New law will force juries to give reasons for verdicts

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The Independent Online

Juries will have to give reasons for their verdicts when the Human Rights Act comes into force, the Lord Chancellor has been advised in a radical review of the criminal justice system.

Juries will have to give reasons for their verdicts when the Human Rights Act comes into force, the Lord Chancellor has been advised in a radical review of the criminal justice system.

The change, designed to stop thousands of criminals appealing against their convictions under the new Act, would mean jurors having to tell defendants step by step how they had been found guilty.

Lord Irvine of Lairg has already accepted the need for magistrates to give reasons in court for their decisions so they comply with the Human Rights Act when it is implemented on 2 October. Now Lord Justice Auld, a senior judge at the Court of Appeal who was asked by Lord Irvine to conduct a sweeping review of the criminal justice system, has suggested that juries will need to do the same.

Under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), all defendants must be tried in front of an independent and impartial tribunal where judgments must be delivered in public.

Human rights lawyers argue that verdicts are not in themselves reasoned judgments and that defendants are being denied justice if they are not told the reasons for their convictions.

In his progress report, Lord Justice Auld says the best way to help juries produce reasoned decisions is by answering "structured lists of questions" already agreed by barristers and the judge before the start of the trial.

The jury's written answers, which could be given by their foreman, would show, step-by-step, how the jury reached its decision. Lord Justice Auld says written reasons would also help victims of crime understand why juries did not convict in certain cases.

An alternative solution, but less favourably considered by the judge, would be to follow the system used in France and Belgium, where the judge sits in with the jury and acts as its legal adviser.

Both of these proposals received a cool reception from lawyers yesterday. Stephen Kramer QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said the system would prove unworkable where jurors had come to the same decision for different reasons.

He also said that an obligation to produce reasons would have serious implications for the strict rules governing the "sanctity" of the jury room. Under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 it is against the law to "disclose" a jury's "deliberations, arguments or votes cast".

The international human rights lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson QC, said he did not think Article 6 of the ECHR intended juries to give reasons.

"Juries are simply asked to find a defendant guilty or innocent. It was the settled intention of the British lawyers who drafted the Convention in 1951 that it did not apply to juries," he said.

He added: "Lawyers may want to argue the point but I don't think they will succeed."

David McIntosh, the vice-president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said: "Juries are simply asked to deliver verdicts of guilt or innocence. To ask for reasons takes away their ability to acquit in the interests of justice when the facts of the case are proven."

In some fraud cases, judges and barristers agree questions the jury needs to answer before reaching its verdict. Juries hearing civil claims, such as false imprisonment, defamation and malicious prosecution, are also asked to consider specific questions abut the way they will reach their verdicts.