Editorial: Don't blame the jury system for this failure

Is is not truly remarkable that our randomly chosen juries work as well as they do?

Share
Related Topics

With every hour and every day that the jury in the trial of Vicky Pryce failed to reach a verdict, the prospect that they would ever agree seemed to recede. On the face of it, the question was simple: was Ms Pryce guilty of perverting the course of justice – by taking speeding points for her then husband, Chris Huhne – or was she to be found not guilty because she was acting under duress? Even after submitting 10 additional questions and being invited to reach a majority verdict, however, the jurors remained so divided that the judge decided to dismiss them. It was with a distinct weariness that the judge said the retrial would begin on Monday.

But he did not dismiss the jury without adding his two ha'pence worth. In 30 years of criminal trials, he said, he did not recall receiving such a very basic list of questions at such a late stage. Such elementary questions, he suggested, raised substantial concern about whether it was safe to permit the jury to continue its deliberations.

In essence, the judge appeared to be blaming the jury for incompetence and hoping for a brighter lot next time around. It is true that some of the questions they asked betray elements of confusion about what they might or might not take into account and a temptation to stray beyond the evidence they had heard. But at least, it might be said, they admitted this in time to be returned to the straight and narrow. It is also true some of their questions might be considered so basic as to cast doubt on whether this jury was capable of pronouncing sensibly on this or any other trial.

To infer from their failure, however, the jury system as such is either counterproductive or doomed would be a conclusion far too far. The matter should rather be addressed the other way round. Is it not truly remarkable that the English jury system works as well as it does?

Jurors are plucked at random from the electoral registers to sit at crown courts up and down the country. Since it became harder to claim an exemption six years ago, the jury room has become one of the few places – with the exception, perhaps, of the GP surgery – where all manner and estates of men and women come together. Almost half a million adults perform jury service every year, from all walks of life, and the social mix is both intentional and necessary. The verdict should reflect the common-sense view that an ordinary person would take, presented with the same evidence.

This is not to say that maintaining the integrity of the system has not become harder, or that there is no jury-nobbling. It may be illegal for jurors to try to research a defendant, or a witness, say, via the internet, or to communicate with the outside world via mobile phone, though judges have – rightly – come down heavily when they find people breaking the rules. Some highly technical cases may also be beyond most juries' ken.

All in all, though, a system in which 12 ordinary men and women judge their fellow citizens on behalf of the rest of us still works well. For all the complaints of the judge at Southwark Crown Court, it might just be that the failure of the jury to agree reflected the complexity of the case and the presence of so much information already in the public domain. And if indeed this jury was at fault, we should give thanks that such demonstrated inadequacy is so rare.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits  

So who, really, is David Cameron, our re-elected ‘one nation’ Prime Minister?

Andrew Grice
Time travel: Thomas Cook has been trading since 1841  

A horror show from Thomas Cook that tells you all you need to know about ethical consumerism

Janet Street-Porter
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?