Is “Trial by jury" as effective in UK?

One of the very old common law processes in the UK legal system is ‘trial by jury’. Jury is commonly known as a body of citizens sworn to give a true verdict according to the evidence presented in a court of law (1.wordnet). The right to trial by jury can be traced back to Magna Carta, the Great Charter of Liberties established in 1215 (2.the assembly). There are several arguments derived from this legal-finding mechanism whether it is a reliable procedure. The most controversial issue is that “should trial by jury be abolished and replaced by judge’s decision alone?" if the jury is abolished, the judges will be drawn into greater attention about their ability to determine guilt and innocent. Thus, it could lead to a considerable view whether the judiciary is really independent from the government. This essay will outline and focus on some interesting facts and problems which emerge from the criminal jury system in the UK, including jury selection method, voir dire, jury’s comprehension to the case, the development in jury system and some notable cases.

To begin with, ‘Jury Selection’ represents an important role in the jury system. Juries are supposed to be representative of the public conscience. However, it is not likely to be successful owing to the prevalent method of selection. The principle of this process is that twelve people will be randomly summoned form the registered of voters to observe the arguments of the case, assess the presented evidence, judge on the facts, and reach the verdict in correspondence with their jury instructions and the rule of law. According to Fahringer (3.1993-1994), he speculated that about 85% of cases litigated are determined in the stage of jury selection. The problem derives from this method of random selection is that it may, every now and then, produce unrepresentative jury. The glaring situation of the unrepresentative jury could be particularly seen when a non-white defendant faces an all white jury. The imbalance occurring in such case does not give the trial judge many options to redress the problem. Furthermore, there is no regulation specified that judges have the authority to remove any jurors for the reason regards to mix-racial jury. Thus, it is hardly to say that a fair justice will be served in this kind of situation.

The R v. Ford (4.1989) case concerned motor offences had established the standard platform for multiracial jury. Ford, as the defence, confronted an all-white jury. Ford’s request for a multiracial jury had been denied by the trial judge. The defence was convicted and appealed battling that the trial judge has been wrong to refuse the request. The Court of Appeal upheld the principle of random selection as the most suitable way to earn fairness and therefore confined that the trial judge had no power to empanel multiracial jury and no power to discharge a competent juror so as to obtain a multiracial jury. The purpose of this ruling is to support that justice is delivered through the concept of random selection which is the whole essence of the jury system. Refer to this principle; the judge who removes a juror could be suspecting bias. This approach is seemed to be unjustified in law and is also critically depreciatory of the members of the jury who have to give way for a non-white person. Thus, the only likely way to assure that juries fully represent the conscience is to ensure that jury is randomly selected by making sure that electoral rolls are inclusive and include everybody who ought to be included.

Another controversial argument of jury selection’s process is ‘voir dire’ (“trial within a trial"). It is a mini-hearing held during a trial on the admissibility of contested evidence (5.Duhaime). The process allows the prosecution and the defence to investigate potential jurors to assess whether they are impartial. In the United States (6.McKenzie & Kunalen), there is a pre-trial jury selection process which both parties in the lawsuit would generally question prospective jurors about their backgrounds and potential biases prior being elected to sit on the trial. Moreover, during American jury selection process psychiatrists may be applied by the defence to evaluate prejudice from beliefs, backgrounds or even body language. It depends on the prosecution to try to counter-balance this by giving persuasive arguments as to why a juror is appropriate. The advantage of this process is that the intellectual abilities of the jury could be examined which would seem to be the best way of achieving a fairer composition of the jury. On the contrary, the UK views this method as a time-consuming process. In addition, this form of jury selection could be argued that it is an abuse because the defence would try to achieve a pro-defence jury likely to acquit. In the UK (7.Halsbury…wiki), jurors simply need answer one single question asked by judges whether he or she can give a fair hearing to both the Crown (“the prosecuting party") and the defence. Any potential juror who affirmatively responds to the question is impaneled on the jury. For the time being, the UK jury selection process is somehow becoming less precise in contrast with the US system and it is unlikely that the American-style jury selection would be permitted in this high-conservative country. Although completed US style might never be accepted, some modifications to the system should be considered.

