back to article Judge says tech-addled jurors undermine justice

After years of complaints that judges may not always be in touch with the modern world, one judge hit back last week by suggesting that younger jury members may be too conditioned by technology to give defendants a fair trial. Worse, they are so used to doing their own research online that they have wrecked several major trials …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just abolish jury trials

    They don't work well. All juries do is cause miscarriages of justice.

    At least let there be a right to a non-jury trial, so that innocent people who find themselves accused of a crime have the option of being tried by competent professionals who are more likely to make the right decision.

  2. Mark

    Freud?

    "may be too conditioned by technology to give defendants a fair trial."

    Could be read as the technology is conditioning people to give defendants a fair trial rather than an unfair one.

  3. Paul Charters
    Stop

    The faults lie in both directions

    Evidence, as in actual fact, should never be omitted from a case. In the US in particular I have noticed that a judge will deem evidence non-admissable despite it being something like a clear recording of someone admitting guilt, just on a technicality. In fact, this news story cites a big screwup in the system where someone isn't put on trial because one juror went off on their own. You don't let people go - you dismiss the juror (and charge them if they've broken the law) and then you bring in one of the backup jurors you should have sitting in the court room at all times.

    If the jurors, ie the populace, had faith in the system giving them all the information, they wouldn't feel the need to go seek information elsewhere.

    The lawyers/solicitors should not be allowed to address the jury. The witnesses should be able to give their testimony in whatever way they choose, but emotional manipulation by a more 'charismatic' speaker has too-long been the way out for some criminals.

    Perhaps certain evidence needs to be separate from testimony. DNA and other FACTUAL evidence need to be given to the jury as fact and not allowed to be discussed verbally. Emotional and personal testimony should be allowed verbally.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Pirate

    Time for change

    Surely it is time for a change? We have been using the same Jury system for centuries because there was nothing better, but by now we must be able to use technology to our advantage. The adversarial nature of the courtroom means that a bad case can be successfully argued by a good barrister, and a bad one can cost a free person's freedom for years. And that is just plain wrong.

    Cases should be carried out without a jury in the court room, and video taped. Let's get rid of all the posturing and grandstanding. All irrelevant data (and time wasting, and comments that should be stricken from the record) can be edited out, and then, knowing how long it is, it could be viewed by juries members independently of each other, (maybe even in the comfort of their own home), perhaps without even knowing the identity of the defendant. The defendant would never know who the jury was, which would protect them from intimidation. It could be changed to a majority 2/3 verdict with, say, 18 instead of 12 jurors, and a lot of time would be saved all round. The editing could be done by no later than the following day, and sent out, and on a short case, you would get a result by the end of the day.

    We are never going to be able to prevent jurors thinking independently, and in fact perhaps they should. If we want our justice system to be based on the truth, we need to able to ask unasked questions.

    I also believe that ALL evidence (if proven to be true) should be admissible. If the evidence was obtained illegally then then the person who obtained it must be part of the chain of evidence, and can be punished accordingly.

    We need a justice system that we can believe in, and a penal system we trust, and right now we have neither.

  5. Jaap Stoel

    Isn't it a fact that you can't trust lawyers?

    Okay a bit of an overstatement perhaps. I'm not from a country that uses a jury system. But I wonder myself: How well can a layman judge any case? Especially technical cases such as the aforementioned fraud. If a lawyer or witness or whatever is going to be throwing a lot of technical terms around and as the jury you're only allowed to listen.

    Wouldn't that make a good spin-doctor a better attorney then an actual lawyer? Because a jury system to me, sounds like its more about manipulating these twelve unfortunate souls then about presenting factual evidence.

  6. John Imrie

    Igor Judge

    Are you now going to tell me he has a penchant for brain surgery as well?

  7. pastamasta

    What's in a name

    Delighted to hear that such an appropriately-named wig-bearer exists. On the same subject, my second cousin Mr. Dredd has recently applied for a position in the judiciary, and has high hopes of success.

  8. Pete Silver badge

    The doctors' complaint

    In the good old days, when we all bowed and scraped to our "betters" whenever they deigned to address us, everything was fine and dandy. The professionals would tell us poor, ignorant plebs the results of their learned considerations. We would thank them gratefully and unquestioningly and go on our way - happy and secure in the knowledge that the great and the good had provided guidance from on high. This was never more evident than when we visited the doctor and got a diagnosis.

    Enter the internet. Now, instead of waiting days for an appointment, only to sit in an untidy, cramped and uncomfortable waiting-room, until the quack gets around to giving us 10 minutes of their precious time, we look things up on the 'net. The result is that patients are far better informed than earlier and can frequently tell when the doctors are talking bollocks - and we're not afraid to tell 'em so.

    It now seems that this behaviour has extended to the justice system. While we might not know the in's and out's of subtle legal arguments, we can still tell when the pro's are talking nonsense and we're sufficiently empowered to take matters into our own hands. If that doesn't fit in with their dusty, crusty old ways of keeping juries in their place - well, too bad. Especially in areas that involve technology (whether that's computer crime, or the inappropriate use of "forensic" - especially low-copy-number DNA - tests) we now have the ability and knowledge to question the findings and to subject them to the kind of scrutiny and common-sense thinking that they're not used to and consequently resent.

    Personally, I reckon this can only be a good thing. If jurors are asking the questions that the legal professions aren't - or just don't understand, then that forces the legal system to a higher standard. If some trials are unable to withstand this additional questioning, then it sounds like those cases were pretty flakey to begin with. Maybe it's time to dump the adversarial approach to british justice and start to focus on finding out what actually happened, and assigning guilt or innocence on the basis of facts - rather than courtroom theatrics.

