In order to decide whether or not trial by jury should or should not be abolished, we need to know what it is that we are dealing with and what viable alternative or alternatives there are to it.

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In order to decide whether or not trial by jury should or should not be abolished, we need to know what it is that we are dealing with and what viable alternative or alternatives there are to it.

I will take a brief look at the history of the jury trial.  I will examine the function of the jury; look at what is good and bad about the jury system.

Finally I will examine the proposed alternatives to trial by jury that are currently in fashion.

The jury system first arrived in Britain after the Norman Conquest. The earliest jury was a body of neighbours summoned by a public officer to give oath as answer to some question. The sworn inquest was used to enable the recognition on oath of a number of upstanding members of the community to testify to facts which they had personal knowledge. Those called were not judges of fact, but witnesses.

By the end of the twelfth century, a person accused of a crime could, on payment obtain the right to obtain a trial by jury. (I will return to this point later when I look at the government’s proposals to remove the right to elect jury trial in either way offences)

When Pope Innocent III abolished trial by ordeal in 1215 and compurgation (the accused sought to clear himself by his own oath backed up by the oaths of friends and neighbours, who testified to his character rather than to the facts) fell from favour a need arose to find a new method of establishing guilt.  Judges who went out on the circuit in England gradually developed the practice of selecting a trial jury of 12. Jury trial on indictment remained the normal mode of trial until the middle of the nineteenth century. The act of 1855 ‘for diminishing Expense and Delay in the Administration of Criminal Justice in certain cases’ permitted certain cases of larceny to be tried by Magistrates, so long as he agreed. The Summary Jurisdiction Act 1879 listed for the first time those offences triable in the Magistrates courts. The act also set out for the first time a general right to claim trial by jury when the maximum sentence for an offence exceeded three months imprisonment. (From the above we can see that it is not just modern governments that have been interested in reform of the jury system)

Over the course of time the list of summary offences has grown and a new tier of offence, offences triable either way was created. (It is this area that the current government is grappling with at the moment) As these lists have grown the number of cases that are tried by a jury has fallen.

The crime figures published for 1998-99 show that there were 5,254,000 offences recorded by the Police. Of these 1,993,600 were tried, 1,879,000 at Magistrates courts and 114,600 at Crown Court. Just over 6% of cases were tried in Crown Court. (So you might say that if so few cases end up at Crown court what is all the fuss about abolishing it.)

Moving on to the second topic, the function of a jury.

Here I propose to briefly outline its function, composition and some of the advantages and disadvantages of the jury system.

The function of a jury is to weigh up the evidence in a trial and to decide what actually happened. They will then deliver a verdict. If that verdict is one of guilty the judge will then decide the appropriate sentence. In civil cases the jury will also decide the amount of damages to be awarded.

One of the arguments put forward in favour of the jury trial is that it allows ordinary members of the public to participate in the administration of justice. There are however a few holes in this argument in that in practice a jury is not always made up of a representative sample of the public. There are several reasons for this, one of which is that potential jurors are chosen from those people that are currently on the electoral roll. This automatically excludes a significant proportion of the population that would otherwise be eligible. Auld said on eligibility.  The only qualification required for jury service in England and Wales, apart from age and ordinary residence in this country, is entry on the electoral roll. The nature of this record results in under-representation of those in their early 20s, ethnic minorities and the more mobile sections of the community, such as those living in rented accommodation.

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The second reason for under representation of certain sections of the population is the number of people that seek to be excused or simply don’t turn up for jury service.

About a quarter of a million people are summoned for jury service every year. A recent Home Office research project suggests that only about a third of them are available to do it. It shows that, in a sample of 50,000 people summoned for jury service in June and July 1999, only one-third was available for service, about half of whom were allowed to defer their service until a later ...

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A well put together essay, particularly those aspects focused on reforms. However, the prose style is, at times, too informal. The issue of complexity of financial trials, and the difficulties this presents for the average juror, could be explored in more detail. 4 Stars.