The Jury’s Still Out

I recently completed jury service and wanted to share with this forum how it has affected my faith in the potential of randomly-selected legislative juries. I was impressed by the overall impartiality of the system – three sortitions in total (initial random selection from the electoral role, sortition from the jury pool (c.40) to a particular trial, followed by sortition from 20 potential jurors to the panel of 12 in the courtroom itself). I was pleased (and surprised) when the trial judge informed us that we were the judge of the facts, his job was merely to instruct us in the law. I was also impressed by the sample of citizens selected — it struck me as a reasonable cross-section of the general public, a wide variety of ages and backgrounds and a good level of general intelligence (much higher than I anticipated).

What about the deliberations and the verdict? The defendant was a director of a failed company who was accused of intent to defraud his creditors. Complex fraud trials are challenging for randomly-selected juries but this one only required a basic understanding of accounting terminology (balance sheets, trading P&L, solvency etc.). The jury deliberations, however, lasted for a couple of days and in the end we delivered a majority verdict which did not achieve the level of consensus required (10:2), so the judge stood us down, leaving the prosecution to decide whether or not to institute a retrial (at considerable public expense).
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