  9. Jonathan

    Fair Comment to be honest

    I don't agree with short attention spans thing... Shiney thing! Wait what as I saying..Oh the corruption of cases by jury members turning Inspector Clumbo is a valid point.

    The whole point is the jury is to make their decisions based upon the evidence presented by both Defence and the Prosecution which is in turned produce by people who do if for a living. Police, forensics et al.

    The whole point is that a jury is supposed to be completly unbiased until they have heard this evidence presented by either side.

    Maybe we need robot juries? Or people who are insulated from the outside world.

  10. blackworx
    Boffin

    Igor Judge

    Post-nominative determinism

  11. Anonymous John

    "An even more spectacular debacle occurred in August,"

    Spectacular possibly, but not Internet related. And thee judge was about to cut the trial short anyway.

    "Judge Hodson said that the evidence offered by the Crown had been insufficient to prove either charge. Had the case continued, he would have directed the jury to return not guilty verdicts, he added. "

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    CSI is to Blame,

    In my opinion programmes like CSI have a huge detrimental impact on Jurys.

    I served on a jury where members wanted to aquit because the police didn't produce "Gun shot residue" tests and finger print analysis. The police assumed catching someone red handed was enough but the jurors wanted CSI style test results.

    Incidentally the suspect was aquited and was let go but was arrested a month later for stabbing someone. Justice system my arse.

  13. Dave
    Black Helicopters

    I can see his point

    However I will point out that the legal system, and barristers in particular, have been seen to be telling blatent lies about the accuracy of technical evidence in the past, and many miscarriages of justice have had to be sorted out years down the line. The statistics of DNA matches springs to mind.

    This is also the same legal system that wants to ban jury trials for complex fraud cases where the evidence will go well over the head of the average gang of 12?

    There is somewhat of a disconnect here

  14. Steve

    Tech-addled?

    It seems more like a failure of the courts to inform the jury.

    If you're being asked to decide someone's fate, surely you have a duty to make sure you know all the facts before you make a decision. It's the courts' responsibility to make sure that the jurors know that any information requests must be made to the judge. If it's simple factual information about the case - such as the height of a fence - they should be able to get that easily from the court.

    Jurors being unable to follow the arguments is a completely different issue and is far more down to the changes in the education system than advances in technology.

  15. dreadful scathe
    Stop

    aargh

    trial by wikipedia? god help us all :( Its fictional programs like CSI , Law and Order and Criminal Minds that make your average person think they know something about crime and legality - they don't !! and i include me in this - I'm in IT for goodness sake. CSI makes you believe that when you find ANYTHING interesting at a crime scene it is automatically relevant to the crime at hand.

  16. ewan
    Boffin

    You can't 'prove' anything...

    To the person above that says the 'fact' based evidence should be treated seperately to 'emotional' evidence, you've over simplified things. Most scientific evidence is never 'fact' it is merely the most likely explanation for an event/set of circumstances. You can not actually prove *anything* apart from math and logic. DNA is a case in point, you get a match which has a degree of probability assoicated with it - you can't say that DNA defienetly belongs to a suspect, you can only say that you have a good match. That match when weighed up with 'emotional' or circumstancal eveidence can then be used by the jury to decide if someone is guilty beyond resonable doubt.

  17. Steve Swann
    Stop

    @Pete

    Ok, everyone who works in IT put your hands up. Good. Now, put your hands down if you think that a user with access to the internet, who has done some research in wikipedia etc. is now qualified to question the techniques and methods you use to diagnose and resolve their technical issues.

    ...methinks there are still a LOT of hands in the air.

    So, why should we hold another profession to a different standard?

  18. TK

    easy enough solution

    Sequester the jury in the room next door, live cast the trial on youtube and make them click an ad once in a while. That way they'll pay attention.

  19. Martin Lyne

    Don't

    ..all young people have shorter attention spans than older people?

    Perhaps if there were more interesting 3 hour TV episodes it owuld dcondition the next generation to have longer trains of attention?

  20. Brian Gannon

    Doesn't make sense

    " in this case, the parents of the young I Judge appear to have been spot on"

    Why? they had no say in choosing his surname.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What?

    What sort of fucktard sits on a jury and decides to investigate the matter for him/her self? I mean seriously? Google, wikipedia etc is not going to give you a fair nutral set of articles, you would also be running the risk of voiding the trial if you look up the name of the defendant and see the site "10 reasons why the defendant is guilty". If jurours did this, all you need to do to aid yourself getting off is setup web sites for your own ends "Why x is a bang up chap and never did it" or edit the wikipedia article.

  22. Dan

    Can someone explain...

    Why the jury cannot ask questions? It strikes me that it would become obvious fairly quickly if the jury members were clueless, and ensure that all the relevant information was presented.

  23. Mark

    @Jaap Stoel

    "How well can a layman judge any case?"

    How about "how can we trust people who will not be affected by a law to make good laws"?

    Worse, now that we have well paid politicians, they have to justify their existence. And the only way they can do that is to WRITE MORE LAWS!!!

    Deleting laws means saying that another politician was wrong, which they can't take just in case they themselves are told they are wrong too. Same reason why you can't sue a solicitor: it may be warranted but no solicitor wants to risk the idea that solicitors can be wrong. How would they justify their pay???

    So jury duty is the last bastion against diktat making the plebeians a permanent underclass.

  24. RichardB

    Trial by

    slashdot poll.

    Clearly the way forward.

    Put all the evidence for and against on a dedicated website, and get the public to vote.

    First Post gets put against the wall and shot...

  25. W
    Joke

    Simple

    Just get Simon Cowell and pals, "The Dragons" or the Strictly... crew to be jury for every single trial. Or Clarkson and his buds could have a "Guilty Wall" instead of the "Cool Wall".

