The Vicky Price mistrial has prompted a lot of talk about the efficacy of our jury system. Will juries be around in 20 years time?
After the Vicky Pryce mistrial there has been a lot of talk of the efficacy of juries in the UK legal system. Louis Blom-Cooper QC, a leading public and administrative law barrister, is the latest to question their future, arguing recently in a speech at the human rights charity Justice that juries will not be around in twenty years time.
But in doing so he underestimates the huge public faith in the role of juries, and overlooks the widespread belief among barristers that they are effective.
Because juries give no reasons in court for their verdicts, Blom-Cooper argued there was no proper appeals system, and that the jury ‘negated’ the role of the judge. ‘Politically’, he said, ‘there is no reason to change [the system]. But that’s not to say it will remain. I think in ten to twenty years it will go, because the economy will demand it.’
Public faith in the jury system, despite rare instances such as the Pryce mistrial, is deeply ingrained, however, and any move to abolish juries would likely be met with staunch resistance. As criminal solicitor Robert Brown told The Times after Blom-Cooper’s speech: ‘People see judges as part of the elite and have the view that if you are tried by your peers, you are more likely to get a fair trial.’
Has the Vicky Price mistrial shaken the public’s deeply ingrained faith in the jury system?
Barristers trust juries as well. In summing up his peers’ consensus, Howard Godfrey QC, a leading criminal barrister at 2 Bedford Row, presents an important counter-argument to Blom-Cooper’s contention that juries render judges redundant:
‘The majority of us think that jurors are by far the best body of people to decide verdicts. If a judge as heard this sort of thing over and over again, they could rather close their ears to it and think “Not all this rubbish again.” Whereas a jury is coming to it fresh. That’s important. In my experience, there have been very few cases where the jury has convicted somebody that I thought was innocent.’
In the next issue of Spear’s, I’m writing a feature on the problems posed to jurors by the ubiquity of media outlets and social networking sites.
Undoubtedly, these pose potential threats to juries’ objectivity, and it is right that we examine their efficacy from time to time. But their role is a deeply ingrained aspect of our culture, not just our legal system, and Blom-Cooper surely exaggerates when he predicts their demise.