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Do juries deliver justice?

What do you think of the jury trial system?

UK Home Secretary Jack Straw has unveiled plans to limit the right to trial by jury. Read what you think of the jury trials system?

Background ¦ Your reaction

The Background:

Currently defendants in certain cases can chose whether they want a trial by magistrates or by judge and jury.

About 22,000 people in England and Wales will lose this option under Jack Straw's proposal.

The Home Secretary said, "England and Wales has the only jurisdiction system we can find where defendants have the right to choose their court. "

He said most jurisdiction systems would regard it as eccentric.

Twelve good men and true

The jury trial in its modern form stems back to 1855 and covers a wide range of middle-ranking offences such as theft and handling stolen goods.

Serious crimes are automatically heard by a jury.

There are also plans to abolish jury trials for complex fraud cases. The Home Office cited the huge cost of such cases to the taxpayer and the strain on judges, juries and defendants.

We asked, is this the beginning of the end for Britain's ancient jury system? Do you believe it is the fairest system available or is it old fashioned and in need of reform?

Background ¦ Your reaction

Considering that all of the recently overturned high-profile miscarriages of justice had originally been tried by jury it's clear that the system is far from ideal. Juries of ordinary people are by their very nature more influenced by emotion than facts because they aren't trained to deal with these. That being said, magistrates are probably not that much better placed to do so.
John Cahill, UK

The comments by the British magistrate - and the apparent contempt she has for the perceptive abilities of a jury drawn from members of the public - illustrate precisely why the right to trial by jury should not go. As a junior reporter I spent many long hours in magistrates court and it was clear the odds were stacked against the defendant - the onus was v. much on him proving his innocence rather than vice-versa. The statistics, which show the much higher level of convictions in lesser courts, back this up. Believe me, if ever you find yourself in court, you stand a far better chance of an 'emotional' jury divining your innocence than a cynical team of magistrates.
Nick, England

Trial without jury works perfectly in the European continent. A judge is sole decider. A full and total discretion given to someone who knows the law and can apply it masterfully. It's a shame we haven't followed suit. These new 'rules' may be a first step.
It's a shame, because those people who complain about the removal of many triable either way offences should do well to know that that old phrase you always heard at school 'The minority spoil it for the majority' is true. If people were not abusing their right to jury trial, we'd still have it.
Stacey, UK

The decision of a single magistrate is always subject to that person's mood etc. With a jury this should be cancelled out simply by the law of averages, but these people, whether good and true or not, have no training in how to weigh up all the evidence fairly. Neither system is ideal. In my opinion a panel or jury composed of judges or magistrates would be the best option. However we have seen that the Home Secretary seems most concerned with cutting costs, and obviously this wouldn't work!
Tor, England

The whole of the judicial system is in need of a thorough spring clean!
Cathie, England

If cost is being cited as a reason, why don't they just get rid of themselves? I also sincerely believe that this idea has not be seriously thought over, but then which government idea has ever been?
Sriram Seshagiri, India

Straw's proposed attack on the right to trial by jury is one of the most terrifying things I've heard this year. As a retired solicitor, I've seen the sort of "justice" the magistrates' courts of this country deal out. So many of our fundamental rights have been eroded in the last few years; we have to stop the rot before it's too late.
Tom Holt, UK

It is right that the prosecution/accuser should have to pass the test of convincing a jury of peers that the accused is guilty. Contrast this with having to convince a busy, possibly cynical and 'war weary' paid or unpaid official (in the form of a magistrate) that you are not guilty. Remember that the magistrates courts were formerly known as 'police courts' and are related to the continental 'Judge of Freedoms' system in the EU.
Peter, UK

The right for a suspect to have a jury has been welded into English law for hundreds of years. What right has Straw to deny people this basic right?
Nick, England

If this is the kind of thing the EC is going to foist upon us, we should pull out. Flawed as the jury system is, the right to be judged by one's peers is not something that should be tossed aside lightly, and certainly not on the grounds of expense.
Kit, UK

