Juries in Criminal and Civil Cases

The Development and Independence of the Jury

The notion of trials by jury has developed substantial over the years. In 1215, following the Norman Conquest, 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 where 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 1960, and the case of Bushell, 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 whilst in the court room. They retire into a secluded room where they will discuss amongst themselves the facts of the case.  

Once the jury go into the private room, they will 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, will be removed until a decision is made, or they retire for the night.  

Up until 2003, anyone that was connected to the law in some way, such as a practising solicitor or barrister, was not permitted to serve on Jury service, due to their  in depth knowledge of the law that may influence the decision which should be made on the facts of the case alone.

Modern day use of the jury

The modern day jury is used today in the following courts: 

Crown court: for matters concerning criminal indictment, e.g. serious criminal offences such as murder manslaughter and rape. There will be a jury consisting of 12 members. 15 members will be called upon to complete jury service, and 12 out of these 15 will randomly be selected to sit trial.  

The High court: Cases involving defamation, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and any cases alleging fraud. A jury consisting of 12 members will be used.  

The Queen’s Bench Division on certain types of cases 

County court: Cases involving defamation, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and any cases alleging fraud. A jury of 8 members will be used in these cases.  

Coroners’ court, in a few cases involving Deaths: in prison. In police custody, through an industrial accident or where health and safety of members of the public is involved. A jury in the coroners’ court will consist of between 7 and 11 members.

Juries in Criminal cases

The most common and most important use of a jury today is in crown court where they decide on criminal matters that involve the necessary finding of either guilty or not guilty. 

Jury trials amount for less than 1% of all criminal trials due to the majority of cases being dealt with in magistrates’ court, and of those cases that do proceed to crown court; approximately every 2 out of 3 defendants will plead guilty.  

Other cases that find their way to crown court may be discharged by the judge and therefore no need for a jury.

Juries in Civil Cases

Juries are only used in limited civil cases. However, they have a dual role when they are used. The jury will decide upon the facts of the case to find out whether the claimant has proved his case or not, if they reach a conclusion that the claimant has won, they will then decide upon what damages are awarded and on what scale.

When are Juries Used in Civil Cases

The county Courts Act 1984 has set out the following guidelines on when a jury should be used for a civil trial: 

Defamation: including cases involving:

  • Liable or slander
  • False imprisonment
  • Malicious prosecution and/or
  • Fraud.  

All these cases will include either damage to a person’s character or reputation. A case involving the above matters may still be refused a trial by jury if the judge believes the case, evidence or other matters are too complicated for a trial by jury.

Juries in personal injury cases

In other civil cases that may be trialled in the High court or the Queen’s Bench division, parties to the case may apply for a trial to be decided by jury, but it is up to the discretion of the judge as to whether he grants such a request.  

The Court of Appeal has laid down the following guidelines concerning jury trials for person injury litigation: 

Following cases have dramatically reduced the use of juries in personal injury cases and the courts are now more reluctant than ever to allow a jury to trial a personal injury matter.

Coroners’ Court

In the Coroners’ Court a jury of between 7 and 11 members may be used to enquire into deaths. The deaths usually investigated by a jury are most commonly of exceptional circumstance such as: 

  • Death in prison
  • Death as a result of an industrial accident
  • Circumstance where a death has occurred and the health and safety of the public has been brought into question, and,
  • Death whilst in police custody or as a result of an injury caused by a police officer in the execution of his duty.  

Since 1977 a coroner is no longer under a legal duty to request a jury for cases involving the investigation of a death as a result of a road traffic accident or suspected homicide. The coroner has the discretion to choose to call upon a jury in such cases as he sees fit.