Letter: Mysteries of the jury

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Sir: Many of your readers will have been baffled at the decision of a jury to acquit a 6ft 2in policeman who sprayed CS gas in the face of a pensioner who was sitting with a seat belt on in a parked vehicle (report, 10 June).

In a restrained and careful way the trial judge expressed dismay at the jury's decision, but that, of course, is all he could do. This was not always so. Historically judges used to imprison juries who did not arrive at the "correct" verdict until they changed their minds. It was Bushell's case in 1670 which established the immunity of the jury from punishment for reaching what the judges saw as wayward decisions.

Today the jury is commonly regarded as emblematic of a democracy and a bulwark against state tyranny. We put up with perverse verdicts because that is a price worth paying.

The problem is that despite a recommendation by the Runciman Commission on Criminal Justice (1993) for the legalisation of jury research, such projects are still unlawful. We simply do not know, therefore, whether the means by which most juries arrive at their decisions are rational and composed or irrational and informed by prejudice.