‘Trial by jury is outdated, expensive and ineffective in ensuring justice’ Analyse arguments for and against this statement in relation to the recent changes proposed and the relevant literature

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‘Trial by jury is outdated, expensive and ineffective in ensuring justice’

Analyse arguments for and against this statement in relation to the recent changes proposed and the relevant literature

Jury trials have become a contentious point within the English legal system since the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, or the Runciman Commission, made its report in 1993 (James & Raine, 1993:40). The history of trial by jury can be traced back to the county assize courts and the county quarter sessions of the eighteenth century, where jury trial was used in addition to the presence of judiciary. They were there for the purpose of active participation – interrupting proceedings to ask questions and so on. Since the 1700’s however, the jury have gradually become an ‘audience’ who, despite the entitlement to ask questions at any time, generally do not exercise the right (Emsley, 1997:75). The courts of the time were notoriously corrupt, and juries were a means of the public holding an element of control in the criminal justice system. Trial by jury has changed little in format since its introduction over two centuries ago. It is still a panel of twelve lay-persons, made up of those who are willing to sit on the jury. Under English law:

‘..the jury system gives ordinary persons a part to play in the

administration of justice.’

(Keenan, 1998:95).

At present, ‘ordinary persons’ are those eligible under three separate Acts of Parliament – the Juries Act 1974, the Juries (Disqualification) Act 1984, and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (CJPOA) 1994 (Davies, Croall & Tyrer, 1998:209, Keenan, 1998:94, Sanders & Young, 2000:559). The Juries Act 1974 states that people registered on the electoral roll – the ‘Register of Electors’ for local and governmental election purposes are those who are suitable for jury service. As with any Act governing criminal proceedings, there are exceptions to this rule. The prospective jurors must have resided in the UK, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for at least five years since they were thirteen years of age. They also ought to be between the ages of eighteen and seventy (Keenan, 1998:94). There are three ways in which a person otherwise eligible can be excluded from serving, namely ineligibility, disqualification or excusal. Ineligibility covers members of the judiciary, legal profession and the police – this is because they may then be in a position to exercise ‘undue influence on a jury’s deliberations’ (Sanders & Young, 2000:559). It also includes members of the clergy and people who are registered as having a mental disorder, who are not necessarily in a position to make a decision as would be required of them as a juror. Automatic disqualification includes anyone who has been on probation in the preceding five years, as well as those who have served a community service penalty or a custodial sentence in the previous ten years (Davies et al, 1998:209). Those who have served a custodial sentence of more than five years are disqualified for their entire lives under the Juries (Disqualification) Act 1984 (Keenan, 1998:94). The CJPOA 1994 then added the disqualification of anyone currently on bail from the police or courts (Davies et al, 1998:209). Some of those who wish to be excused from jury duty may be given it as of right, such as members of the medical professions, the Armed Services, MPs or those who are over sixty-five. People have the entitlement to request excusal on such grounds as a holiday which was pre-booked, that they know people involved in the case – perhaps causing prejudice – or for reasons which may cause personal hardship such as difficulties with childcare or wage-loss (Sanders & Young, 2000:559).

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This method of selection from the members of the general public was designed with the intention of creating random selection from the local population. Jury selection has also become a focal point for the government in the last fifteen years. The Royal Commission on Criminal Justice 1993, also known as the Runciman Commission, was set up to look at the criminal justice system and make recommendations for a reformation of the existing system in place (Cavadino & Dignan, 2002:116). The proposals which were made in the 1993, two years after the research was commissioned, were radical, and caused a ...

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A good essay that considers the main issues well. 4 stars, To bring this up to date, the student could make reference to the Coalition's