Justice – cheap at the Pryce?
The cornerstone of the English criminal justice system, trial by jury, is under scrutiny this week after a jury were described as having “absolutely fundamental defects in understanding”.
The jury of eight women and four men had been part of the case of Vicky Pryce who has been accused of accepting speeding points on behalf of her ex husband, former Cabinet minister Chris Huhne, and perverting the course of justice. Ms Pryce defends the charges on the grounds of marital coercion.
After a substantial trial the jury retired to deliberate its verdict. After deliberating over a course of four days for fourteen hours the jury sent a number of questions to the Judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, seeking guidance on how they were to reach their verdict. However it was the content of those questions that caused Mr Justice Sweeney considerable concern.
The questions ranged from “Can you define what is reasonable doubt” to “Can a juror come to a verdict based on a reason that was not presented in court and has no facts or evidence to support it, either from the prosecution or defence?”.
These questions, which go to the very root of a criminal trial, seem to suggest that the jury failed to grasp the nature of its job and really understand the information that had been presented to it during the trial. Mr Justice Sweeney had already provided the jury with written directions to assist them in their deliberations and responded to their questions as best he could. However the jury failed to even reach a majority verdict (10 – 2) and as a result the Judge discharged the jury – remarking that in his 30 year career he had never come across a situation quite like this.
There will now be an entire retrial (of course, at considerable cost to the tax payer) to start on Monday with a new jury of 12 men and women.
The failed jury has now been nicknamed the Southwark 12 and is being seemingly ridiculed on social media sites for their failure to reach a verdict. But is this something we should be laughing at?
The ability to be tried by 12 of your peers who are selected at random from the electoral register is a privilege that is not afforded to individuals who are on trial in other countries. Is it not better that the Southwark 12 asked for assistance from the Judge before they sought to convict beyond all reasonable doubt? Also what will the impact of the failure of the Southwark 12 be on the future of trial by jury?