A study commissioned by the U.K. Ministry of Justice, “Are Juries Fair” [PDF] by Cheryl Thomas, examined the following issues:
- Do all-White juries discriminate against BME defendants?
- Do jurors racially stereotype defendants?
- Do juries at certain courts rarely convict?
- Do juries rarely convict on certain offences?
- Do jurors understand legal directions?
- Do jurors know what to do about improper conduct in the jury room?
- Are jurors aware of media coverage of their cases?
- How is the internet affecting jury trials?
concluding that there was “little evidence that juries are not fair” and that “research from other jurisdictions should not be relied upon to understand juries in this country.”
With that latter conclusion as a caveat, it’s interesting to note that, with respect to one locale in which the research was done, “while over half of the jurors at Winchester (68%) perceived the judge’s directions as easy to understand, only a minority fully understood the directions in terms used by the judge.” Written instructions were found to aid in comprehension.
Some jurors used the internet during the trials although it was not clear how many understood that they were not supposed to. Thomson concludes that in the future we need to ask questions such as:
First of all, did jurors realise they were not suppose to use the internet? Secondly, how did jurors use the internet?: did they simply “Google” the defendant or did they look for information on the law or evidence presented in the trial, did they look for information about other participants (legal counsel, judge, witnesses) or use social networking sites to discuss the case? Similar concerns over juror use of the internet exist in other jurisdictions (Brickman et al., 2008) and indicate that the issue is one of growing importance and complexity.