    Come to think of it, those guys might as well be the guvvamunt too, seeing as folk seem more inclined to pay to vote on which slebs get to parade their mug around on the telly for another week than to actually use their free vote for a political party to govern 'em for the next few years.

  26. Tom

    @Paul

    And in one post you managed to prove the judge correct. You blew through the story and didn't pay attention to the clearly stated facts of the case, substituting instead your own opinion of what the law ought to be instead of paying attention to the facts as stated in the article.

    The juror in question didn't simply go off on his own and come to a conclusion independent of the rest of the jury. He came back, presented his arguments to the jury with neither the prosecutor nor the defense present to be a check against mistakes and errors he might have made, and convinced THE ENTIRE JURY to send questions based on his investigation back to the judge. Yes, it would have been appropriate to throw the book at the rogue juror, but the entire jury pool was still tainted and the case had to be dismissed.

  27. N1AK

    Worrying ignorance

    The number of people who have posted here suggesting 'better alternatives' when they evidently haven't got a clue is quite worrying. When did this become 'Have Your Say' for the slightly less stupid?

    @AC who posted Time for Change "All irrelevant data (and time wasting, and comments that should be stricken from the record) can be edited out".

    One of the more impressively dumb ideas, who exactly decides what is relevant? It should be readily apparent to anyone in this day and age that editing can completely change the context of remarks, add in the ability to remove entire segments "Good luck with that..."

    @Jaap Stoel "I'm not from a country that uses a jury system. But I wonder myself: How well can a layman judge any case?"

    It is a fair and well asked question, but not the right one. The point of the jury system isn't that they are the best people to decide a case, but that it protects against decisions being 'fixed' by Goverment or some other power controlling those who decide.

    @Paul Charters "DNA and other FACTUAL evidence need to be given to the jury as fact and not allowed to be discussed verbally."

    You buy a can of coke, throw it in a bin and two days later someone is murdered near that spot. "The Jury is given the 'fact' that your fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime, and that you must of been there within 48 hours of the murder (bins emptied)" I bet you want the ability to discuss those facts now.

    @Pete "we look things up on the 'net. The result is that patients are far better informed than earlier and can frequently tell when the doctors are talking bollocks"

    Hypochondria has increased massively, especially among those who research online. The majority of Doctors in the US have admitted that they will often give patients medication which is effectively a placebo, and with a number of conditions the rate of success for the Placebo can be as high as 40%.

    Using that as an example of an improvement to our Justice system is particularily strange.

    - - -

    @Steve "If it's simple factual information about the case - such as the height of a fence - they should be able to get that easily from the court."

    I think this is a good point, certainly I think more Jury interaction within the trial may be of benefit. The risk is that they start thinking they are the investigators, when it is the job of the prosecution to come up with a case.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Homicide by David Simon....

    ... provides a well-written, balanced and detailed illustration of the flaws of the jury system in the US in the late 80s. Sadly I see no evidence that the problems there and then don't persist here and now.

    A cheerful thought for a sunny Friday afternoon. I'm going to the pub.

  29. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
    Anonymous Coward

    "At least let there be a right to a non-jury trial'

    Isn't there already one in the UK? There is in the US.

  30. Jamie Kitson

    My Take

    I couldn't be bothered reading to the end of the article but it's ridiculous to say that the internet shortens your span of

  31. Hollerith

    12 good and true

    Judges and barristers are part of an institution, and their prejudices and assumptions colour the cases they try, even if they are all of good will and trying hard. But some cases, where all of these people would assume that we, the public, want defending from, say, whistleblowers or those who did a crime out of a high principle (eg leaked Governement evidence), the jury has been able to provide real justice by not agreeing with the judge's direction, and choosing a verdict that the public actually wanted, usually acquittal.

    I served as a clerk for a solicitors' office and sat behind their various barristers at many criminal trials, and my faith in the jury system shot up. I could see them paying attention and I had no doubt that they were striving to uphold the ancient and honorable duty of juror, which is one of the great institutions that preserved the power and voice of the people through long centuries of otherwise oppressive justuce.

    All of this was founded on an understanding that we live in an oral tradition and judge best when presented with evidence gathered together and marshalled for our understanding. Either we have to alter this, to suit a more technological age, or we have to train jurors or restrict their access to technology, so they can serve the 'old fashioned' way.

    Given the rabid conspiracy theorists, people who get the wrong end of the stick, people who are over-convinced by something in print or on the screen, I don't trust individuals going off being Junior CSI. A group of people reasoning together, all understanding their duty, and mindful of the grave consequences of their decisions, is something in which I would put my trust.

  32. Steven Jones

    @fraser

    Doing a bit of research on the Internet might actually give people a bit more of a clue as to whether the barrister is talking rubbish or not. Barrister's are not neutral - they are paid to make the best possible case for their client. So called expert witnesses are often not independent either. The days when a bunch of illiterate peasants were wheeled in to pass judgement on the basis of the persuasiveness of the respective advocates ought to be confsigned to history. Having better educated jurors ought to facilitate that.

    Of course the chances of our education system actually producing such well educated and intelligent individuals (especially when defence barristerrs tend to reject anybody vaguely educated) are minimal, and it is the principles that count. Somebody who cares to research the nature of DNA or fingerprint evidence rather than just be persuaded is a good thing in principle.

    That's nothing at all to do with attention span problems - that's a completely different thing to people actually doing a bit of reading up on subject matters. A basic knowledge of probabilities would have immediately revealed the nonsense behind the Sally Clarke cot death conviction for instance. Being able to bring a sceptical mind to bear on evidence is a good thing - the judiciary don't much like the idea that people in jury's have independent minds.

