Jury Duty

The jury in the trial of Vicky Pryce received criticism this week for their apparent lack of understanding of their duty.  So what exactly are jurors meant to do?

Who serves on the jury?                                                                                                                   

Jurors are selected from the electoral roll, and must be between the ages of 18-70.  Certain people are disqualified from jury service such as those with a mental impairment and those who have received a prison sentence of more than five years.  People may also be excused from jury service if they are in hospital, have pressing work commitments, have served on a jury in the last two years or are serving in the armed forces.

Who is tried by Jury?

Jury trials are heard in the Crown Court and in certain civil matters.  Defendants accused of ‘indictable only’ crimes such as rape and murder are always tried by jury.  Defendants accused of ‘either way’ crimes such as burglary can elect to have trial by jury.

What are their duties?

At the start of the trial jurors are asked to swear an oath or make an affirmation that they will try the defendant and ‘give a true verdict according to the evidence.’  Jurors are warned not to talk to anyone other than the other jurors about the case and not to do any independent research.

Jurors must decide if the defendant is guilty; to do this they must be satisfied that the evidence put forward by the prosecution has shown that the defendant is guilty ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’

After hearing the evidence the Judge will direct the jury, and remind them of their duty to decide the case only on the evidence they have heard in court.

What Verdicts can they reach?

Juries must decide if a defendant is guilty or not guilty.  Occasionally, the jury may be told that they can decide a defendant is guilty of a lesser offence than the one being tried, for example where a defendant is found guilty of manslaughter but not murder.

What if they can’t reach a verdict?

Juries are asked to reach a unanimous decision.  When this has not been possible, the judge can order a ‘majority verdict’ to be given.  If, as in the case of Vicky Pryce, the jury still cannot reach a verdict they will be discharged.  There is a presumption that in such cases the prosecution will seek a retrial, but this will depend on the merits of the case and whether it is in the public interest to pursue it.