Juries, do they always understand the issues?


There has been a great deal of criticism about the jury in the trial of Vicky Pryce. Indeed, the Metro newspaper headline suggested that the ‘Judge puts Pryce jury in the dock‘.  While the BBC ran an article insulting the jury by asking ‘Does the Vicky Price trial suggest jurors are getting less intelligent?

Trials can be boring.

I don’t agree with such insulting rhetoric, but I do believe that many trials can be boring for juries to follow. Jurors are required to sit in silence and listen for hours/days to often quite dull and complicated evidence. What is more, the pace of life and methods of absorbing information has changed over the years – while the jury process seems largely unchanged over those same years. Indeed, most jury members have been weaned on spicy TV story lines (with frequent adverts that provide regular breaks in concentration). People are now used to instant messaging, watching videos, and using the internet to explain phrases or words they do not instantly/readily understand (a jury is not permitted to use the internet for such research during a trial). Further, modern day technology does not encourage independent thinking, based upon evaluation and analysis of evidence. As such, many people serving on a jury are placed in an environment that is uncomfortable to them, and therefore difficult for them to get to grips with.

A more modern approach is needed.

As such, maybe the answer lies in a more modern approach to presenting evidence to a jury. For example, I favour the idea of juries being given, by the Judge, a list of key legal questions that will enable them to reach an impartial conclusion based upon the evidence. So, for example, when dealing with murder the jury could be given some key directional questions based upon the binding authority cases of Nedrick/Woolin:

  • (1) Did the defendant’s actions cause the death of the victim?
  • (2) Did the defendant recognise that death or serious injury was a virtually certain consequence of his actions?
  • If you find (beyond all reasonable doubt) the answer of ‘Yes’ to both questions – then, as a jury, you are entitled to infer/find the defendant guilty of murder!

The jury. when they retire to reach their verdict, could be given a ‘court dictionary’ to help clarify words/terms like ‘reasonable doubt’ or ‘consequence’. The jury in Court could be shown video and PowerPoint evidence to help them get to grips with the issues. The trial, with its evidence, could be video recorded to enable a jury (in the jury room) to re-view and re-assess some key evidence. The Judge’s summing up could also be video recorded, to enable jurors to take back to the jury room and listen to it a second, or third time, to help remind them of the issues in the trial.

In conclusion.

Juries are clearly more desirable than an individual judge hearing the evidence alone – since twelve impartial heads are better than one. However, something may need to be done to jurors to get to grips with some of the complex legal issues that arise in many trials. Modernising the jury process is something that seems necessary.

Written by Dr Peter Jepson (22nd February 2013)

Strode’s College, Egham, Surrey.

BBC News source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21529452


About Dr Peter Jepson

I am the editor of this LawsBlog. On the 31st August 2014, I retired as Head of the Department of Social Sciences at Strode's College, Egham, Surrey. In that post I was responsible for the subject areas of Laws, Politics, Sociology, and Humanities. Prior to that, also at Strode's College, I managed Laws, Politics, Citizenship, the AQA Baccalaureate, and the Extended Project Qualification.
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