Trust the Jury and No to Change

Why shouldn’t juries have to give reasons for their decisions, asked my naive friend. Then we will know exactly why they have convicted or acquitted. Take that case recently when… I shifted uncomfortably, well aware of the legal lobby pressing for the same course. Sometimes it is accompanied by something suspiciously close to a threat. Without reasoned decisions in the future, the jury system will not survive. It is Euro vulnerable. Sooner or later eight hundred years of history will go out of the window and there is nothing you can do about it.

Fighting talk. I believe, of course, that would be a profound mistake. The jury system works so well because it’s processes are not under the scrutiny of lawyers bred to sniff out inconsistency.
Men and women left to their own devices, united by a common desire to achieve a fair result with which they can feel comfortable. Does it matter one jot that they should reach such a result by completely different routes? Routes which if subjected to critical legalistic analysis would breed unjust acquittals?

Perhaps serious fraud is a useful example for both sides of the argument. Broadly, fraud charges require proof of very specific separate ingredients. Would it not be better to know that a jury has appreciated the intricacies of the process by making them spell out their reasons for conviction? The counter argument is well known: you do not need a degree in theoretical physics to recognize Dishonesty. Nor does that process in the very last analysis depend on a recollection of every document in the case. A core bundle of relatively few documents, well deployed, will usually do the trick.

I have spent my professional life getting to understand how juries tick and how very rarely they get it wrong. Like so many of us, I have been impressed time and again by discriminating verdicts in long indictments or multi handed cases. I fear for the system if lawyers are let loose on jury analysis. In most cases it works – full stop. Let us be vigilant to prevent a thorough good system from being undermined by sophistry.

But then I would say that, wouldn’t I. Dyed in the wool and unwilling to change. It would be a comfort to hear that I am not alone.

Nigel Pascoe QC

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