Only use jury trials in ‘serious’ criminal cases, says senior judge

Only use jury trials in ‘serious’ criminal cases, says senior judge

Lady Justice Hallett has stated that jury trials should only be used in criminal cases of “sufficient seriousness.”

Delivering the annual Blackstone lecture, this year held on May 20, Hallett LJ discussed the history of jury trials before analyzing their future role in the criminal justice system.

She said that she “advocated a continued role for the jury in criminal trials of sufficient seriousness to society or to the individual accused to justify the use of resources,” but noted that trial by jury must not remain underdeveloped to ensure that it continues to be “a robust, a central, and democratic aspect of our criminal justice system well into the 21st century.”

Hallett LJ stated that juries were a check against the authority of parliament and the government, helping to ensure that justice remained local and representative of society. While Hallett LJ recognized that there are exceptional cases where a judge is required to step in and act alone following jury misconduct, she noted that “moving to a system of judge-only reasoned verdicts would eliminate the democratic participation in the criminal justice system”.

“It would mark an estrangement between the public and that system; one which I do not believe would benefit society,” she said. “We would lose the advantages it brings. The place for a judge-only verdict is as an exception to the general rule justified by the wider need to secure the proper administration of justice.”

Hallett LJ called for more academic research into the area but recommended that “simple sensible steps” be taken to improve the jury trial. She suggested removing the right to elect trial by jury in cases that simply do not warrant it; simplifying, streamlining, and case managing jury trials effectively; and improving jury communication.

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