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Last Updated: Monday, 14 January 2008, 11:00 GMT
How is a jury selected?
The Magazine answers...

The members of a jury are selected at random to protect fairness
The first day of the trial into the killing of five women working as prostitutes in Ipswich will be taken up with jury selection - a process which can conceivably throw up the "12 angry men" of lore. Why?

The right to a fair trial forms the bedrock of the English legal system.

"It has long been recognised," says the Ministry of Justice, "that to try the defendant by 12 individuals who are randomly selected helps to maintain a justice system that is fair, independent and democratic."

And because selection is random - with no requirements for the jury to represent a cross-section of society - it is theoretically possible to have an all-male or all-female jury.

Aged between 18 and 70
Registered on parliamentary or local government electoral roll
UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man resident for at least five consecutive years since 13

Those whose knowledge of the law is drawn from US courtroom dramas - both fictional and real - may be surprised to find that juries are not cross-examined to assess their suitability. Once selected, jurors are obliged to participate unless they can provide compelling evidence why serving would be inconvenient. Even then, it's most likely they will only be able to defer their service. Judges, lawyers, politicians, doctors and clergy are no longer exempt.

No-one serving on a jury is supposed to have any connection to anyone involved in the case. A potential juror who knows the defendant, a witness, the judge, an advocate or solicitor must make this clear to avoid an unfair trial or the matter coming up during the proceedings, causing the trial to be aborted.

Names called

An estimated 450,000 people perform this duty each year in trials for significant offences such as murder or serious assault, says the Ministry of Justice.

Those currently on bail
Someone who has been sentenced
Some mental illness sufferers
Those summoned for jury service and had the summons confirmed are legally obliged to participate. The pool from which people have been selected comprises of people randomly selected by the Jury Central Summoning Bureau from the electoral register.

When a court is ready to select a jury, a court official will choose a group of people who will be taken to the courtroom to enter an oath. This number in this party may vary from about 15 to as many as 50, depending on the length of time the trial is likely to go on for. If a case is particularly complicated, and expected to continue for some time, a larger panel will be used as some may not be able to take several weeks, or even months, off work.

Those selected will not know which trial they will serve on until they have been sworn in. This method is used to make sure jurors have no prejudgements regarding the case. For the same reason, in some cases, a list of witnesses may be read out before anybody is sworn in to give potential jurors a chance to declare if they know a witness.

A regular part of the BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer some of the questions behind the headlines
Outlining the principle behind assembling a jury, Peter Lodder QC, deputy vice-chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, says it must be entirely open.

"It is important that the selection is random and that there is no criteria or category for selection. There may be issues that cause people to be inappropriate choices for the jury panel."

Mr Lodder, a barrister of 26 years, says every one of the jurors selected at random is accepted for the panel unless the barristers or judge feel they cannot approach the subject impartially.

The judge has the final say over whether an issue should prevent a person from joining the jury. In the case of the Ipswich murder trial, a person may be unlikely to join the jury if they knew one of the dead women.

It usually takes about half a day to swear in a jury, but can take longer, sometimes spilling over into a second day. Those selected must not disclose or discuss any aspect of the trial with anyone who is not a member of the jury.

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