Section A: Describe the system of trial by jury within the English legal system.
Over many years people have become familiarised by the term ‘jury’. It is an essential part of our legal system, and can be traced back to the middle ages. In the Magna Carta, 1215, Clause 39 of the charter basically says that no man shall be imprisoned unless decided by his peers. It seemed a fair way to sentence someone. Juries have, however, normally still been under the power of the judge. Judges were allowed to fine or punish juries that come up with a verdict different to what he thinks himself. The independence of the jury finally happened in Bushel’s Case, 1670. This happened following the trial of William Penn, who was being tried for unlawful speaking. Edward Bushel was a juror in the trial. All of the jury were treated unfairly, and eventually imprisoned, for the verdict that they came to. Whilst in prison, Bushel filed a writ of habeas corpus, which is a legal procedure that allows prisoners to argue the legality of their imprisonment. Chief Justice Vaughan agreed with Bushel and ordered the confined jurors to be released. Bushel's Case is very important in law because it basically invented jury nullification. The court made it clear that it is by the decision of the jury, not judge, that someone will be sentenced. Jurors can now not be punished for their decision. Courts also cannot try to force them to change their verdict. Even now the jury system is ever changing, but the basics will always still remain.
The jury is a group of 12 people. They are all different races, ages and genders. In criminal cases, the jury decide whether the defendant is guilty or not. In civil cases, the jury decide if the claimant has proved their case and also how many damages are being awarded. This only happens, however, in 4 types of civil cases: defamation (over 10,000), malicious prosecution, false imprisonment and fraud. Damages are discretionary in other cases. The jury do not have the right to decide the verdict in a criminal case. The judge, who will also hear the case, decides this. It is also essential that the judge does not help decide the verdict. He can not pressurise or threaten the jury, as it may not be fair. Each have their own roles and these must be stuck to.
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To qualify for jury service, a person must be aged between 18 and 70. They must also be on the electoral role, the list of people eligible to vote. A person must also have lived in the UK for 5 years since the age of 13. Anyone who does not qualify will not be allowed to be a juror. However, some people are ineligible, disqualified or excused from jury service. You are ineligible if you have either mental problem, are judiciary or concerned with the administration of justice, or are a clergy member. Disqualifications include people with certain criminal convictions or people on bail while their own trial is being heard. You may be excused as of right from jury service if you are aged 65 – 70, Have been a juror in the past 2 years, a member of parliament, someone of the medical profession or armed forces, or a practising member of a religious society. A discretionary excusal will only be given for a very good reason. If you are refused excusal, you have the right to appeal against it. All of these qualifications and disqualifications are set out in the Juries Act 1974.
Summoning the jury is how the process starts. A jury summoning computer has a special copy of the electoral register, marked with the names of people eligible. Then a list of 150 people is made, whom all of which will be sent a notice saying that they have been summoned, and also explaining ineligibility, excusals etc. the potential jurors must then appear at the court to be questioned to determine any unfair biases and if they are qualified for service. Lists of jurors are then made of different people to send to various courts around England. A jury of 12 is then selected by ballot from the panel in open court. The chosen jury must then be vetted.
There are 2 kinds of jury vetting that have been authorised to be used. These are the checking of criminal records, and the checking of special branch and security services records in cases involving national security or terrorist attacks. Any other records are not allowed to be checked, as this is an invasion of privacy. Records must be checked in order to make sure that people are qualified for the role.
Jury challenging is a process in which the defence and prosecution can argue that the jury chosen is biased. Defence alone can argue that the whole jury has been chosen in a biased or unrepresentative way. Both the defence and prosecution can challenge all and a single juror on the grounds that they think the juror is not qualified to serve, is biased or is reasonably susceptible of bias. This is then tried by the judge. If a person is taken off the jury, there can be ‘stand by’ jurors, who do not sit on the panel unless there insufficient members to make a whole jury. You must always give a reason for challenging the juror. Before 1989, the defence could challenge up to 3 jurors without having to give any reason. The flaws in this have now been realised, and those rights have been removed. In rare cases where there have been insufficient jurors to carry out a case, there is a special power to select anyone who is qualified to serve as a juror from the streets or an office. This type of juror is called a talesman. This power is very rarely used, but it was used once in 1992 at Middlesex crown court. Half of the jury failed to show up for service after New Year, so talesmen were used.
During the trial, the role of the jury is to sit and listen to the evidence. They can make notes on points that they may later wish to think about when making a verdict. During the trial, juries will be given photographs or documents to examine as evidence in the case. Everything shown to them must be taken into account. The judge must decide on any points of law in the case and he must explain these as well as legal matters to the jury. If a juror wants to ask a question, it must be written down for the court usher to hand to the judge. All trials must be started with twelve jurors, but if some cases go on for too long it is possible this number will be reduced. Jury service usually lasts ten working days, but in some cases the trials can last for months on end. This seriously affects the lives of jurors. In some cases, a juror may fall ill or even die. The law lets the judge carry on the case, as long as the number of jurors does not fall below nine.
When a jury need to come to a decision they must exit the courtroom and enter a private room to discuss the case they just saw. Everything that goes on in the room must be strictly confidential. No-one other than the jurors may know what happened and the jury cannot tell people either. If a juror does tell someone anything they are guilty of contempt of the court and can either be fined or sent to prison. When a jury retires to the room, they are told that they must all agree on a verdict. The decision must be unanimous. However, if more than 2 hours have been spent where the jury are trying to come to a unanimous decision, the judge will ask them to return to the courtroom and then tell them they can reach a majority decision. For a majority decision to be allowed at least ten jurors must agree. The vote can then be either 11-1 or 10-2. When a jury falls below eleven jurors then at least nine of these must agree.
Once a jury has decided on a verdict, they must return to the courtroom and the clerk will ask what decision they have come to. The foreman or forewoman on the jury (the spokesperson) must say whether the verdict is guilty or not guilty, and whether it was a unanimous or majority verdict. If the verdict is guilty by majority, the spokesperson must say how many jurors agreed. The judge will then sentence the defendant. If the verdict is not guilty then the defendant will be acquitted.