Jurors Don't Understand Judges

Less than a third of trial jurors fully understand a judge's legal directions, a ground-breaking study carried out in Hampshire has suggested.

Jury members also looked on the internet for information about their case, despite being told not to by the judge, the research showed.

Other findings show that all-white juries do not discriminate against black defendants and juries convict more often than they acquit in rape cases, contrary to public perception. The two-year study, led by Professor Cheryl Thomas of University College London, analysed 68,000 verdicts across Crown courts in England and Wales, and also staged simulated trials.

In relation to judge's directions - where a judge gives crucial guidance to jurors about what they have heard - the research team asked jurors at Winchester Crown Court to recall two key questions that the judge gave in a case where a defendant was charged with violence.

Only 31% of jurors accurately identified both questions, it was found. A further 48% correctly identified one of the two questions, and a fifth did not correctly identify either question.

Researchers found a written summary of the judge's directions on the law for jurors improved their comprehension of the law.Prof Thomas has recommended a pilot test of written juror guideline cards for a sample of courts to work out how they can be best introduced. In 2008, the Lord Chief Justice suggested that courts might need to present more information visually to reflect greater use of technology like the internet.

 

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