A model for much of the world

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The Independent Online
THE ENGLISH jury system has been exported across the globe, writes Trevor Grove. It flourishes in Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is hanging on in Hong Kong. Many Commonwealth countries abolished it for tribal or dictatorial reasons but Malawi has brought it back.

Nowhere is it more highly revered than in the United States, where Sidney Lumet's film Twelve Angry Men virtually has the status of a sacred text.

France has its own jury system, as does Scotland. Russia, Spain and Japan are all considering the introduction of juries modelled on Britain's. Scotland has 15-person juries and the seldom-used option of the "not proven" verdict. In France, serious cases are heard by three judges and nine jurors. All 12 retire together to consider both the verdict and the sentence (an idea that might appeal to our own law-enforcers).

In other countries with jury systems, the English model prevails, with variations. In New Zealand and most states in Australia, verdicts must be unanimous, although there are moves to introduce majority verdicts, as here, because of the high rate of hung juries.

In the US, too, the majority of states insist on unanimity - and not just for offences carrying the death penalty - despite the numerous mis- trials that result.

In England and Wales, peremptory challenges of potential jury members are no longer allowed. In general, the jury you get is the jury you are stuck with. But in the US, prosecution and defence lawyers have a generous allowance of peremptory challenges and employ high-earning jury consultants to help them. The result is that juries sometimes take months to pick, and often end up looking "stacked" - as in the first O J Simpson trial.

In the US, juries also try big civil cases. Despite plentiful evidence that jurors are often out of their depth in the cross-currents of commercial law, millions of dollars hang on their verdicts. On the other hand defendants can be tried by a judge alone, if they choose, which many do.

Three US states - New York, Arizona and Massachusetts - now insist that jury service should be universal. Everyone must do it if summoned, except in the direst circumstances. That is something the UK would do well to emulate. Far too many professional and middle-class people find it easy to avoid their stint in the jury box - and then complain that juries are too ignorant to reach a reliable verdict.

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