Vague ramblings

12 baffled men (and/ or women)

Posted in Musing by Ian Cundell on 20 February, 2013

The, frankly rather entertaining, goings on as the jury completely fail to reach a verdict in the Vicky Pryce case have set me thinking. I’m a fan of the jury system, on balance, but it has been instructive to compare proceedings with the (let’s face it, much more appalling) case of Oscar Pistorius in South Africa where no jury is employed. I read somewhere that South Africa had a jury system until it was realised that largely white jurors tended to convict black defendants disproportionately often. If anyone knows better, please let me know.

Also it has been interesting observing jury “polling” in the United States. That’s not allowed in the UK, where the jury room is sacrosanct – meaning I have to take care what I say, since what follows is my experience from a stint on jury service several years ago. Commentators on the radio are having a merry old time poking fun at the Pryce jury and I confess to being a little bemused myself. But that may be because I was fortunate that one of the three judges in the cases I heard gave very clear and concise guidance on our role and responsibility (implying, you might observe, that two didn’t).

So these are my observations on how juries work, based on my entirely non-scientific survey of three cases.

1. We could have tossed a coin and no-one would have been any the wiser;

2. In one case it was a jury question that settled the verdict, spotting an issue that none of the professionals had picked up on (I’d love to claim credit, but it was another juror);

3. In any given jury there are:

3 or 4 people who take it very seriously;
2 or 3 who are clearly paying attention but who never quite fully engage, generally going with the majority;
1 or 2 who absolutely refuse to believe that the police are capable or error or fabrication;
The rump, who just want to be elsewhere and go whichever way the wind is blowing.

Despite that, I am quite satisfied that the verdicts we reached on all three cases were correct, and for the right reasons. And I remain more utterly shocked at the approach of the prosecution than anything I saw in a jury room.

Oh, and standing up and saying “Guilty” is damned scary. That’s what you get for wearing a tie.

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One Response

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  1. Sharon Birch (Effie) said, on 20 February, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    The psychology of a jury fascinates me. As a police officer who has given evidence in Crown Court, Magistrates Court, Coroner’s Court, Family Court, Juvenile Court and Civil Court, it is scary but I loved it. All of it. I’m with you Ian, on all points, but especially 3. It’s just as I imagined. I’m confident that all the cases I ever gave evidence in and there were some not guilty’s that upset me – but then I dealt with paedophiles and other serious crime for a living. I’ve seen a grown man crumble when having to pass a guilty verdict. Very scary for him without a doubt. I’d love to serve on a jury to see it from the other side. And I’m not so biased to find everyone guilty. I know many tricks of the court and how slick barristers phrase things to their advantage, both prosecution and defence. A good thought-provoking article. Thank you.


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