  33. Neil Shepherd
    Paris Hilton

    Defendant - The Rivals

    The answer is brilliantly simple and could overhaul the legal system. Instead of putting screens up for the jury to ingest the info in little bite size chunks (as they're obviously too inept to concentrate for more than 15 seconds) just turn the whole thing into a real-life reality TV show.

    For an hour the two sides (defence and prosecution) blather away while some jazzy graphics slide across the screen highlighting the 'crucial facts' (kind of like Oprah, Springer or Jeremy Kyle - "Mother claims child ate dog", "Chili addiction ruined my sex life" etc. etc. etc.) and then just let the great unwashed masses take part in a phone vote. Verdict gets announced two hours later by Ant and Dec, Saturday night TV gets yet another 'fantastic show', justice is done, the great unwashed get to unleash their send-the-monster-daahhhhnn Daily Mail vitriol and some TV exec makes a fortune (half of which gets split with the CPS and used to build the 54 news prisons the UK would need).

    Jobs a good 'un. OK actual justice would have to be ignored (I'm figuring that the most photogenic, angelic, or just 'loveable' would win) but what the hell, this is the price we pay for having that vile demon known as the internet (and 24 hour news).

    Paris, as she obviously quite happily takes 'em down.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Welcome to the mis-information highway

    Most young people are pretty removed from reality. They actually think if they read something online or hear it on the tube, that it's factual. Nothing could be further from the truth. I've also observed that many people of all ages seem to have under developed reasoning skills. They seem to get their logic and rationale from the media, which is pretty scary. Unfortunately many in the judicial system aren't up to speed either. They lack the technical understanding to fully appreciate the seriousness of crimes such as hacking and piracy.

    Hopefully over time things will improve but I wouldn't hold out a lot of hope. From what I see many yoof are headed down the wrong path... and they are proud of it

  35. Dan
    Thumb Down

    Jurors don't understand complex trials...

    This may well be a problem, but these days a random selection of 12 people would probably turn up a fair amount of skills in areas such as tech, finance etc. How is this worse than the judge who famously interrupted a trial to ask what a web page was?! Ok, so this is an extreme example, but it certainly isn't the only example.

  36. Henry Wertz Gold badge

    evidence and CSI

    "In the US in particular I have noticed that a judge will deem evidence non-admissable despite it being something like a clear recording of someone admitting guilt, just on a technicality."

    That's how it should be. If illegally obtained evidence were not thrown out, the police would have no reason to trouble themselves with even trying to follow procedure -- reading suspects their rights, getting search warrants, and so on. They could hold people illegally, beat confessions out of people and so on -- which has all been shown to get false confessions out of innocent people. Some police break the law anyway (in a few higher-crime areas I've been in the US, I was more concerned about police harrassment than getting mugged) but at least it's a strong deterrent for the police to know "the dirtbag" might get away if they don't maintain the person's rights.

    Agreed with previous posters -- CSI and the like are probably making it pretty tough. People do realize most of that stuff is impossible (or at least not as easy as in the show) right? You can't just type an IP address in (especially an invalid one that starts with a 9xx number) and have it zoom straight to a street address, most of those tests cost a minor fortune, are slower, and less precise than they show. And so on.

    As for trials -- well, adapt with the times. Obviously people cannot be doing wikipedia research and so on but people aren't into talking heads any more. Don't do the wishy-washey morality-play telling how your guy couldn't have done it because he's a great guy. (With prosecution pointing out how he's a dirt bag). Or trying to stress (for some types of crime) how bad it makes the victim or victim's relatives feel. It's not the 1950s, this stuff is irrelevant to the case, the modern internet user knows it, so keeping it in the case makes the case lengthy and boring. Present the facts, present instructions on how to handle the facts as needed. This will meet most people's attention spans.

  37. Benny
    Alert

    Pull the other one

    I don't believe anything this article or comments say, im off to do my own research,,

  38. Alan Esworthy
    Black Helicopters

    Over my dead body!

    I am deeply disappointed by the comments denigrating juries. Have you all lost sight of the full role of juries? Please do not forget that it is the right and duty of the jury to decide not only the facts of a case, but also the whether or not the law is just, and whether or not the application of the law to a particular case is just.

    Noteworthy examples: In 1670, a jury refused to convict Quakers William Penn and William Mead. The judge refused to accept the verdict, ultimately fining and incarcerating the jurors. The Court of Common Pleas turned the jury loose and ruled that they acted within their rights in finding the illegal assembly law unjust.

    In 19th century USA, many juries refused to convict people who were incontrovertibly factually guilty of violating the hideously unjust fugitive slave laws.

    Do you really-really-really want only "professionals" deciding whether or not government has become despotic?

    (Black helicopter because it is symbolic of unfortunately real tendencies within government)

  39. Gareth Jones

    @AC Time for Change

    "We have been using the same Jury system for centuries"

    No we haven't. The system of trial we have now is about 100 years old, although there have been minor changes since then. Beginning your own case with such an erroneous statement pretty much invalidates the rest of your argument.

    On another point, those that argue no evidence should be omitted are missing quite a major point and that is simply that of relevence. Who is to decide what isn't and isn't relevant evidence? Is the defendants choice of breakfast on the morning of the alleged offence relevant to the case? Furthermore the available evicdence is not just simple scientific fact. It is open to debate, particularly in the case of witness testimony. If both sides had to include everything they have on the case then trials would be ten times as long as they are now and the jury would be too confused to come to a decision.

    Getting back to the original story one of the worst things I noticed while on jury service was the number of jurors not taking notes. Do they really think they can sit there fir days on end and remember everything presented to them and make an informed decision? Of course they can't. I suspect that these idiots are not taking their duties as a juror seriously.

    I also believe that jurors who are clearly not performing their role properly and with due diligence should be charged with contempt of court. The threat of this would probably make them do a proper job.

