In this essay, a critical examination of the nature, function and utility of juries, as they operate in the legal system of England and Wales will be carried out. In essence, the paper will examine why juries are a fundamental part of the English legal system, as well as the criticisms of their role. Focusing on the jury’s role and importance in criminal cases, the paper will be divided into two parts. In part one, the importance of the juries- an open system of justice, their salutary nature, independence, among other- will be highlighted. The second part of the essay will engage with a critique of the utility of the jury. This will include issues of the misconduct of the jury- non-professional, jury tampering, jury bias- will be argued. This essay will take the view that despite their weaknesses, juries have been fundamental to the English Legal System in terms of fair trial and dispensation of justice.
In England and Wales, the English system consists of 12 juries that fulfil a very important role. The courts need jury cooperation to function, especially in cases that are very difficult to see what’s fair? and what’s not? It is mainly the criminal cases that can be very difficult to judge. Juries role is to determine whether a person is guilty for the offence that, he or she is charged for. In the court, juries are presented with evidence, and they can only reach their verdict on the foundation of what evidence they been presented with. They have to make sure they assess the evidence carefully. Juries have to remain impartial and independent to fulfil their role fairly.
Juries have played a very important role in history as well. The idea of juries was developed from historical documents and Bill such as Magna carter and the Bill of Rights 1689, that are still used today. In the history trial by jury was seen as a mechanism to stop oppressive rule by the monarch or the executive. Magna Carta 1215 has been said, to be the primary source of the right to trial by jury. Sir William Blackstone, who is a famous English legal author, declared Magna Carta’s guaranteed of trial by jury. In Magna Carter, it was recognised that trial by jury was a mean of preventing arbitrary justice from the throne back in the days. Magna Carta is significant even today. This is because of the way people have reinterpreted or even misinterpreted the text of Magna carter over the centuries. Ideas and realities of trial by ordeal were one of the very main objectives of the Magna Carta.
Bill of Rights in 1689 reasserted the right to trial by jury as an ancient liberty. The bill of right 1689, Gave individual the right to freedom of speech. It also allowed individual to have their right to a fair trial. The Bill of Right granted the civil right to the people and protected individuals liberty against the interfering power of the country
Lord Devlin (1956), who was one of the most influential judges of the 20th centuries. He was one of the very strong advocates/judges for trial by juries. He strongly believed that juries ware a very important part of the justice system. Lord Devlin (1956) stated, “Trial by jury is more than an instrument of justice’ This states that having jury is a very immeasurable way to serve justice.
Trial by juries are held when an individual does not plead guilty to the crime. However, if they are found guilty, they would be face with serious punishment. Before the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the Juries Act 1974 established the acceptability and dismissal criteria for jurors. As well as giving people in certain professions the right to withdraw themselves from the jury service. However, when the Criminal Justice Act 2003 was established, it implemented many recommendations such as removed ineligibility and the right of excusal from jury duty in a certain profession.
Firstly, the jury is a very important part of the legal system because juries are part of the public and therefore, they reflect the view and opinion of the public which allows the public to feel more engaged. To elaborate on this point, the jury system gives the public a chance to participate in the legal process which is considered a very fair and just way of serving justice. Lord Devlin (1956) stated, “Trial by jury is more than an instrument of justice”. This states that having jury is a very immeasurable way to serve justice.
Additionally, juries are provided with an opportunity to engage with the law closely, which gives the public hope and trust on the legal system. In the Magna Carter, King John guarantees that no “free man” will be punished, “without the lawful judgement of his peers”. In this statement he was referring to the juries who are representing the views of the public, that without the public opinion, no innocent person would be punished.
Another reason, why juries are considered important way to judge a case, as it is believed that “12 heads are better than 1”. This statement is referred to as 12 juries will have a fair outcome than just one judge. In the selection, of the process juries are picked randomly from diverse backgrounds such as black, white, Asian, Muslim, Christians, Hindus and many more but they have to meet the criteria of juries under the Jury Act. The random selection of juries is recently introducing in England and wales.
To refer to 1900, the jury was a mostly white male and due to the high degree of racism, it was very normal for the juries to be prejudiced against black people.
In the UK most black young men are still stereotyped as engaging in criminal behaviour. Although, now racism against black people is not as crucial, but racism still exists in England and wales. Hence why in 2011 Lord justice, in his review suggested that in a ‘racially sensitive’ cases, there must be at least three ethnic minorities jurors. But the government was not in the favour of this recommendation as the government wanted a fully random selection as it seems fairer .
Finally, the most important reason why juries are a fundamental part of the English legal system in England and Wales is that, juries are represented, as an open system of justice. Way before the implementation of Human Right Act, Open justice was acknowledged as vital to ensure public engagement and educating members of the public by publicizing accurate information.
The open system justice is a very important principle in jurisdictions of the UK. This means that when the courts are hearing testimony or legitimate argument of a case, the doors of the courts are open to the members of the public. Citizens in England and Wales can walk into a trial to see the legal proceeding. Lord Shaw extolled the virtues of this principle in the case of Scott v Scott. He stated that involving public is “one of the surest guarantees of our liberty”.