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Hallett LJ: Use jury trials in 'serious' criminal cases only

Hallett LJ: Use jury trials in 'serious' criminal cases only


'Legal system will become even more crucial to our survival post-Brexit'

Jury trials should only be used in criminal cases of ‘sufficient seriousness’ and must not remain under-developed, a senior judge has said.

Delivering the annual Blackstone lecture, Lady Justice Hallett gave a whistle-stop tour of the history of jury trials before analysing their future role in the criminal justice system.

‘I do advocate 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,’ she said.

‘If we are to ensure that trial by jury remains a robust, a central, and democratic aspect of our criminal justice system well into the 21st century, it cannot remain under-developed.’

Hallett LJ called for more academic research into the area but recommended ‘simple sensible steps’ to be taken in the meantime to improve the jury trial, such as 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 better jury communication.

She acknowledged that juries were ‘seen by some as an unfair and time-consuming process’, a ‘“luxury” placing an expensive burden on the state’ – despite their low usage (in 1 or 2 per cent of criminal cases) – and questioned whether a prolific shoplifter accused of stealing sweets from a shop should have the right to demand jury trial at a cost of approximately £20,000.

In championing jury trials as a means to secure democracy, democratic participation, and the rule of law, the Court of Appeal judge said the British public could not afford to overlook their role, particularly in the light of Brexit, when ‘the legal system will become even more crucial to our survival’.

She said juries were a check against the authority of parliament and the government and helped to ensure justice remained local and representative of society at a time when ‘government in its broadest sense is not as representative of society as it could or should be’.

Hallett LJ recognised that there are exceptional cases where a judge is required to step in and act alone following jury misconduct but warned 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. 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.’

Matthew Rogers is a legal reporter at Solicitors Journal | @lex_progress