  40. Pete Silver badge

    @N1AK

    > Hypochondria has increased massively

    I'm not talking about hypochondria - I'm talking specifically about where someone of professional standing simply doesn't know what they're talking about - or (worse) thinks they do, but turn out to be completely wrong, or out-of-date. The MMR vaccine debacle is a classic case - though not relevant to this.

    Things that _are_ related to this, from personal experience are an ex-g/f who's daughter kept getting rashes, general illness etc. The doctor didn't have a scooby and kept prescribing ineffectual medicines. She did a little research and decided that the symptoms described lactose-intolerance. They stopped going to the doctor and simply stopped using milk products & got a result. Other cases where consultant surgeons (well, OK, _a_ consultant surgeon) who simply couldn't be bothered to talk to my old mum about her heart attack. We looked up a load of stuff on the web and that set her mind to rest - percentage survival rates, outcomes etc.

    The same applies to the legal profession. Who's gone through divorce? Who had to correct a load of the "facts" the divorce lawyers were submitting (at £hundreds per hour) and then found out all the work had been done by an office junior? If people can empower themselves through the internet and raise the standards that these so-called professionals purport to uphold, then so much the better.

  41. Peyton
    Flame

    I agree with many here: jury=fail

    @N1AK - your post was so long I stopped reading like 3 sentences into it.

    I rest my case.

    (Oh but there is one exception - if I'm ever on trial and guilty and all the evidence points against me, then I'll go with a jury no doubt - emotional sway ftw!!)

  42. Throatwobbler Mangrove
    Alert

    yeah but

    "Doing a bit of research on the Internet might actually give people a bit more of a clue as to whether the barrister is talking rubbish or not."

    In the adversarial system, it's not the job of the jury to advocate for or against the defence or prosecution, it's the job of opposing counsel to do that. The jury's job isn't to intervene in the lawyers' arguments or make suggestions where it could be more or less convincing, it's to sit back and decide whether the prosecution has proven its case beyond all reasonable doubt. If the prosecution talks balls, the defence will jump on it. If the defence doesn't do a good job and the defendant is convicted, the defendant can appeal.

    There might be plenty of good reasons why certain facts might not be introduced as evidence (e.g. inadmissable, prejudicial, unreliable), and then last thing we need is for overeager jurors to turn Columbo and try to gather it themselves without any oversight/disclosure/discovery. If we wanted the people who would decide guilt/innocence to investigate themselves, then we should adopt the Spanish system of inquisitorial judges.

  43. Bucky
    Thumb Down

    Overdue Overhaul

    Forcing us all to listen to hours upon hours of oral arguments would make sense if there were a significant percentage of people who had somehow missed out on the magic of literacy.

    But there isn't. It would save SOOO much time to read the arguments instead of listening to them.

    They complain about the expense--but what about the expense that we all incur by missing work for countless days?

    So for most of us, it's a little slice of hell. Especially given that you know before you start that at least one of the sides (and often, probably, both) is chewing up your valuable time telling lies trying to trick you into getting away with something.

    I recognize that it's my civic responsibility appear for jury duty EVERY YEAR WITHOUT EXCEPTION, but I'm very tired of having the state force me to lose countless days of revenue just to listen to some perp lie to me (I'm not pro-government per se, but I fail to see the police's motivation for picking a guy at random and prosecuting him for nothing).

    How about this: If you have to serve on a jury, your state taxes are forgiven for that year?

    This way, you'd actually be paid a fair wage for your time, and there'd be quite a disincentive to bring people to trial spuriously.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Time to change the worst judiciary system ever

    Required content

  45. Mike Richards Silver badge

    @ Dan

    'judge who famously interrupted a trial to ask what a web page was'

    Actually the judge was doing everyone a favour not showing ignorance. The defence and prosecution were using different definitions of Internet technology which could have had some bearing on the outcome.

    There have been attempts to improve this situation by getting the two sides to agree terminology and to introduce experts called amici curiae into trials where large amounts of specialised information must be discussed.

  46. Paul
    Unhappy

    Tricky situation.

    Personally I don't see any harm coming of jurors doing their own research about things like the accuracy of DNA matching, the workings of a certain type of gun or anything like that. As far as I'm concerned a better informed jury is a good thing.

    What does worry me is when they look up information about the specific case. Either if they allow themselves to be influenced by rumors and uninformed speculation, or if they read about evidence that has been suppressed for good reason. And there are good reasons, like if it was collected illegally.

  47. Nic
    Flame

    @Anyone thinking the internet is beneficial in this circumstance

    You're all idiots.

    You are missing the entire point of a prosecution and defence. They are the advocates and it is their job to present both sides. The Jurors have no right to go all CSI and they will and have knacker up trials as a result.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @steven Jones

    Sorry, but I disagree, an illustration that springs to mind is when I was working in desktop and server support, many years ago. The people who always caused the most trouble were the people who knew a little bit about IT, people who knew nothing would allow you to show them what to do, they generally worked well with the information you gave them. However, the people who read up on the internet about how stuff works would regularly need workstation rebuilds because they'd installed unauthorised crap, changed their config and didn't know how to get it back etc.. How many people have seen computers compleatly knackered by someone who "knows about IT"? It would be the same with the legal system, there should be expert witnesses should be for both sides to allow for neutrality, it is the duty of the prosecution to keep the defence in check and vice versa. It is most certainly not the job of a jurour to go away and do a little research, with the possible exception of if there is some sort of formal exam at the end of this piece of research. Call it a law degree if you will. ;)

  49. Chris
    Unhappy

    juries

    In the US, lawyers work very hard at eliminating anyone who can think for himself from a jury.

    Then there is the jury pool makeup in the first place. I once heard it described as having your fate decided by 12 people who weren't smart enough to figure out how to get out of jury duty. Remember, half the population is below average in intelligence. But so are most criminals (the ones who get caught, anyway).

