Then & Now: The jury is out

1938: The Left Book Club published 'Justice In England', by A Barrister, who commented thus on the jury system:

'Juries have a spurious reputation for intelligence. More than half the practising barristers praise them in public; more than three-quarters will privately condemn them as uncertain, irresponsible, and prejudiced . . . And, as so often happens in England, it is just at the point when they are most dangerous that their reputation stands highest. Well- meaning old gentlemen holding positions of great responsibility describe them as bulwarks of our liberty (without of course knowing much about bulwarks or anything definite about liberty) . . . In a fashion not uncommon in England, juries have kept their reputation as defenders of popular liberty long after they have ceased to merit it . . . Nothing is likely for the time being to make them any better, and they will probably grow progressively worse; and when the general political position becomes acute, as it is bound soon to do, they will pass from being merely an unsatisfactory part of the judicial system to the position of an important executive weapon. And all the while, bless them, many of them will still think that they are quite impartially giving, in the words of their oath, 'a true verdict according to the evidence'. Sweet are the uses of myopia.'

13 July 1993: The jury system came under renewed attack when an Old Bailey jury found 19-year-old Joseph Elliott not guilty of murder, after he had admitted knifing to death Bob Osborne, aged 40, a Londoner who suspected him of slashing car tyres. Elliott had claimed self-defence.