According to George Fisher (8.1997), he defined jury’s duty as a lie detector. Hence, juries should be capable of tracking the evidence and reaching the correct decision. Juries regularly are deemed to be victims of skillful lawyers. Decent barristers could convince juries to go along with their impressive presentations and give decisions for what they want. Just as a legendary Lee Kuan Yew (“the first prime minister of Singapore who never lost a single case during his time as a lawyer") once remarked prior he became the leader that he would terminate the jury system because he could always direct juries to believe him. Also by the fact that juries do not have to provide reasons for their decisions, it is hard to know exactly whether juries have ability to follow the presented evidence and eventually obtain a just verdict (9.jury trial…wiki). It could be seen that the basis of this regulation has been criticized, since opponents disagree that it is unfair for the person to be deprived of life, liberty or property without being informed why it is being done so. Contrastingly, if decisions are made by judges, they are required to supply both factual and legal reason why those decisions are given. What is more, there are no minimum educational qualifications imposed to sit on a jury. Thus, it could not be assured that all jurors would have sufficient educational level to determine the case, especially the case that contains specific knowledge (“statistical or scientific evidence") which usually takes a long time, such as fraud and personal injury.

Generally, fraud trials deal with complex evidence concerning complicated financial transaction and tracing of money which is required accounting skills. The trials often take three to six months so prospective jurors that would be available are subjected to those people who are unemployed, retired or those who do not care so much about their jobs. These are dominant type of persons who will sit on a jury and try to absorb a mass of information. Due to this fact, an efficient performance expected from a jury may not be fulfilled. For example, the R v. O’Callaghan (10.1995) case concerned a mortgage fraud and lasted for six months before the defence barristers suggested that the jurors should be discharged because the excessive amount of evidence had become oppressive and unmanageable. The trial judge then approved because he realized that the evidence was too difficult for the jury to follow. In addition, the two of the jurors were accused that they had been playing tick-tack-toe during the trial. Following this case it might be realized that there is no point bringing this kind of case to trial if the evidence is too tough for the average jurors to understand. Therefore, it would seem to be rational if criminal trials were heard only by professional judges who would be trained to understand the evidence and achieve lawful decisions. Nevertheless, loads of conservationists value jury as being a safeguard of liberties rather than whether they can follow the evidence and reach a proper decision in every single case.

According to Criminal Justice Act 2003, a development to limit jury trials had been established. By this law, trials could be conducted without a jury when there is a real and present danger of jury tampering or where jury tampering has taken place. As a result of this new regulation, the first serious offence to be held without jury in England for more than 350 years took place in 2009 (11.BBC). The case concerned four men accused of a £1.75m armed robbery at Heathrow Airport, London, in 2004. After three juries had been ceased due to jury tampering, the fourth trial took place before a single judge. At the end, all four defendants were convicted. This case illustrates the modern form of justice which had been done for the sake of society and legal system.

On the whole, even though trial by jury has represented a long history of English legal system as a tool of check and balance between the state and its people, it could be said that the jury system is unreliable. From the study, it probably indicates that the process of jury selection is unlikely to obtain representative jury who would be able to precisely follow evidence and efficiently hand over the correct decision. Since society has sought for impartial justice, a radical reformation could be the solution. Trial by a professional judge alone could be in place. A judge is commonly better than lay persons in analyzing issues and applying the law to the facts. Moreover, there would be higher quality justice with greater standards of experience, expertise and legal abilities, and trials could be performed faster and more efficiently. Notwithstanding the fact that an abolition of trial by jury is seemed to be impossible for the time being, some minor changes in the concept of jury system would take England one step closer to the real meaning of justice.