    Over here our Constitution guarantees the RIGHT to a jury trial, but you can always waive that right and be tried by a judge alone. Hopefully, he or she will be smarter than average.

    The "CSI Effect" does seem to be real, and causing some problems. Jurors want to know why there is no DNA evidence presented in a purse snatching, for example. We all laugh at how the various forensics shows seem to use infinite resolution cameras, since they can blow up and enhance grainy surveillance camera images until the logo on a suspect's watch is clearly visible, but lay people actually believe that stuff, and they think it can all be resolved in a hour.

  50. David Mullen
    Thumb Down

    Jurors also pass their verdict on the law

    The point in having a jury is that if the jury doesn't support the law, that is thinks the law is wrong, they can find the defendent not guilty even if they did do it, and the jury as the law says IS correct. The law is my servant not my master.

    The point about the competence of jurors should be answered by training them. One day spent checking to see if the jurors can understand evidence draw inferences and change them and dismissing those who can't would help improve justice.

    Remarks that this too expensive coming from grossly overpaid barristers are simply laughable.

  51. James
    Paris Hilton

    Who would you want to be tried by?

    This all seems pretty simple to me, just consider if you were accused of some crime and had to face trial.

    If innocent, I would hate, and I mean really HATE to be tried by a jury. I do not believe for a second that they would be impartial. I want to be tried by a judge, someone who has shown intelligence to get where he is and has proven himself to be a good judge of evidence.

    On the other hand, if I was guilty, bring on the jury. Hopefully they won't have a clue.

    As a simple demonstration, approximately 50% of Americans reject ALL evidence and conclude that the world is 6000 years old. Granted thats the loony bin on the other side of the pond, but it just shows you what value evidence has with some people.

    Paris cos she's impartial.

  52. Mike Moyle Silver badge
    Boffin

    Collecting evidence

    The problem of the juror going out and collecting his own evidence (either in person or via the net) seems to be missed by some.

    Any evidence collected (physical evidence, forensics, depositions, etc.), by either side in a case, requires two things:

    1 - a clear chain of custody such that it can be shown unequivocally that the evidence has not been altered in any way since it was collected, or that any alterations made (a snip from a piece of material for chemical testing, say) are clearly noted, and;

    2 - Full disclosure is made by both sides to each other so that each side can be prepared on the day of the trial to answer to that evidence. It is impermissible, for instance, for the police to present evidence at the trial that the defendant's attorney has not had time to prepare a defense against.

    Both of these qualifications allow for the trial to proceed on as level a field as possible.

    Evidence collected by a juror violates both of these requirements, since neither side has had opportunity to vet the source and relevance of the evidence, nor had opportunity to prepare to answer to it.

    Further, jurors are, theoretically, expected to form no opinion on a case until all evidence has been presented (unlikely as that is in reality, it is, nonetheless, the attitude that they are supposed to be cultivating.) and collecting evidence, even if only to have further questions answered implies a violation of that criterion for a fair and impartial trial, as well as violating the evidentiary rules.

    In short, it's a really, REALLY dumb move by someone who clearly thinks that he's the smartest guy in the room (and we KNOW how well THAT usually turns out!)

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    This is not a jury of my peers - they are all common citizens...

    If you can identify the source of the title you are as geeky as I....

  54. Steven Jones

    @fraser

    "It is most certainly not the job of a juror to go away and do a little research, with the possible exception of if there is some sort of formal exam at the end of this piece of research. Call it a law degree if you will. ;)"

    That's a classic "argument from authority" (as is your IT support argument - surprise, surprise I also have worked in IT and for a long time - anecdotes about the damage caused by those with a little knowledge can equally be counteracted with the damage done by the completely naive computer user - or even being able to discuss problems with them).

    Anyway, I think I ought to point out that a law degree qualifies people in the law. It doesn't in itself qualify them in statistics, science, finance, forensics, psychology or a whole host of other technical subjects. In particular, becoming a barrister makes you an advocate. It trains and picks out those that can use tools of persuasion, like emotional arguments, the subtle undermining of credibility of witnesses, dealing in spurious certainties and the like. Successful barristers are something like legally trained actors - knowing how to deal with people in the context of the court's arcane laws. It's no coincidence that government and the top echelons of industry are stuffed to the gills with lawyer/advocates; people who know how to manipulate and persuade. Tony Blair, a man of somewhat limited intellectual capability, was a superb advocate and manipulator of people (if you doubt, that, read the hatchet job that Robert Harris did on him in the scarcely disguised portrait of Blair in his book Ghost).

    But back to the possibly even more pernicious subject of expert witnesses. They too often plea the "argument from authority" position. These are not theoretical concerns - one of those (the Sally Clarke and like cases) I've already mentioned. Another example is the disgraceful case of Shirley McKie, a policewoman wrongly accused of perjury. The case hinged totally on expert witnesses from the Scottish Criminal Record Office testifying that her thumbprint was found at a murder scene. The police had been keen on eliminating unidentified prints as it provided a potential line of defence for the accused. As is routine in these cases, the prints were all checked against serving officers, and this thumbprint was identified as belonging to Shirley McKie, a policewoman who had been in the area. However, on being challenged, she maintained that she had not entered the house. Not only was she sacked by the police force, she was prosecuted for perjury in 1999. The most pertinent point here, was that the "expert witnesses" from the Scottish Criminal Record Office flawed identification of the thumbprint was defended on the grounds that they were the experts, and mere laymen would not be able to appreciate their years of skills. In fact it was no such thing - the basis of finger print matching is fairly straightforward and, for a large part, is a matter of judgment and not science. The basic criteria are not defined statistically in a truly objective way - it's a game of probabilities, especially with partial prints. In this case it was clear to all that the finger print matching was highly uncertain once the basic principles of the process were established (and it was no small thing - three witnesses from the Scottish Criminal Record Office all testified the same). This case is to be subject to a public enquiry, such are the implications.

