EDITORIAL: A caution for jurors
Earlier this week, a murder trial was aborted after the case had been underway for about one month. The issue touched and concerned the jury system.
The judge very properly issued the necessary cautions and warnings right from the earliest moment when such cautions and warnings could have been given. But a month or more into the trial matters came to light that forced the mistrial.
It is indisputably in the public interest that jurors should therefore pay the closest attention to the cautions and statements coming from the judge at all times in the course of a trial.
Jurors perform a public duty of the highest importance to our justice system and to our democracy and sense of fair play and our obligation to provide a fair trial for those unfortunate enough to appear before our senior trial courts.
In this country we do not operate the Star Chamber, whose notorious history was a blot on the British system of justice. Trials are public, and the guilt or innocence of an accused person is determined in the final resort at the trial court by the verdict of his peers. They would have been duly instructed and directed by a judge whose directions on the law are subject to appeal if the accused man thinks that the judge was wrong in his directions. But, and this is the salient point, the verdict must be the verdict of the jury.
So important is this foundation of our legal system, that even when the judge after hearing “no case” submissions from lawyers for an accused person agrees with the submissions and thinks that the accused should be discharged, he has to summon the jury back into court and give them specific directions to return a verdict of “not guilty.” The role of the jury is that important, for it is their verdict and not his.
Jurors must not therefore feel that they are “cannon fodder”. So long as any country has a properly functioning jury system, in which jurors on listening to the evidence can return a “true verdict according to the evidence”, then yet another safeguard of national liberty remains sacrosanct.
This recent episode should therefore be a very sharp reminder to the general public and particularly to those called for jury service that such service as a juror is critical and serious public service.
From time to time we hear calls for the introduction of lay people into the administration of aspects of, for example, the Bar Association. Well, the jury system and the Justices of the Peace constitute two of the long-standing and honourable traditions of lay persons making outstanding contributions to our justice system. We hope the recent incident reinforces the major role and significance of the jury system.