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

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Law coursework

Charlotte Gregory

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


The concept of trial by jury was first introduced to the British legal system in 1215, when king John signed the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta states that “no free man shall be imprisoned, except by the judgement of his equals, or the law of the land.” This introduced that the decision of a persons guilt or innocence would be decided, to some extent, by his or her peers. In 1670, Bushel’s case had a great influence on jurors, and the way that the legal system worked. This case established that jurors alone should make the decision of guilt or innocence without interference from the judge. The public felt that with a system, which had public involvement, was a more reliable and democratic system. Another milestone in the history of jurors was the criminal justice act 1967. This act allowed judges to accept a majority verdict of 10-2 instead of only a unanimous verdict. The next big change to the jury system was made in the jury’s act 1974. This is where the law setting out what juries should do, and how they should be selected etc. can be found. The final main change to the process of trial by jury was the criminal justice act 2003. This made amendments to the jury’s act 1974. In particular it tightened up the laws on who should, and shouldn’t serve on a jury. As of April 2004 lawyers, priests, and doctors are now allowed to serve on a jury. This is the way that the jury system runs today.

The role of a jury in the British legal system.

In the British legal system, the role of the jury is to decide weither the defendant is innocent or guilty. Only about 4% of cases in England and Wales are heard by a jury. The reason for this is because 97%of criminal cases do not get past magistrates court, and also if the defendant pleads guilty in crown court, no jury is needed. The jury system plays a very important part in the British legal system because they alone are responsible for deciding on the guilt or innocence of the defendant. The judge is not allowed to influence them in any way. For example in the case of R .V . Makenna the guilty verdict passed by the jury was quashed on appeal because it emerged that the judge had threatened to lock up the jury over night if they didn’t reach a decision. The fact that the decision of a person’s guilt or innocence is decided by the British public maintains the public’s faith in the British legal system. Juries are very rarely needed in civil cases. The cases that civil juries hear are defamation cases, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, and fraud. Even in these cases the judge may refuse a jury if the trial will involve a lot of scientific material, which may be distressing for a jury to look at, or there might be complex evidence where the judge feels it would be hard for the jury to understand everything that is said. For example the “Mclibel trial” which envolved a defamation action brought by McDonald’s against two environmental campaigners was heard by a judge alone, because the judge felt that the evidence was to complicated for a jury to understand. This was probably a good decision because it turned out to be the longest ever civil trial.    

Selection and qualification for jury service.

Jurors are selected from the electoral roll, the list of people who are entitled to vote. Twelve people are needed for each jury, but a larger number of people are called to ensure that there is a full jury in each court.

Most people between the ages of 18 and 70 are eligible for jury service, if they have lived in the UK for at least 5 years since the age of 13, but of course, as in most cases, there are some people who are excused. There are three different groups of people who can be excused; people who are ineligible, people who are disqualified, and people who are excused at the judge’s discretion. Until 2003 solicitors, people in the police force, and anyone who had an extended legal knowledge could not serve. The “Auld Review” recommended changes to the selection procedure, without the auld review it would have meant that many intelligent and able people did not serve for lawful reasons, “the criminal justice act 2003” made these changes to the law. Now most people can serve on a jury, with the exception of the mentally handicapped and mentally ill. Before the auld review the people that were ineligible were people who were involved in the justice system, such as Judges, Solicitors, Barristers, and people in the police force. The reason for this is, the idea of a jury is to have a group of people with less knowledge of the legal system and better local knowledge than anyone involved in the legal system, and to have a jury who is open minded and not prosecution minded about the case. The mentally ill are excused for obvious reasons, they wouldn’t be able to cope with the trial as much as a normal person, and they’re verdict wouldn’t be reliable because they wouldn’t have understood most of the trial. People who have a religious vocation would be excused because they are said to be more “forgiving” and they see things through the eyes

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Of god, they believe everyone deserves a second chance. It is said that people with a religious vocation are less likely to convict. The people who are disqualified from doing jury service are people who have had

a community sentence in the last 10 years, anyone who has been in prison for more than 5 years or in the last 10 years, or people who have had a suspended sentence in the last 10 years. There are two different groups of people who can be excused. These are; people who can be excused by right, and people who are excused ...

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