As a retired Cop I can tell you that the rule is this: if you are guilty get a good lawyer and a jury. If you are innocent you would have a better chance with a Judge only.
Ty Northcutt, USA

I, like many Americans, am very disenchanted with the jury system in the aftermath of the O.J. Simpson criminal trial verdict. Conversely, it was a judge that gave Simpson custody of his children without considering his self-incriminating testimony in his civil trial. I don't know what the answer is but justice, in the U.S. at least, is bought and paid for. I am watching the developments with regard to the jury system in the U.K. with interest.
Lauren M. Lynley, USA

In real life it doesn't make much difference whether you opt for trial by jury or trial by magistrates. In the Netherlands there is no trial by jury whatsoever, still I cannot see any signs of a despotic police state looming above the horizon, democracy going to pot, or personal freedom going down the drain. Dutch police, CPS, and judges most definitely do not have the right to detain suspects indefinitely and without trial.
Frank Drop, The Netherlands

Blair says that he wants to create a 'stakeholder society.' The ultimate exercise of citizenship is the implementation of the legal system that sets out how we deal with one another. We should be moving towards participatory democracy, not away from it.
Alex Jackson, UK

If a defendant is tried by a true "jury of his peers," then a jury trial would perhaps result in justice. If, as it is today in the United States, and possibly UK, that a jury is selected from people who are not peers of the defendant, who know nothing of the case, and have nothing better to do with their time; then a jury trial becomes a two ring circus. The ring which produces the best performance wins. Justice is incidental. It becomes all about winning.
Jim, USA

A jury trial protects the accused from conviction by government officials, instead calling for a guilty verdict by randomly chosen impartial citizens. So goes the theory. In New York City, violent crime is so common and criminal cases often so obviously formalities that many citizens feel justified at seeking exemptions on various pretexts. Only the bored and the slow-witted remain, and they in turn are easily befuddled by creative barristers. I would feel safer, if on trial, with a judge than with a jury. Nevertheless, a properly selected jury that is informed of the pre-emptive right to acquit (which USA juries are carefully not told about!) would be a good safeguard against tyranny if in fact it existed. I would prefer reform to abolishment.
Edward Harshman, USA

One could argue that the composition of the jury in present day UK is such that the defendants would not benefit from a fair trial. By the composition of the jury, I am referring to the people who are chosen to make up the jury. Lately they have proven to be the unemployed or the white retired upper-middle class prominent people in society-indicating a racial and sexual bias. Thus, the ideal of the defendant being tried or judged by his/her peers is utopic more than it is real.
June Gachui, Kenya

The idea of 12 good men/women is flawed. The jury system is a lottery and you have no guarantee that the people have an adequate grasp of the concepts involved. The court room is a forum for a display of semantics by lawyers and too many people are nonplussed by it. That said - how could it be replaced?
Lucas, UK

Juries are swayed by our adversarial system which is itself fundamentally flawed. Our so-called justice system is a game played by lawyers where there are no losers. Criminals and their bent briefs run rings round the Law, and victims are ignored.
Derek Broome, UK

It sounds to me like the UK is starting to sound like the US: "people are unimportant, the only thing that matters is MONEY" And if some innocent people go to jail, who cares? After all, the important thing is to save MONEY! But then, why would I be surprised to hear the UK gov't sound like the US gov't? These days the UK gov't is just a puppet for the US gov't, who think that the whole world exists only to make American corporations richer.
Mike O'Day, USA

We should be entitled to a fair trial as we live in a free country!
Andy Darby, England

Whose justice does our legal system serve? Trial by a jury may be a little more expensive and time consuming, but I believe a fair verdict (though not necessarily flawless) reached by a few "wise men" in a criminal case is more important in bringing justice to the accused, the victim and the public at large.
Elana Chan, Hong Kong

What has struck me the most about this debate is how little faith we have in our magistrates. It is a sad sign of the times that they are still white male middle class and, probably, straight biased.

