Letter: Woodward jury

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Sir: We believe that many of the criticisms levelled at the American Woodward jury apply equally in Britain. Two years ago we put our faith in the "12 good men and true", opting for a Crown Court trial for our son. We witnessed how a jury, despite medical and character evidence, can reach bizarre decisions. Prior to this experience, we had inherent faith in the system; indeed we had never had cause to question it. Our first rumblings of disquiet came when, during the case, a barrister stated to us that "we all know prisons are full of innocent people".

The jury must be one of the final institutions where there is no quality assurance, no way of ensuring standards, no means of evaluation and from whose decisions there are few means of redress. Members are not only unaccountable, but also likely to be unrepresentative, and the dynamics of decision-making are likely to be uninformed and questionable.

In the light of the Woodward case, and of the crisis of confidence in the British justice system caused by recent high-profile miscarriages of justice, isn't it about time that the Government included this issue on its agenda, and gave consideration to ways in which jury decision-making processes can be monitored and evaluated. In the long term replacing juries with a bench of nine lay magistrates, who are at least familiar with the requirements of the court, might be a better option.

VALERIE HEWITT

MARTIN HEWITT

Bursledon, Hampshire

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