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Introduction to the Jury System in the UK

What's the history behind juries?

The concept of the jury system was probably imported into Britain after the Norman Conquest, though its early functions were quite different from those today. Early jurors in England acted as witnesses providing sources of information on local affairs. But they gradually came to be used as adjudicators in both civil and criminal disputes. Under Henry II, the jury began to take on an important function, moving from reporting on events they knew about, to deliberating on evidence produced by the parties involved in a dispute. Gradually it became accepted that a juror should know as little as possible about the facts of the case before the trial, and which is the position today.

The jury is considered as fundamental part of the English legal system, albeit only a minority of the cases is tried by the jury in these days. In a sense it plays a vital role in ensuring that the criminal justice system works for the benefit of the public rather than for the benefit of unjust leaders. It promotes not only a healthy criminal justice system but also a healthy society, where political leaders can not abuse criminal justice system to silence their opponents.

What role does the jury play in the system?

Jury plays a vital role in the criminal justice system in England and Wales and many other countries in the world. But the constitutional position of the English jury is vulnerable because of the unwritten constitution. In England, because of unwritten constitution, the right to trial by jury is not contained in the constitution. Generally, it is governed by ordinary Act of the parliamentary, which can be amended by the Parliament any time. So the government of the day could alter or even abolish the right to jury trial. However, due to the political barriers, the government is very cautious in doing this. Juries Act 1974 is the main statute governing the present day jury. Currently, the role of the English jury is almost entirely limited to the more serious criminal cases, but juries occasionally sit in civil trials as well.

What is the function of the jury?

The function of the jury is to weigh up the evidence and to decide what the true facts of the case are or what actually happened. The judge gives the direction to the jury on the relevant law, which the jury has to apply to the facts of the case in order to reach a verdict. If it is a criminal case and the jury has given a verdict of guilty, then the judge will decide on appropriate sentence. In civil cases, juries function is to decide on how much money should be awarded in damages.


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