    Back to IT. We might also look at all the false convictions (and the suicides) following the highly flawed "Operation Ore" said to have identified thousands of users of child porn in the UK. Many people were convicted (and even more had lives destroyed) by accusation, and what is worse, cases that went through courts on faulty expert analysis. Again the line from the prosecutors was an "Argument from authority" one - that the expert's view was sacrosanct and a mere layman (which include the lawyers) couldn't be expected to understand the logic. Trust me - I'm an expert was the line.

    So I rest my case. Of course IT people make crap advocates, so I don't expect this to sway any jury. I don't believe that that most lawyers make great seekers of truth. It is just not an analytical subject in the sense that a scientist would recognise. Indeed most scientists are not favoured by lawyers as expert witness - they tend to be too measured and apply too many caveats. Lawyers prefer the type of scientist-expert witness that has a clear view, a theory, a line that they will argue. Eventually the some of the worst of these "scientific" zealouts get found out, but only after huge damage has been done to people and lives. Without educated people who can analyse what they are told, then we are lost.

    Out best defense is an educated (and self-educating) populace, but I will readily admit that in a world which will listen to the crack-pot views of Prince Charles, that the average jury might not contain many such people.

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Judge Judge

    still doesn't beat Major Major Major Major.

  56. Henry Wertz Gold badge

    Police motivations

    "...but I'm very tired of having the state force me to lose countless days of revenue just to listen to some perp lie to me (I'm not pro-government per se, but I fail to see the police's motivation for picking a guy at random and prosecuting him for nothing)."

    *Probably* the "perp" is just trying to BS their way out of a charge. But sure there's police motivations to do this, at least here in the US.

    Motivations for police to pick a random guy:

    1) Revenue generation. If crime stats are high, police get more money to fight crime. And police look successful for "catching the criminal." They also get direct revenue from fines. The police in Iowa City will wait until 2AM when bars let out, round people up as they walk out of the bars and take them in for public drunkenness... the Daily Iowan (student newspaper) sent people out to the bars absolutely sober and had them step out at 2. They were without exception charged with public drunkenness. "Most" of the people coming out at 2 are probably drunk as hell, so the police just don't even check. If they object that they haven't had a drop, they are additionally charged with resisting arrest. The police make sacks of money from all these people paying off these fines.

    2) Fraud. Some places have unconstitutional laws allowing police to seize cars and houses from people for drug offences, before they've gone to trial. Police know this, some departments are corrupt and have been using this law to steal people's property.

    3) "Wrong place at the wrong time". In high-crime areas, the police WILL just round people up and assume they are there to do get in a gang fight, buy a prostitute or buy drugs. You couldn't POSSIBLY be there to visit someone, or driving through, oh no. So they'll trump up some charges.

    4) Mistakes. Police are people too, they make mistakes! They could get a description for a criminal, see someone that matches the description pretty closely near buy and get the wrong guy, to name one.

  57. Anonymous Hero

    motivations

    To add to Henry Wertz' list.

    5) Grudge. They don't like you. That could be for any number of reasons.

    6) Prejudice. Driving while black is the classic example.

    7) Covering up. This kind of falls under mistakes too, but once they've made a mistake, sometimes it's easier to run with it than admit it was a mistake.

    But probably even more common than these is when they don't pick a "random" guy, but someone they're pretty sure is a "bad" guy. They just unfortunately don't have any proper evidence. How tempting it must be to make some up.

  58. RW
    Go

    Technicalities

    Whenever evidence is rejected "on a technicality" it's because the plods took some kind of shortcut. There's almost always an alternative method that would have rendered the same evidence admissible.

    And supposing you do start overlooking "technicalities"? Where do you draw the line? Is it a technicality when the plods break into your house without a warrant to search for evidence?

    It's just like Bush and his illicit wiretapping. There was a special court established specifically to hear requests for warrants to do so, but no, the cowboys couldn't be bothered with going through channels.

    I'm all in favor of rejecting evidence on technicalities, esp. when the learned judge tears the coppers new assholes for failing to do their job properly. Keeps them on their toes.

    Remember the old adage, better a hundred criminals go free than one innocent be punished.

  59. Red Bren
    Paris Hilton

    Selectively dumb

    Isn't the way that juries (in the UK) are selected part of the problem?

    What percentage of the population attempt to get out of jury duty and how are they distributed across social groups? I suspect that the jury pool is deprived of "smarter" members of society through self-deselction by people who think it is beneath them.

    When the jury for a trial is being selected from this limited pool, are the prosecution and defence teams more likely to reject the thinkers, in favour of jurors that can be swayed by emotional appeals?

    In the same way that we get the governments we deserve when failing to vote, do we get the juries we deserve by excluding ourselves from the pool? Perhaps both should be compulsory (with the option of abstaining)

  60. Keith T
    Stop

    People are doing jobs in courts that they lack the qualifications for.

    Trials are based on orality: "If someone in authority or from the upper classes says it, it must be true."

    It is a shame when an ordinary juror has to ask the relevant questions to determine guilt of innocence.

    Clearly, with all the unsafe convictions and over-turned verdicts we know about the current assignment of duties is not working.

    People are doing jobs in courts that they lack the qualifications for.

    1. Judges and lawyers don't have the psychological, scientific and engineering background to understand what questions to ask to determine the circumstances and to check for lying or exaggeration.

    2. Judges and lawyers don't have the background to understand what follow-up questions to ask.

    3. Judges and lawyers don't have the social backgrounds to be aware of the common knowledge that the public has, that you cannot trust police to tell the truth under oath.

