Jury Suggestions


Thursday, October 5th, 2006. 8:52am

Following my experience as a member of a Jury I wrote to my MP with some very simple suggestions for improving the Jury trial process:

David Howarth,

I would like to suggest that you seek to amend the Criminal Justice Act (or the relevant legislation) to ensure:

  • A Jury should always be sent out of court and allowed to deliberate in private before being asked to return its verdict.
  • It should be made clear to a Jury that they do not have to accept the direction of the Judge.

My recent experience on a Jury has shown me these things don’t always currently happen.

I do not require a reply.

Richard Taylor.

What happened in one case on which I was a member of the jury was the defendant decided to plead guilty while his trial was in-progress. The defendant had been offered a deal, the worse charge would be dropped in return for his pleading guilty to the lesser charger. The Judge addressed the jury and told us that we had just heard the defendant say “guilty” to the charge, and that was the best evidence that there was that he was guilty, and he was therefore directing us to find the defendant guilty. The Judge explained that the defendant was “in our charge” as the case was in progress, asked if we had appointed a foreman, and as we had not he instructed “number one” to stand up and formally say that we had found him guilty. I feel that we, as the jury should have been given the opportunity, however briefly, to leave the court and decide if we agreed with the Judge’s direction. I believe a jury in those circumstances may for example consider that the defendant when acting calmly, rationally and unhurried decided to plead not-guilty, under the stress of the court environment and the offer of a deal he despite being innocent changed his plea to guilty. I think we should have been free to reject his guilty plea.

Suggesting that it should be made clear to members of the jury that they do not have to accept the direction of the Judge is based on my experience that there is a need for some introduction to the role of a juror. I have been on a jury where the foreman considered any member of the jury questioning another’s point of view as unreasonable. We do not have a system in the UK where 12 people make independent decisions and then have a vote, I believe in order for our current system to function jury members have to be prepared to explain their point of view and defend it against challenges from other jurors and attempt to persuade the other jurors to come around to their point of view.

Having been a juror on a case involving a driver, where a number of jurors were non-drivers I can see clearly a need for people to be tried by a jury of their peers, I do not believe 12 non-drivers would provide as fair a trial in a case of dangerous driving as a mixed jury. My experience also led me to believe that it would be a good idea to have the highway code available to juries in motoring related cases.

I think that the jury should be offered access to full medical examiners’s reports, accident investigator’s reports and other documents pertinent to the case. The fact that members of the Jury are able to write to the Judge and make requests for such documents is something else which could be covered in an introduction to the role of the juror.

Finally I believe that Jurors should be exempt from punishment for being in contempt of court, if they do mis-behave the worst that should happen is they are thrown back out on the street.

10 comments/updates on “Jury Suggestions

  1. Richard Article author

    The importance of making clear to the jury they don’t have to take the direction of the judge has been shown by case where someone handing in a gun they found dumped in their garden has been found guilty by a jury of possession of a firearm.

    http://www.thisissurreytoday.co.uk/news/Ex-soldier-faces-jail-handing-gun/article-1509082-detail/article.html

    I still think there is a need for much better introductions to the role of a juror for those about to serve.

    Judges have already been ignoring the minimum sentence for possession of a firearm.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1543096/Tougher-gun-laws-not-being-enforced.html

    Hopefully in this latest case judge will use his discretion when it comes to sentencing the individual.

    The police ought to be free to use more common sense; and MPs ought be much more careful about the way they write laws.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Ministry of Justice video which all new jurors are shown is at:

    This video has been updated and improved since I was a juror.

    There is nothing in the video about how deliberations in the jury room ought be conducted; there’s nothing saying jurors must participate in deliberations and not cast their own votes independently.

    I also note the video doesn’t really address access to copies of things like key evidence, the charges, or the judge’s directions (if they are in writing).

    The video doesn’t mention note taking – it alludes to it and there are pads of paper shown.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    In 2012 I was again summoned for jury service; but I was then told I was not needed. (I checked with the summoning office and they confirmed this was the case). It would be interesting to know if people are struck of the lists in this way as rigorously randomly as they get called.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    A Judgement has been issued today in relation to two cases of contempt by jurors, it has been reported that the jurors have been jailed.

    My own view, based on the material in the judgement, is that it is far from clear that either juror intended to interfere with the course of justice. I suspect one had merely written an ill-advised facebook posting, perhaps with a large element of joking / fooling around and the other had simply wanted to know how long his case would last (something very understandable given the potential impact on things like his employment and ability to support his family). I wonder if, in the latter case, the juror was aware he could have written a note to the judge asking. He asked the ushers but was fobbed off.

    A number of years ago, in relation to punishing jurors for contempt, I wrote:

    “the worst that should happen is they are thrown back out on the street”

    My views then were coloured by my own experience of very little briefing about what was acceptable. I think perhaps action could be justified in extreme cases where there was a wilful attempt to disrupt the process of justice; but from the information in the judgement issued today I don’t think that that threshold was reached.

    I agree with the element of the judgement which suggests handing the jury a notice setting out what they must and must not do and also improving the terminology used.

    That the terminology used needs sorting out is shown by the following instructions given to the jury:

    Every Judge will tell you whatever court you go to that you do not discuss the evidence with anyone outside of your number either face to face, over the telephone or over the internet via chat lines such as Face book or MySpace.

    Such bizarre terminology makes me wonder if our judges are yet able to recognise a digital watch.