Trial by Jury is part of what the English-speaking nations of the world understand by democracy. The ordinary people don't only decide who shall write the laws, by electing the MPs, they also decide, by serving on juries, against whom those laws shall be applied. If you argue that they are incompetent to do the latter, then by the same token you are in fact arguing that they incompetent to do the former.
T. D. Erikson, UK

Justice has to evolve I suppose. This week a case over a man stealing a can of soft drink was abandoned well into a jury trial (which he had insisted on) by the judge on the grounds that it was costing too much (9000 pounds/day). I don't really know all the details, but the whole thing seems an abuse of the system. Do we have criminals taking very trivial matters to expensive trials (clogging up the system) on a regular basis? If so then should something be done about this. Still I'm surprised about this law.....can it really mean that lawyers will lose some money??
Simon, England

This is another cynical erosion of centuries old law, which must be preserved to protect personal freedom and not dismissed at the whim of this government under the pretext of cost-cutting.
Jon Gardner, England

The idea of withdrawing present rights is quite wrong. It is just in these "lesser" cases that evidence is often most unclear - e.g. assault and shop-lifting and pressure can be put on to plead guilty and "get it over with". A wrongful conviction on what in the eyes of the "system" is a petty crime can have a devastating effect on the individual's career and life. Every possible protection should be given.
R A Abernethy, England

Although a jury by one's peers may have its flaws, I can think of no better or less flawed system available. Sure, it may be expensive, but since when has there been a price tag on justice? If somebody can come up with a better non-biased judicial system then please feel free. But until then, I see no better alternative.
Frederick Sexe, USA

I've heard it claimed that a large proportion of magistrates are not particularly well qualified, and tend to be rather harsh and conservative. Lawyer friends therefore strongly advised me, should I ever get into trouble with the law (god forbid) opt for a jury. If Jack Straw wants to reduce jury trials, perhaps he might have to consider the reputation (and not just the lower cost) of magistrates first?
Jan Schnupp, UK

I'm currently in Canada on holiday. This move of Jack Straw's makes me think about staying here. While undoubtedly flawed, juries are a barrier to a despotic police state.
Neil White, UK

Yes jack straw is right to curb the rights of criminals to delay judgement and inevitable sentence by opting for a jury when the matter could be put before a judge and settled in a small number of cases, we are not talking about murder or rape or armed robbery, just middle crimes.
Nick Tucker, UK

This proposal to limit the right to a trial by jury demonstrates a basic difference between the US and the UK. In the US, the right to jury trial is guaranteed by the constitution and the government does not have the power to take it away. Obviously, in the UK, this is not the case. I'm reminded of a quote by Benjamin Franklin, "People who are willing to give up individual freedom for safety, deserve neither."
Jack Hollis, USA

There seems to be a continual erosion of our judicial system. First the right to silence goes, now this. It's another step towards justice by decree. Magistrates are essentially illegitimate: they are not elected, nor randomly chosen; they are appointees of the State. Their use should be restricted to very minor cases. The right to be judged by one's peers is ancient and fundamental. Justice dispensed by "experts" or officials is abhorrent.
Mark Parker, UK

Please make it clear that this has nothing to do with Jack Straw other than the fact that he has to rubber-stamp the decision. It is a new EU directive entitled Corpus Juris, designed to bring all European legal systems into "harmony". Corpus Juris will eventually signal the complete end of Trial By Jury and Habeas Corpus, giving the state (in this case the EU) the right to detain suspects indefinitely and without trial. Trial By Jury is a basic right. To continue to pay for it, why don't we use the £10m per day we'd save by leaving the EU?
Peter Martin, UK

A randomly selected jury is the only assurance that appointed judges cannot rise their own prejudices or political direction. Perhaps it would be more sensible to look at the right of defendants to challenge jurors except in the case of obvious bias?
Paul Cooper, UK

