Call to ease ban on jury research

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The Independent Online

Legal Affairs Correspondent

Labour wants to change the law which forbids research into juries, to allow academics to find out whether working-class or unemployed jurors are more likely to acquit defendants than middle-class ones.

Jack Straw, Labour's home affairs spokesman, says that at the moment the evidence is little more than anecdotal but, he says, "There should be research on who refuses jury service and on the composition of juries."

Even if research produced no correlation between class and acquittal rates, he still says everybody should sit on juries as part of the obligations as good citizens. "It can't do the reputation of criminal justice any good if juries are not a broad-based section of the public as a whole."

Mr Straw believes that too many of the middle classes evade jury service. He favours tightening up the rules in two ways: restricting the list of exempted professions - it is right that it includes lawyers, police and court employees, but need not exempt MPs, he said. And where jurors ask to be excluded for personal reasons, their excuses should be checked more carefully.

Anyone on the electoral roll aged 18 to 70 is eligible to be called for jury service. They receive pounds 44.80 a day plus meals and travelling allowance. In 1993 a national study of more than 8,000 jurors by Michael Zander, Professor of Law at the London School of Economics, for a Royal Commission was not allowed to relate class to verdicts, but it did show that all social classes were represented on juries in proportion to their numbers in the population.

An earlier smaller study in Birmingham, before research was banned in 1981, showed no correlation between sex, age or class and the number of guilty verdicts, and found manual workers were under-represented on juries.