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Our calls for juries to provided reasoned verdicts in serious criminal cases.




Having watched Channel 4’s The Jury Murder Trail, we are convinced more than ever that change is needed…..

 

How can we put our trust in a jury ?


We hope and pray this may be the beginning of the end of our current jury system. Is this foundational piece of our criminal justice system really the best method of dispensing fairness, and upon which the fates of uncountable millions of accused, their accusers and silent victims have depended.


Juries giving reasons in criminal cases:

Briefing Note on behalf of the Justice for Ryan Campaign


There are no principled reasons why juries should not give reasons for their decisions in criminal cases.  The fact that they do not is an unjustified anomaly. In his review on the criminal courts, published in 2001, Lord Auld explained that:


“The jury is unique among decision-makers in the English criminal trial process in not having to explain its decision…”


This is true not only of the criminal justice system, but also the justice system more broadly.  In criminal terms, it is a requirement that magistrates give reasons for their decisions. In all other areas of the law judges give detailed reasons for their decisions. This promotes openness and enhances understanding of the decisions both in terms of the parties themselves and the wider public.


Preventing juries from giving reasons for their decisions also has the effect of compounding the sense of injustice felt by victims’ families, such as Ryan’s family, when the jury returns a not guilty verdict. All that can be understood by the family in such cases is that the jury did not think that the prosecution had proved its case. They cannot understand critical questions in terms of how the jury reached that verdict. To take Ryan’s case, and one obvious example, did the jury accept that Kobe Murray had taken the knife to the nightclub?


Juries these days are usually if not always provided with a “steps to verdict” document, which explains the questions that they must ask themselves before reaching their decision. There is no good reason (or any at all) why the jury could not declare the answers that they have provided to those questions in open court.


There is precedent for juries giving reasons for their decisions, namely in the Coroners’ Courts. Juries in inquests are usually required to make findings of fact, and reach difficult decisions as to what can and should be included on the Record of Inquest. There is no reason why a criminal jury could not do likewise, particularly with the additional steer provided by the steps to verdict.


In his report Lord Auld noted that the prohibition on juries revealing anything to do with their deliberations also prevents the Court of Appeal from being able to enquire into possible misconduct in the jury room, which he called “indefensible”. He recommended that juries should be required to give reasons for their decisions in the Crown Court, but this has never been implemented.


Lord Auld also recommended that, as in some jurisdictions, there should be a mechanism by which perverse jury verdicts can be set aside by the Court of Appeal. This would be difficult to realise without taking the first logical step of requiring juries to give their reasons so that they can be scrutinised by the Court of Appeal. The Justice for Ryan Campaign support the introduction of both measures, but accept that the requirement for juries to give reasons must come first.


The proposal is one that should be capable of cross-party support. It is neither a “left versus right” issue; nor a libertarian versus authoritarian one. It is a pragmatic measure which, as Lord Auld noted, is arguably required to ensure compliance of the criminal law with Article 6 of the Human Rights Convention.



MATT STANBURY -  For and on behalf of the Justice for Ryan Campaign

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