Juries in criminal and civil cases

The development and independence of the jury

The notion of trials by jury has developed substantially over the years. In 1215, the Magna Carta included recognition that a person has the right to be trialled by ‘the lawful judgment of his peers’. By the middle of the 15th century, juries had become known as independent assessors and were notorious for their role as deciders of fact.

There have been many cases over the years where jury decisions have been challenged or overturned by the decision of the judge.

In Bushel’s Case (1670), it was decided that the jury were to be considered as sole arbitrators of fact and that the judge could not challenge their decisions.

A modern day jury

Today’s systems of jury say nothing while in the court room. They retire into a secluded room where they will discuss among themselves the facts of the case.

Once the jury go into the private room, they have no communication with anyone outside of that room, and any technology that may interfere with the secrecy of the jury, such as telephones, laptops, etc. will be removed until a decision is made, or they retire for the night.

Modern day use of the jury

The Criminal Law Act 1977 made a number of minor offences and driving offences summary only, thus removing the right to jury trial. A number of other cases have been made summary only since then. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 also allows trial by judge alone in the Crown Court where:

  • a serious risk of jury tampering exists; or
  • the case involves complex or lengthy financial and commercial arrangements.

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For more information on:

  • Juries in criminal cases
  • Juries in civil cases
  • When are juries used in civil cases?