The learned judge calls his jury to account

Norman Younger
Maximiti Limited
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Once I got the giggles out my system , after hearing the learned judge's outburst in the Vicky Pryce perjury trial , I pondered the matter and realised that trial by jury is not unlike the witches ordeal of old.

Consider the make up of the jury ; people whose single qualifying attribute for the task is the fact that they are on the electoral register.

How would you feel having your fate decided by the sort of people that you normally cross the road when you see them coming towards you ?  I could go on with a list of undesirable character traits and intelligence deficiences ad infinitum , but I think you get the gist of it.

Everything else in the world is subject to change and update - I believe they call it "moving with the times" . It is time to examine whether a jury is still fit for purpose  or whether we need to use professional jurors in order to "keep up with the times"


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21st Feb 2013 17:23

Jury trial

From time to time the issue arises as to whether jury trial is appropriate in say, complex fraud trials.

In the "Yes" corner are those who say that what the jury is there to do is basically to decide if the defendant was dishonest - and exactly how he conducted that dishonesty and what he achieved doesn't really matter.

In the "No" corner are those that say that 12 people chosen at random (and chosen sometimes from a limited group of people who can afford to spend several weeks on a jury) are likely to be unable to follow and understand the evidence in a complex fraud case especially when they receive it piecemeal from a series of witnesses giving oral evidence about different aspects in no coherent order.

I am bound to say that a trial is not about seeking to establish an understanding of events and the truth of what was done, by whom and why.  That would be a public enquiry type arrangement.  A jury trial is about the prosecution seeking to prosecute and the defence seeking to frustrate that.

So if the defence are unable to frustrate the prosecution that may be because the defendant is guilty.

Turning to the Vicky Pryce case, we don't know (and can never find out) what was going on in the jury room.  One could speculate that the questions were put to the judge in the hope that he might make it abundantly clear to some 'awkward' jury member(s) that their approach to reaching a verdict was incorrect.

It doesn't follow that all 12 jury members thought that they could reach a verdict by entirely ignoring the evidence in court and just making up their mind anyway!


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By John.
21st Feb 2013 18:24

Alternative ?

What is the alternative ?

Magistrates & judges are clearly biased in favour of the prosecution so I see no reasonable alternative to a jury. Perhaps some minimum level of intelligence might be useful, but again what is often needed is not "intelligence" so much as common sense.


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to johnjenkins
21st Feb 2013 20:16

I haven't the same impression

John. wrote:

What is the alternative ?

Magistrates & judges are clearly biased in favour of the prosecution so I see no reasonable alternative to a jury. 

It always seems the opposite to me! Even when the defendant is found guilty they mostly give out very lenient, or minimum, sentences. I remember recently one fraudster got off without even a fine, because the judge thought he had suffered enough because he has lost some of his own money! This was reported on AWeb a while ago.

There doesn't seem to be any real deterrent to crime any longer, which is why so many people are willing to risk it and just help themselves to other peoples money & possessions.

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22nd Feb 2013 08:11

When I did jury service

many many years ago, it was a fascinating experience. It was still in the days when jurors could be challenged by the defence and it was only when I stopped wearing a jacket that I managed not to get thrown off!

Two things stick in my memory. One was the banality of some of the cases such as attempted shoplifting!

The second was the Jury discussions. In particular, there was one case where it was necessary we understood a particular element of the law. The judge gave a crystal clear explanation of this in simple language. It became apparent that only two of us had understood it. Based on this, I suspect David's thoughts about the reasons for posing that apparently daft question may well be right.

But, and it's a big but, for my case it all worked out and I was absolutely comfortable with the verdicts reached in all of the cases I was on.

There was one incident in the jury room in the first case which still leaves me with with fits of the giggles. Unfortunately it is not suitable to repeat on a public forum and anyway I would have to shoot you all if I revealed it. :-)

If you get the opprotunity to serve and you can manage the time, I do recommend it.

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22nd Feb 2013 09:47

Jury standards

What about somebody who is an immigrant and has little grasp of the finer points of the language or is perhaps inclined to "judge" a defendant by the standards of his home country.

An examination of some sort should be undertaken for professional jurors with a legal background , which would get round the problem of being biased in favour of the prosecution

I cannot understand why there is no major debate on the matter

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22nd Feb 2013 11:24

Why not just re-instate trial by combat?

It would likely produce much the same results as trial by professional jurors.

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22nd Feb 2013 11:45


You mean duel ?  Pistols at dawn ? Messy

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to Democratus
22nd Feb 2013 11:54

Judicial Duel

Flying Scotsman wrote:

You mean duel ?  Pistols at dawn ? Messy

 More than the current system of lawyers, appeals, further appeals, appeals etc? At least it would produce a quick verdict.



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22nd Feb 2013 12:07

I've never been able to figure out

...why we have such highly educated men and women who are (generally) accepted as being capable of rational, objective decision-making, specifically trained in understanding of the law of the land - and yet we allow 12 lay people to come up with the verdict.

It would be an appropriate moment for the Nigel Farage clip (often shown on HIGNFY) saying "baffling".

It would greatly reduce the cost and, surely, the time taken in these cases.

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22nd Feb 2013 12:18

Jury bafflement

I would like to learn the origins of the system and form there one can start to dissect it all and move forward.

Surely this is worthy of a human rights challenge in EU Court of HumanRIghts - my old friends :-)

You will note that professional misconduct hearings in the professions are not heard by lay people

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By Old Greying Accountant
22nd Feb 2013 14:13

My friends was up on a driving charge ...

