Historical roots and modern jury, discuss

“Are juries necessary?”

Dave Barry once wrote “we operate under a jury system in this country, and as much as we complain about it, we have to admit that we know of no better system, except possibly flipping a coin”2 The essay will look at both the sides of the coin, in light of various cases to explain the importance of juries in the legal system, and whether or not juries are indispensable.

The jury system has taken many shapes and form with the turn of each century. The jury in its younger days mainly passed judgement on land cases and gradually moved on to criminal cases. The initial jurors were more or less like witnesses aiding the judge in his decision. Tracing its historical roots, especially in England, the modern jury evolved predominantly under Henry II. By the end of the 14th century the jurors had become deciders of facts, and it was in 1730 when the Bill for Better Regulation of Juries was passed by the British parliament that defined the jury in our society. The term jury originates from a Latin word, jurati, that means to be sworn in, it is a body of men, usually twelve, selected according to law, empanelled and sworn to inquire into and try any matter of fact, and to render their true verdict according to the evidence legally adduced. “No free man shall be captured, and or imprisoned, or diseased of his freehold, and or of his liberties, or of his free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against him by force or proceed against him by arms, but by the lawful judgement of his peers, and or by the law of the land" (Article 39 of the Magna Carta). Thomas Jefferson had confidence in the jury and reported to have said “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”5 One of the first cases that in part established some of the principles of juries was the Bushel’s Case (1670)3 The case involved two Quakers that were charged of unlawful assembly in preaching outside the Church of England, William Penn and William Mead, as they had violated the Conventicle Act. The case confirmed that the court of common pleas could issue a legal action, in this instance, Habeas Corpus, which allows release of the prisoner from unlawful detention. Therefore, this case is noteworthy in establishing the independence of juries. From this case onwards, the power of the jury to acquit in cases where following the law strictly leading to an unjust result has been recognised.

Jury is a fundamental part of a democratic society required in most criminal cases and some civil cases. Juries are more than often represent a check against state power. The benefits of juries, especially, where jury trails are common, is that is provides a source of bringing society norms into judicial proceedings. In a way a jury legitimizes the laws by allowing the people to criminal statues by conducting numerous trails. Looking at the larger picture the trials conducted by juries in part educate people about laws that govern them. Digressing slightly from the importance of jury, it is only natural that man will react to its environment. I do believe that without ground rules we would wake up to a chaotic society and the world would be much different from what we know it to be. In some ways the jury acts like a constant reminder of the right and wrong. “The Bar Council, Law Society and Criminal Bar Association base their assertion on a survey which has found that 84% of respondents said they trusted a jury to come to the right decision in a case.”4 Furthermore, the Ministry of Justice Research Series 1/10 February 2010 undertaken by Cheryl Thomas questions whether or not the decision made by the juries is fair. The case was carried out by 41 all white juries at Winchester and Nottingham Crown Courts. The main finding of the case was that all white juries did not discriminate against ethnic minority defendants. Furthermore, the following case R v Kelleher [2003] indicates how judges cannot tell the jury what to decide and they wholly make the decision based on the facts that are provided to them. Henceforth, they are not biased.

On the flip side- many sceptics argue the potential of jurors to be swayed by chauvinism, racial considerations and prejudices. One such example is the Rodney King case where a black American man faced police brutality. The case progressed in Los Angeles Police Department on March 3rd 1991. The recording showed the officers repeatedly battering King with their batons while other officers stood by watching, without any act to stop the violent thrashing. Later four police officers were taken to court for trial but were released. Another current issue with the jury in this modern world is the inability of jury to often comprehend scientific evidence and statistics. This has raised many questions with respect to the power of juries and its final decisions.

Moreover, an article written by Dyer explains how juries are “nobbled”. Usually in nobbling cases, family or associates of the defendant try to threaten jurors into finding him/her not at fault. For instance, in the Martin case there were efforts made by those on the victim's side to try to manipulate the jury into finding him guilty. During the 1980s there was an outburst at the Old Bailey of jury nobbling. Various trials were carried out but had to be stopped as many efforts were made to bribe the jurors.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge recently made legal history by allowing a no-jury trial. The case involves four men accused of armed robbery at London Heathrow in 2004. The trial will be the first ever in England and Wales to be heard by a judge alone using powers sanctioned by Criminal Justice Act, 2003.

Conclusion- Say we lived in a world without juries, would there be a law of evidence? Juries in particular actually decide and deliberate as Sir John Donaldson said: “the law exists to protect us all, whether we are union members, union leaders, employers, merely long suffering members of the public. We cannot do without it. But law is not a one-way street, part goes our way, part goes against us. We have either to accept it all or else to opt bor anarchy”.6