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Research questions test for dishonesty

7 September 2009

An online survey of 15,000 people by Brunel Law School has highlighted the differing views of potential jurors on what constitutes dishonesty.

The current test for dishonesty, set out in R v Ghosh in 1982, asks jurors to consider the “ordinary standards of reasonable and honest people”.

Dr Stefan Fafinski, who led the research with Dr Emily Finch, said the research showed that there was no “single, ordinary standard” which could be applied. He said this did not necessarily make the Ghosh test redundant.

“It may be the closest we can get to a sensible and workable definition of dishonesty. We don’t know. It may be that juries ignore the judge’s directions anyway.”

Fafinski said a new round of research was planned, involving mock trials and mock juries, to consider how jurors’ opinions about dishonesty were reflected in their decisions in individual cases.

“We want to make the experience as real as possible,” he said. “One hypothesis would be that you can give juries any direction you like, but they will tend to let their own natural sense of justice prevail in the jury room and reach their conclusions based on that.”

Fafinski said the new research would start as soon as funding allowed, but the online survey would stay open in the meantime.

The survey revealed that 98 per cent thought that making a bogus insurance claim or switching price labels in a shop was dishonest.

Just under half, or 49 per cent, considered that knowingly buying a pirate DVD or copying a CD from a friend was dishonest.

However, in a worrying finding for solicitors, only 43 per cent thought that a carer who persuades an elderly patient to change a will in his or her favour was being dishonest.

Women were more likely to find things dishonest. For example, 92 per cent thought that making an insurance claim for previous damage to a car was dishonest, compared to 85 per cent of men.

In the same way, 88 per cent of women thought it was dishonest for students to copy work from the internet, compared to only 78 per cent of men.

Older people tended to have stricter views than younger, but the situation was reversed where the issue particularly involved young people, such as students copying work.

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