Trial by jury

Apropos of this story in the UK - two men accused of armed robbery have appeared at the first crown court criminal trial to be held without a jury. The justification is that the presiding judge feared jury tampering. The defending barrister and friends of the accused oppose this move, protesting “…so that a democracy doesn’t turn into a dictatorship.”

The UK has a long (and recently tumultuous) relationship with trial by jury, which possibly stretches back to Anglo-Saxon times and later the Magna Carta. It came under attack following the Sally Clarke case, a case where a mother was accused of murdering two children. She was convicted following evidence and statistics (the “CSI effect”) provided by an expert, evidence later found to be misleading. In the U.S., the composition and finding of jury has famously contributed to riots, following the Rodney King case.

I honestly don’t consider myself informed enough to come down definitively one way or another in favour (or not) on juries, so hopefully some ignorance will be fought. I’ve never served on one, although have known people who have - who on the whole regarded it as an annoying nuisance. On the other hand, the right to be tried by ones peers has been enshrined in English law for centuries. What say the dope?

I don’t really see how a judge would’ve been less prone to believing misleading testimony from an expert witness then a jury would.

In the US, only a defendant can waive his right to a jury trial for a criminal offense. I think that’s as it should be.

Need to read the story more to get my head round the details, but in general, here is one UK’er not happy with the idea.

A jury is the people’s last legal line of defense against tyranny by the state. The state has to convince twelve (or however many) jurors that a defendant committed a crime. Except for the jury, the criminal system is entirely in the hands of the state. By requiring conviction by jury, the people get a final check against the state’s power.

Of course the system can be abused, and depending on how the jury is chosen, easily abused. The juror selection process needs to be transparently fair.

The problem of convictions due to faulty evidence is not a problem due to having a jury. Even judges can be lead astray by bad evidence. Bad evidence needs to be challenged by the opposing legal team.

Um… yes, sorta. The prosecution must also waive THEIR right to a jury trial.

In other words, if the accused wants a bench trial but the prosecution wants a jury, the trial will be to a jury.

Of course, in the real world, it’s almost impossible to imagine the prosecution not wanting a bench trial, so this is more of a theorectical nitpick than a practical concern.

Playing advocatus diaboli for a moment, I think the argument is that a judge, being educated, experienced and familiar with a courtroom system, would be less susceptible to evidence which sounds impressive and enough to form a conviction but which in actual fact is not as definitive as a layman might think.

“The first objection would be asking jurors to decide on questions of fact. This is dangerous because jurors neither have the professional need nor the training to disregard their own passions and prejudices which a judge is trained and required to do.[xii]”

I think if I were wrongly accused of a heinous crime I would want a bench trial. But, like other people, I agree that the defendant should have the right of a jury trial.

It seems to be yet another Labour is taking to destroy any claim they used to have of support for civil liberties. No way I can ever rejoin now.

I’ll just note that this isn’t true for every jurisdiction, it differs from State to State. For example, in some states, Illinois included, the right to a jury trial includes the right to waive a jury trial, and the prosecution cannot insist upon a jury trial over the defendant’s objection.

My bolding - I said the defendant can waive his right to a jury trial, not waive a jury trial itself. Anyway, as you say, it’s essentially a nitpick in theory only.

This is the 4th trial in this case.


During the Troubles in Northern Ireland a similar procedure was adopted (Diplock Courts) as it was becoming impossible to obtain convictions from intimidated and frightened juries.

Not ideal but what can you do (apart from inventing specious legal categories and incarcerating them in another country of course)?

Let violent criminal gangs establish themselves above the law?

Yes lets take 12 randomly selected laymen and let them decide issues of liberty and life and you know what, they don’t even have to give a reason.

Incidentally, the BBC report erred in fact. “This is not the first Crown Court Trial in England and Wales for 350 years without a jury”, the Crown Court has existed only since 1970, before that you had the Assizes.

The BBC report erred in law, 96% of all Criminal cases in England and Wales are heard in the absence of a jury, they are tried in the Magistrates Court, with either a single judge or a bench of three idiots…err Magistrates.

Not really. If I was prosecuting and the evidence was based mostly on identification, I would want a jury trial. Judges have a narrow view of the same and are apt to throw that out.

And of course generally, since in many jurisdiction the judge have to give reasons for their decision unlike the case with trial by lot…errrr jury, it make life so muchg easier at appeal. Just write down “the honourable judge erred in law when…” instead of wondering what the hell you can find out about the trial court deicion to attack.

They tried that is the 3 previous trials and they tried that in Northern Ireland.

Both for a petit (trial) jury and the grand jury, what they are is protection for the individual whose innocence and liberty has been called into question against incompetence, maliciousness, and callousness.

Given a D.A. who is carrying out the terms of his office, a fair, diligent, and honest judge, and a competent defense attorney, neither is necessary. But in point of fact, often those ‘givens’ are not – the D.A. is grandstanding, the judge is harried by his schedule or prejudiced in favor of the prosecution, the defense attorney is ‘phoning in’ his role or more interested in getting his client a plea bargain than in defending him – the jury is a safeguard against abuse of ‘the system’ by those inured to its normal operation. And in particular, a grand jury who will sincerely debate whether that ham sandwich warrants a true bill, is the protection of those accused of serious crime against an overzealous or prejudiced prosecutor.

This is not making accusations against normal practice – it’s saying they’re important safeguards against abuse.

For every Clive Ponting who was aquitted by a jury who felt that he was acting in the public interest, you have many many many more Shabbir Ali Mirzas who were convicted because of a racist and biased jury and Sally Clarks because the jury misunderstood what the witnesses said.

In short, the appeals process is the safeguard, not the jury.

No, they are both safeguards. The jury is the safeguard against oppression by the authorities, of which the judiciary is a part, and the appelate process is a safeguard against the idiocy and bigotry of juries.

It’s not perfect, but what is.

(Channeling my inner Churchill…)

The jury system is awful and fraught with problems. It is, however, better than anything else we’ve come up with.

I don’t approve of trial by jury at all. Much rather have a bench of 3 trained jurists. As long as the judiciary is independent of the legislature, that is.