    So jurors want to fill the gap.

    But the unqualified judges and lawyers get upset.

    Instead of being upset, judges and lawyers should expand their educational horizons. Learn what they need to know to do their jobs.

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    General knowledge

    There was a trial where prosecution and defence disagreed about whether it would be possible to slip a packet of cocaine under the driver's seat of a Sunbeam Alpine, and the mechanical process by which the seat could be raised in order to look for it. A simple, factual point that would have cast doubt on one or other of the sides' testimony. It was a two-day trial, but neither side brought in any further evidence to bolster or refute that point. Suppose one of the jurors had had hands-on experience? As it was, it seems that they didn't - they failed to reach a verdict.

    No, jurors shouldn't turn sleuth. But if, say, you are a combustion chemistry specialist, and the prosecution cite a value for, say, the flash point of diesel that is wildly inaccurate, and the defence don't challenge it, what should you do?

  62. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wannabe Sherlock Holmes

    It isn't the job of any jury member to think they are Sherlock Holmes and go off on a mission but it should be the job of the court to clearly explain what the job of the jury is. Is there anyone here who can say from experience that the courts actually do that? Do the courts police the conduct of jurors in their deliberations?

    A family friend with several years' experience of working in the CPS is convinced beyond any persuasion that there are many criminals gone free because of "slimy defence barristers and senile, incompetent judges" (their words, not mine). Is there a competence framework against which judges are assessed?

    I've yet to be asked to serve on a jury in the 18 years or so since becoming eligible.

  63. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Legal Profession

    Are all just a great big bunch of overpaid donekys-bums!

    Bundle em all up and put em on a leaky boat and shove them off.......

  64. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects
    Paris Hilton

    Sheep heads.

    I was listening to BBC's coverage of Parliament earlier.

    About half a dozen men representing the cream of British counsellors are addressing a committee for oversight of the Internet. (13th November 2008 Harmful Internet Content.)

    One clown (Paul Farrelly) had his laptop compromised by his 9 year old. He said that up until yesterday he had never removed a programme on the machine. Then he found it compromised with "adverts" and "icons".

    He presumed it was adware that was causing the problem.

    This is one of the bosses who will be passing laws about Internet access. Honest to god, I imagine Tory B Liar got us into the quagmire of the Iraq and Afghan wars under the same level of competence.

    He then went on to say that Google and another couldn't police the Internet but that My Space could.

    Keith Vaz then got up to say that his secretary knows what a virus is.

    So at least we are in safe hands...

  65. Steve B

    Lack of focus not just the young.

    Once cases were put forward by reasoned argument and pros and cons were used to help people make an informed decision, then along came Maggie and her Spin doctors.

    All of a sudden everything had to be condensed to one liners. It was no longer the done thing to put forward both sides of an argument and let decision makers make an informed decision, the one liners had to put forward just the one case so that it could be agreed.

    This has permeated everywhere and now we have the country and companies run by managers who are promoted yes men, with spin doctors actually providing the guidance.

    Unfortunately this was exacerbated by the opportunist NuLab to insidiate itself in every walk of life.

    The youth have no chance in this setup, OK they can get lost in long computer games, but when it comes down to the lengthy imbibing of knowledge there is nothing to teach, instruct or encourage them. After all, recent UK history shows that if one fails to make the grade, the grade will be lowered.

    As for Jury trials, we all know there is a five + minute ad break every 10 minutes.

  66. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    @AC general knowledge

    As the sunbeam alpine is a 2+2 sports car the front seats tilt forward but then it hassen't been made for an awfuly long time like nearly 40 years so no shame there in not knowing,but they could have asked someone(dipsticks) as for jury selection AFAIK in the UK you can only object to two or three members and thats yer lot also you get "reasonable" expenses usualy based on your pay details of wich they get from your employer or if self employed your accounts I presume as for a better system a lot of people have spent a lot of time looking for just that and not found anything to replace it with of course I take it they didn't ask you,and as for the jurer that went playing detective only one word describes him DIPSHIT.If the Judge wasn't going to chuck the case anyway he is lucky not to find himself on a charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice never mind contempt of court.

  67. Harry Percival

    what's in a name?

    Actually the evidence for names causing a predestination is not "shaky" at all. there is plenty of rock-solid evidence that people's names influence their life choices:

    * people with first names that begin with the same letter are more likely to get married

    * people are more likely to choose a career that begins with the first letter of their name - dennis the dentist etc

    * (in america) people are more likely to a move to a state that sounds like their name - george lives in georgia, etc.

    These are all very small effects - eg there are only 0.01% more georges in georgia than there should be - but it is statistically significant - because there's such a massively large population to do statistical analysis on.

    so ner. Stephen Pinker mentions this in lots of his books. it's noted on the NY times blog here http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/23/how-your-name-may-influence-your-behavior/?apage=5 and on edge.org in a recent fascinating interview on edge.org here http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge262.html#4 (strongly recommended)

  68. Mark

    re: Jurors also pass their verdict on the law

    "One day spent checking to see if the jurors can understand evidence draw inferences and change them and dismissing those who can't would help improve justice."

    Problem is, both sides' lawyers get to pick as well as the judge and neither lawyer wants someone who can think for themselves, since it removes the power the best solicitor has in flim flamming the jury to their win.

    And Judges HATE jurors who know about jury nullification. Quite commonly, a question is asked that demonstrate the ideal of jury nullification and if you answer in a certain way, you are refused jury duty by the judge because you demonstrate knowledge of it. Many judges have had jurors kicked out and done for contempt of court for telling other jurors about jury nullification.

    Judges were solicitors too. And just like them, they don't like the competition an informed jury gives them.

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