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:
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.
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.