A jury is a body of citizens sworn to give a true verdict according to the evidence presented in a court of law. They are generally made up of people from diverse backgrounds. They see evidence differently than the court who live the law on a daily basis. The jury puts the human factor into the equation. Juries tend to weigh the evidence to determine the questions of facts. The jury system was imported to Britain after Norman Conquest. It is today considered to be a fundamental part of the English Legal system, however only a minority of cases are tried by a jury.
The Juries Act 1974 is the main act that governs the jury trial. The Central Juror Summoning Bureau was established in 2001 to administer the juror summoning process for the country. Computers produce an unsystematic list of possible jurors from the electoral register. Summons will be sent out to ensure that the persons confirm they will be attending and so that they do not fall into a category that will disqualify or make them ineligible to be a juror. Jurors receive notes which explain the procedure of the jury system and its functions.
Jury service is compulsory. The jury for a case is settled by random ballot in open court. The clerk (legally qualified person who will advise the jury on the points of law) will have cards that contain each panel member’s name. The cards are then shuffled and the first 12 names will be announced and called out. The 12 individuals are then sworn in and the trial will begin. Many have argued that the Jury system is outdated and needs reform, some think the English system is by far the best and fairest however others think it should be banished altogether.
What cannot be denied is that it plays a huge part in the British Legal system and has done so for many years, but there are always pros and cons to this argument. The Jury has many advantages, such as being selected at random. This suggests that biased opinions are likely to be invalid. However there can be prejudice due to certain cases that are sensitive to the public, Such as cases to do with child molestation. These cases are bound to bring very biased opinions.
The jury gives normal working class people a chance to see how the legal system is run but it is argued that although this lets the public feel that they are included, it also gives illiterate individuals a chance to ultimately make a decision regarding a person’s freedom. Many believe those with low intellect may not understand important details of the case and may make a decision based on what the majority verdict is. Several people believe that the Jury can judge character and honesty, something that require no legal expertise.
They are thought to base their decision on the evidence the court has presented on board as well as the nature of the defendant or the prosecution. The down side to this is that some horrific cases may possibly seriously affect the jurors, who are bound and have to sit through distressing evidence. The general public is more prone to have faith in the jury’s decision due to the jury being composed of random individuals of almost all ages and race. They are usually deemed as being normal people. Or what the public consider as normal.
The jury however can be influenced by media coverage on the case they are sitting and the publicity on this case may sway their verdict, this results in an unfair conviction or prejudice before the actual trial is due to take place. An example of this is the case of R v West (1996). This was where a lady named rosemary and her husband Fred had murdered and buried a number of girls in their garden. The victims included their daughter and step daughter. Many people had already pronounced them guilty before they were due to stand trial.
This was due to their heinous crime and media coverage. The jury is sometimes asked to do the impossible, such as when a defendant in a murder trial pleads insanity it is down to the jury to make the final decision. This involves the introduction of scientific evidence from both, the defense and the prosecution. The jury is expected to understand all the information that is being given and then come to a decision. Asking 12 individuals with no medical background to decipher complex theories so fast is bound to cause problems.
This is why those that are found guilty by a jury may choose to appeal in the Court of Appeal. This is where the decision is made by a judge, who will most likely not be influenced by the oratory of barristers. As demonstrated above there are many advantages and disadvantages to the jury system and though many support the jury, reform is always an issue that’s has people talking. Those who believe in abolishing the jury suppose that judges should make the judgement of whether the persons in question should be convicted or acquitted.
This is due to the experience of the judge who has spent many years listening to witnesses and deciphering evidence. The judge will also have full understanding of legal issues and the rules of evidence and criminal procedure. This could thus further result in quicker trials and be a lot more efficient for the Crown Courts. Another possible reform for the jury may be to allow skilled and educated persons qualify for jury service. They may have new rules and regulations to ensure that what ever verdict is, it is done so by those individuals that understands complex cases.
In the Netherlands they have no jury, just a judge that will sit in on all cases. Complex cases may require three judges but they are said to have one of the fastest and most efficient court practices. Many consider the Netherlands way of dealing with criminal cases may be the best solution for the English legal system. Especially now that ? of those called for jury service will not attend and will have been excused. Only a minuscule 1% of all defendants are dealt by a jury, hence the constant talk of reform because there are obvious problems with the system with the way it stands today.
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