jury during the trial period, but this police protection is not always effective, is expensive and pulls the police away from their other duties. So, to remedy this issue, S.44 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 states that where there has already been an effort to tamper with the jury, the prosecution may apply for the case to be tried by judge alone. This can be seen in R v Twomey and others (2009), where 3 previous trials saw the jury being tampered with, so the case was then heard by judge alone. Additionally, in the fraud case of KS v R (2010), on the tenth trial a member of the jury was approached by a friend of the defendant in the court’s public smoking area.
There are many questions over whether having a jury is still necessary when they are only used in around 2% of criminal cases today. Because of this, there are four other alternatives created to the jury. The first alternative is to have a single judge try the case. By having a single judge instead of a jury, a lot of time would be saved, and therefore money. By having a trained legal professional trying the case only, the number of defiant verdicts or verdicts that are morally correct but not legally would be avoided. This method is referred to as a Diplock Court and was used in Northern Ireland in 2007 following the terrorist war. However, judges are often case hardened, and prosecution minded, and this then has an affect on their opinions. Also, judges typically all come from the same middle class, privileged background, which could mean that they are out of touch with the rest of society.
The second alternative to a hurry is to have a bench of judges. This bench would consist of three to five judges and would provide more opinions and thus a more balanced view. However, this method of being tried by a bench of judges is more expensive than having a jury, and it loses the element of public participation which helps society to see in their eyes that ‘justice has been done’. The third alternative to a jury is to have a trained jury. This would mean that a panel of non-lawyers would be trained to try cases, so they are aware of exactly what to do when they enter court. However, this would mean that the panel could only consist of older, retired, middle class people who are not reliant on wages to live. This panel of people would then end up reflecting the magistracy, instead of the public. Finally, the last alternative to a jury is to have a mixed panel of one judge and two lay persons. This method is used in Scandinavian countries and helps to speed up the trial process. Although this method helps to retain public participation, there is always the issue of the lay persons being heavily influenced by the judge, instead of making their own opinions.
The Auld Review favoured this last alternative to the jury, having a mixed panel. They recommended this change to the government in the review, but it was rejected on the basis that the government want to uphold the element of the jury when trying cases. The Auld Review also proposed that the prosecution should prepare a written summary of the case for jurors, and this could potentially help jurors to understand the case better, and therefore their verdict. Research by Professor Cheryl Thomas (2010) additionally found that all white juries do not discriminate, juries almost always reach a verdict and convict 2/3 of the time and there are no courts where juries acquit more than they acquit. Professor Cheryl Thomas also found that jurors want more information on how to do their job, and that written instructions of the case improve jurors legal understanding. Finally, she found that some jurors use the internet to look for information about the case they are trying, but also that some jurors find media reports about their cases difficult to ignore.