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' Is the jury the "...lamp that shows freedom lives"?

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Introduction

' Is the jury the "...lamp that shows freedom lives"?' The history of jury trial dates back many centuries in which time the role and status of jury members have changed considerably as have the number and range of cases tried by the jury system. A major milestone in the history of juries was in Bushell's Case (1670), that established that the juries were the sole judges of fact, with the right to give a verdict according to conscience. They could not be penalized for taking a view of the facts opposed to that of the judge. The importance of this power today is that juries may acquit a defendant, even when the law demands a guilty verdict. In contemporary society, the jury is considered a fundamental part of the English legal system, and it occupies an almost sacred place in the public's imagination. It has been referred to as the " lamp that shows freedom lives" by Lord Devlin and Jack Straw (former Home Secretary) said that it is a " key freedom in our democracy". Despite its historical role and the sentimental attachments, the jury system has come under increasing attack in recent years. It is a political issue about which there is much excited, and lamentably cliched debate. ...read more.

Middle

The view that randomly chosen members of the public are the best judges of the facts may vary on the nature of the offence. In serious fraud trials it may be argued that analytical skills are relatively more important than in most other trials and that the average juror's ability to assess credibility and honesty in the complicated world of commercial transactions is reduced. Although willing to perform their ' civic duty', some may lack the education that would enable them to follow a complicated argument or form a coherent opinion. These jurors may simply follow the majority when it comes time to vote on a verdict. A succession of high profile criminal trials in recent years has served to highlight the continuing difficulties, which appear to be created by trial by jury in large and complex cases. In addition, when these cases have produced a conviction, the outcome has on occasion been quashed on appeal either because it is unmanageable or there is a significant risk of miscarriage of justice. In R v. Jones, the trial judge discharged the jury from returning verdicts once the prosecution case had been presented on the grounds that the jury would not be able to recall the vital features of the evidence by the time they would be asked to refine. ...read more.

Conclusion

(The Times, Nov. 20th 1978). It appears that the jury has maintained its importance in contemporary society. It is a vital instrument in the maintenance of our democracy. Public involvement in the justice system provides openness and it enriches our community. The issue of complex cases does however call into question its abilities and its importance. A solution to this problem however could be to have a separate decision making body for cases considered to be complex. There are constructive reforms that fall way short of restriction of the right to trial by jury e.g. October progress report expressed proposals to improve representation on jurors by making it more difficult for potential jurors to be excused. All in all, it appears that the jury system is a key figure in our society. Perhaps a fundamental overhaul of the jury system with regards people escaping duty and to ensure that they are more representatives of the population would not be out of the question. Independence! Openness! Public Involvement! How important are these features of jury trial considered to be in our criminal justice system? Either we want a democratic element maintained in our system or we don't. Either we trust the judgement of twelve ordinary citizens or we don't. ...read more.

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