    The judgement also reveals the following content of a notice in the court:

    You must not use social networking sites to post details about any aspect of your jury service

    I think the ban on discussing any aspect is too extreme; and in excess of what the law actually forbids. Clearly some information such as your expected timetable of being required at court can be shared. Improvement in the arrangements for jury service, and trials in general, surely largely come about through people who have served on juries discussing their experiences (while not revealing what was said by a specific jury during deliberations on a specific case).

    One of the jurors was researching how long the case might last, and was under pressure from his employer and had young child. I think this shows how disruptive and inconvenient jury service can be. I think that it could be improved significantly, for example by saying in the first instance you have to arrange to do jury service at some point in the upcoming year – you could envisage an online booking system showing the vacant slots (if we were in country where the state was technologically competent).

    The judgement states jurors were told:

    The only place you can discuss the evidence is when all 12 of you are in the jury room at the conclusion of the case.”

    This appears to me very restrictive, more so than other directions I have seen. I would have thought that discussions among the jury would be reasonable during breaks, and perhaps helpful to aid in remembering what had happened. Discussions might also assist in deciding on if to make requests or ask questions to the judge via notes from the jury.

    My major concerns with these high profile jailings are:

    • People may try to avoid jury service if they think they might end up in jail as a result of behaving reasonably
    • Jurors may be afraid to speak out, or write a note, during a trial out of fear of being held in contempt. People may decide to “keep their head down”, rather than speak up if something which they think is wrong occurs.

    I have personally have had unfounded allegations made against me in the magistrates court and while a juror a Crown Court usher/clerk made bizarre allegations in relation to scribblings I’d never seen before in a pad of paper near me on the jury benches. (I suspect as he ought have ensured we had blank pads!)

    Recently someone was accused of recording at Cambridge Crown Court. If is all too easy for court staff to fabricate allegations, and the risk is that judges will believe them, members of the establishment, over innocent outsiders.

    There are few, if any, members of the public (including the press) typically observing a court. The jury are typically the only members of the public present; if jurors are prevented, or even merely discouraged, from sharing their concerns about our justice system then I think we will lose a key safeguard, one of the things which keeps our justice system in check.

  5. anadapter

    If you’re in work then sharing the timetable for the court case (and just that) is something you’d have to do or else how would your employer manage things? Courtesy (and whether you keep said job!) demands it. And don’t newspapers give a rough idea how long a major case will take? If they can do that, then why not a jury member?

  6. Only Me

    1) “I do not believe 12 non-drivers would provide as fair a trial in a case of dangerous driving as a mixed jury.”
    LOL – that works the other way, too, e.g. from a cyclist’s viewpoint : http://road.cc/content/forum/110081-meet-jury
    “If juries will almost invariably side with motorists and not convict, it doesn’t matter what laws you pass, how thoroughly you investigate and how stinging you make the penalties.”
    Unless there is a way to ensure a proportionally-representative jury, it’s a lottery. The ‘presumption of innocence’ means that an unfair conviction is very much less likely than an unfair acquittal.
    Leads to the notion that courts find motorists innocent.
    http://singletrackworld.com/forum/topic/sad-letter-in-the-local-anti-cycling-rag
    http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/yoursay/letters/10996773.Cyclist_s_death__was_the_fault_of_all_cyclists_/
    “You’ve lost the fight for your right on the road and a legal precedent has been established.”
    No – it’s just that courts often fail to find guilty people guilty, where a conviction is not safe, guilt is not proved beyond reasonable doubt. Not ‘proved innocent’.

    2) Note in that case, the judge allegedly stated that the jury “will be directed to ignore Highway Code [rules 93 and 237, advising drivers to] slow down or stop if dazzled [because the] Highway Code is not law” and that the defendant’s failure to adhere to such rules “could be used as evidence of without due care and attention, or could be ignored“.
    http://beyondthekerb.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/futility/

    3) There are several cases which have even been re-tried with second juries, failing to reach a 10:2 majority verdict both times !
    R v Paul Dove,
    R v Charlie Willbourne,
    R v Lauren Paul,
    before I even look for more
    Suggests there is a problem.

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have another couple of suggestions for those who are facing jury service:

    • Speak, or write a note to, the judge if there is a problem such as if you think you’re too ill to perform as you’d like as a juror. Don’t make the mistake of, for example, telling staff you’re not well enough to do jury service and then accepting their ruling that that you have to do it. Provide the judge with the facts and let them decide.
    • If a fellow juror refuses to, or isn’t able to, properly participate in the process of deliberation eg. by saying “I think she’s guilty, that’s my vote, and I’m not discussing it” then report that to the judge. We don’t have a system of twelve people giving independent votes, so such behaviour subverts our process.
    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      I have recently come across part 26 of the Criminal Procedure Rules which provide for a route of appeal for those whose request to be excused from jury service has been denied by a court officer:

      https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/criminal/docs/2015/crim-proc-rules-2015-part-26.pdf

      I think this option needs to be published.

      There appear to me to be flaws with the system set out in the rules as the appeal needs to be accompanied by the decision being appealed. In my experience such decisions are not issued in writing. The application has to be made to the court officer, which could well be the same individual whose decision an individual wishes to challenge. Also those not in a position to serve as jurors may well for the same reasons not be in a position to compile an application to appeal – particularly given they may well be inside a court building with no access to a phone, internet or computer.

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