The people need to be involved in the justice system. No juries, only appointed judges? I don't think so.
Joyce Cross, USA

Will we get the right to silence back, Jack? Or is that too expensive also? In order to save even more money, why don't we get rid of the whole legal system and just let the police lock up anyone they think deserves it? No more stories about fat-cat lawyers then, eh?
J Mack, UK

Thank you for reporting Straw's plans. What most people are not aware of is that the European Commission is preparing to abolish Trial by Jury altogether as well as Habeas Corpus and Double Jeopardy. Almost every British MEP voted for these proposals even though it was their party's policy to oppose it.
Miles Lallemant, UK

One of the corner stones of US and British democracy is trial by jury, we do not have "Professional Judges" deciding our guilt or innocence. This is another case of messing with traditional values and systems without giving due consideration of where the new system is going to lead.
Richard T. Ketchum, USA

Having worked as a Barrister's Clerk for some time I have come to the conclusion that jury trials do not always result in justice. Most criminals are accomplished liars, resulting in many juries being lead astray from the truth. As a result justice is not reached. I am a firm believer of if you commit the crime you must do your time, how can this work with criminals being able to choose how they are tried. Good on Jack Straw, save the real money for the hardened criminals and the rest can be dealt with in a magistrates court.
Hannah Bell, England

The government has put forward arguments for scrapping the right of jury trials for a range of what it calls 'minor offences'. What is 'minor' about being given a criminal record? The right to have one's case judged by 12 good and ordinary citizens would be replaced in these cases by a compulsion to have the case ruled by a small group of the social elite, made cynical by their time in public service spent being lied to.
To see such a change introduced by a government which came to power preaching social justice and by a home secretary who condemned the same proposals two years ago leaves the bitterest taste in the mouth.
Andi-Tsuyoshi Williams, UK

As a local magistrate in Leamington Spa. I should just like to point out that it seems fairly reasonable that individuals who have been appointed to the Magistracy and have taken an oath of doing fair to all at all time, and is trained to look at facts and evidence and weigh them up properly, calmly and with all the guidance on the law that is necessary from the well qualified court clerks, would make sound and unemotional decisions.
However, this does not necessarily mean Case Hardened. It may well be in the defendants own interest rather than to have perhaps an emotional jury, who may not be particularly impartial. A well trained and tried and tested 'jury' of three would, I think be a better bet than a 'green' group of jurors who have no expertise. Well meaning a jury may be, but if I were a defendant who was within the criteria to choose I am sure I would choose to be tried by Magistrates.
Linda Ridpath, England

Though much-maligned, the jury system is a necessary and fundamental right. What other system can better protect the wrongly accused defendant? It is still better for a guilty person to go free rather than an innocent person to spend time in prison. The words of my law school professor on the day of the OJ decision still ring through my head: "Scholars, remember this¿A twelve person jury is never¿I repeat never wrong." I cannot imagine why the people would stand for this in the name of cost reduction.
Robert Reel, USA

Ask the Birmingham 6, Guildford 4, Timothy Evans, Derek Bentley, and many many other innocent victims of this flawed system. The law is a complex business and best left to those who have devoted their lives to studying it. Replace juries drawn from ordinary people with teams of professional jurors trained and qualified to perform the function.
John, England

Does anyone think it odd that the Home Secretary is primarily talking about cost cutting etc. So the whole debate, for the most part, is about money. What has justice got to do with it? The right to a Jury trial is a key human right dating back hundreds if not thousands of years. To be judged by one's peers is perhaps the cornerstone of a non-authoritarian/ oligarchic society. If it costs too much money to safeguard the little democracy that we have then we have to invest more in crime prevention and crime deterrence.
Al Tepper, UK

Sometimes, but better by far, is a random sampling of people, than a politically appointed justice.
Still, Australia Votes so far:


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