Description of the jury system

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Describe the system of trial by jury within the English legal system

        The jury system has been in use for hundreds of years and was confirmed under Magna Carta 1215, however the system of trial by jury can be traced back to the reign of Henry II (1154-1189). The system by which we are familiar with today, i.e. juries giving verdicts on the basis of what is related to them by witnesses at the court hearing was coming into prominence in trials of serious offences as early as the fifteenth century.

        The jury is found in the Crown Court and sit for indictable offences. Juries consist of 12 people of either sex, swearing on the Bible or equivalent religious text, swear to: “Well and truly try the case and give a true verdict according to the evidence”. The law on juries is governed by the Juries Act 1974, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.


        Qualification for jury service is attainable if a person meets the following criteria:

  1. Their name appears on the electoral register; i.e. they are eligible to vote
  2. They are aged between 18 &70
  3. They have been resident in the UK for 5 years since they since they were 13

However, these rules have not always governed selection. Prior to 1972 selection was based solely on the size of the property that a person lived in, and whether the individual owned or leased that property. Based on this, juries mainly consisted of white, middle-class men who were the predominant homeowners of the time. The government wanted the juries to be more representative of the population and this selection process was abolished in 1972 under the Criminal Justice Act. The three eligibility stipulations that apply today were introduced under section 1 of the Juries Act 1974 as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

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Although jury service is mandatory, there are few groups of people who are entitled to be excused. Also governed under section 1 of the Juries Act 1974 as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 1988, people between the ages of 65 and 69 may be excused as they may suffer from lack of concentration. Those who have completed jury service in the last two years may be excused as they have put something back into society. M.P’s, members of parliament, members of the armed forces and people of the medical profession may be excused as they are already providing a service ...

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