Letter: The jury is out on trial by jury

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The Independent Online
Sir: After his acquittal on theft and conspiracy charges, following one of the longest periods of jury deliberation on record, George Walker said: 'I think it would be madness to lose the jury system' ('Walker may sue for damages', 25 October).

At the press conference after his trial, Mr Walker commented that he was sure the jury had not properly understood much of the highly detailed legal argument. 'I didn't understand a lot of it, so I can't see how they could.'

Jury equity had, it appeared, rejected the prosecution's case for possibly contentious reasons: that is was prolix and incomprehensible rather than just wrong.

Any democratic merit being accorded to the jury system by this decision was, however, being counterbalanced by another court judgment that you report ('Retrial order in 'Ouija case' ', 25 October). The Court of Appeal ordered a retrial of a man convicted of double murder because four jurors, in a 'drunken experiment', tried to contact the murder victims in a seance.

Many agree with Lord Devlin's praise of the jury, that is it 'the lamp that shows that freedom lives'. The trouble, however, is that very little is really known about the jury's decision-making process because it is illegal for jurors to discuss their experiences with researchers.

Juries, it should not be forgotten, convicted the defendants in all the appalling miscarriages of justice that are now matters of record. The Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the Tottenham Three, the Cardiff Three, Judith Ward, Stefan Kiszko, et al. The jury is only as good as the system of which it is a part.

If the rules on researching jury deliberations are relaxed, as the Royal Commission recommended, I suspect the resultant research findings would be alarming to many.

Yours faithfully, Gary Slapper The Law School Staffordshire University Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire 25 October

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