What are the pros and cons of juries in the English legal system?

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astrocourt | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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Lord Denning described the jury system as:

Twelve persons selected at random are likely to be a cross-section of the people as a whole, and thus represent the views of the common man.

However, in reality, does the 'common man' understand the role of juror, or the required burden of proof, or even the trial process itself?

For example, during a trial (relating to traffic offenses) a juror in the UK asked:

Can a juror come to a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it, either from the prosecution or defence?

It is obvious in this case that the juror does not understand the role, and the obligations and responsibilities inherent in it.

However, the UK can trace trials by jury back to the Norman Conquest in 1066. The more modern form was first used in the court of Henry II in 1168. In the nearly 1000 years that have followed, the jury system has remained as the most fair, and just, trial system for particular crimes.

Pros

  • trial by peers
  • with a large enough jury (12+) bias is likely to be cancelled out
  • judge/jury verdicts have a high level of correlation (i.e. the jury gets it 'right')
  • one of the few times citizens can do civic duty

Cons

  • local prejudice can provide bias
  • judges (and lawyers) often come from a subset of (privileged) society
  • jurors can be (easily) influenced by 'impressive' lawyers, or the judge
  • jurors do not need to reason their decision
  • usually takes longer than a magistrate's decision
Sources:

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