... when you could still challenge the jury, hiis counsel advised object to the whites but keep the blacks as they tend to vote against the police regardless of whether or not they think you are guilty!

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By Davy
22nd Feb 2013 18:09


Isn't there an argument for pupils to be taught about the basic principals of law as part of the learning process, so that if later called for jury duty they at least have a basic knowledge of what is required of them?

I am 100% in favour of the jury system rather than trial by professional cynics, but I do feel that perhaps we need to improve the quality of juries rather than get rid of them.


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By Old Greying Accountant
22nd Feb 2013 19:12

I would be a professional cynic ...

... but my hearts's not in it!

Strangely though, as stated above, common sense is better than IQ or intelligence.

Those unencumbered by learning do have a knack of seeing straight to the heart of a problem.

This is worth a watch

Ther was another one but I couldn't find it, gist was they were deliberating for days with one little old dear knitting and saying notheing, when they finally asked her opinion she pipes up, of course he's guilty, little toe rag lives down my street, always up to no good - or something on those lines - if anyone remembers would be pleased to hear?



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25th Feb 2013 10:21


A funny clip - they don't make them like that nowadays. But it does demonstrate shortcomings of the jury.

What we need is a survey where the jury classify their social class / ethnicity and that of the defendant. I  am sure that the wider the gap the greater the chance of a conviction. Just a gut feeling

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By Old Greying Accountant
25th Feb 2013 10:43

Daily Mail ...

... gave me the answer,

Good old Arther Daly ...

... classic stuff


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25th Feb 2013 11:17

Arthur Daley

That took me back a few years .

My business partner has jury service and says he is looking forward and hopes the cases are interesting. Normally people grumble at the time off work and uncertainty over the trial length. I have never heard of people lying in bed worrying about the grave responsibility on their shoulders.

Nothing I have read so far on the this blog convinces me to chaneg my mind about professional juries.

Perhaps we need a referendum ....

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25th Feb 2013 13:36

well lets just hope they

don't become the same as the professional politicians we have, who have no clue clue what the real world is like....

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to Portia Nina Levin
26th Feb 2013 10:40

The real world people

A proper selection process , perhaps ethnically and socially engineered dare I suggest ....

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By Old Greying Accountant
25th Feb 2013 14:29

We need a middle way ...

... Ms Pryce has admitted to the offence, why then have a trial, why not have a suitably competent panel review her extenuating circumstances to advise the judge on the level of leniency, that after all is what is being argued over!

Basically, she broke the law, unless it was under fear for her life she is guilty as charged and should get the appropriate punishment, although a suspended sentance would be the worst appropriate in my view 

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to Justin Bryant
26th Feb 2013 10:42

Ms Pryce

I never even thought about that . You are SO correct ? It's totally bizarre

Perhaps once we leave the EU and UKIP have nowt to campaign on they can make their single issue party be the party for jury reform !

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27th Feb 2013 10:55

Got to be careful

As I understand this matter is still 'live' in court we have to be very careful about commenting in 'the media'.

However my understanding is that Ms Pryce denies that she is guilty of the offence and, in effect, asks the jury to return a 'not guilty' verdict.

I believe the legal point is that if she acted under what might be called 'matrimonial compulsion' she is not guilty.

So it is a question for the jury.

There is a (non-jury) procedure, known as a 'Newton hearing', used in cases where a defendant admits an offence but there remain issues as to 'how guilty' he is.

For example suppose Mr X is accused of stealing £100,000.  He says "It's a fair cop guv, I dunn it, but I only had fifty grand".

Suppose the prosecution do not accept that he stole only £50,000.

Then a hearing involving a judge (but no jury) can be held in which witness evidence (relevant to the issue in dispute) is heard in the usual way with counsel asking questions just like a jury trial.  Then the judge will come to a conclusion about 'Wot he dunn' and will sentence Mr X accordingly.


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27th Feb 2013 11:08

Newton hearing

Most interesting . So why can we not extend such procedure for all cases - a panel of learned judges. We pay them a fortune with a whopping pension and they don't exactly burn the midnight oil ....

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By Old Greying Accountant
28th Feb 2013 09:37

You couldn't make it up ...

... "matrimonial compulsion" - so much for feminism and equal rites.

So, a guy finds his wife in bed with his accountant and in the red mist goes a bit far gets banged up ( as I think "crime of passion" is no longer a defence?), but a wife who takes the "revenge is a dish best served cold" option walks away scot-free!

This is the problem these days, it is all semantics, although it keeps David in a good living!

May be I am just an old cynic but the phrase "it's a fair cop gov" seems to have gone the way of the Dodo!

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28th Feb 2013 11:02

Sex[***] equality

A friend of mine told me that the day the equal sex[***] legislation was passed was the last time he stood up for a non-male (is one still allowed to refer to them as ladies or women ?) on the bus to school

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28th Feb 2013 15:29

Perhaps all civil cases could be televised and the public could be invited to dial chargeable 0800 numbers to state


B)Not Guilty

C)Don't know

The proceeds from the calls could be awarded to the victim in damages.

Further phone numbers could be made available for the sentencing.


The existing system may not be perfect but there are far worse alternatives.

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01st Mar 2013 11:07


A far worse alternative doesn't mean we cannot implement a far better alternative


By the way , a civil case isn't about guilt . Most civil cases are a judge and 2 defendants . In my experience of court attendances it is fair and balanced , even though the outcome may not be as you had wished

In Scotland there is "case not proven" - is that option "c" ?


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