Whilst many people define the English legal System by their perceptions of jury trials, it is, in fact, a rare feature of the system. Discuss.

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Jessica Donnelly

‘Whilst many people define the ‘English legal System’ by their perceptions of jury trials, it is, in fact, a rare feature of the system.’ Discuss.

It is perceived by many lay people that the majority of cases in the English legal system are dealt with by jury trials. Whilst the principle of being trialled by your peers is fundamental, it is misleading as only a small amount of cases are dealt with in this way. The Crown Court, that sees the majority of jury use, has a minority of cases resulting in trial and the amount being even lesser in the civil courts. Although many proposals have been made to greatly diminish or abolish the use of jury trials, none have yet to be successful due to the concept of a democratic participatory society being of great constitutional significance to our country.

It is a key principle that defendants have a ‘right’ to jury trial which is clearly why the general public will associate juries as playing a crucial role in the legal system. This is a rather old-fashioned concept created in the 13th century by the Magna Carta in which everyone is entitled to be trialled by the lawful judgement of their peers.It could consequently be argued that this safeguard has become idealised in our system. The jury trial is seen as a ‘palladium’ of English justice and as Devlin famously proclaimed ‘the lamp that shows that freedom lives.’ Many view them as a ‘little parliament’ infusing regular community values into the law and are evidently crucial to our liberal and democratic constitution. It must therefore be questioned why jury trials are reserved for a minority of cases.

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The crown court is the main court that sees the use of juries on a day to day basis. However even in this court, juries are rarely used. For example in the quarterly of 2012 from October to December from the 33,137 cases that made it to the Crown court, only 8,946 of these were trials; this is less than a third of all cases. This shows that even in the court that sees the most of jury use, there is in fact a smaller need for them than many think. This is a result of many cases having an early ...

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