English juries are "fair, effective and efficient" according to a report commissioned by the Ministry of Justice.
The report, Are juries fair?, written by Professor Cheryl Thomas of the Centre for Empirical Legal Studies at University College London, marks the end of a two-year survey of over 1,000 Crown Court jurors and another study of 68,000+ jury verdicts.
So why are juries fair? Well, you'll have to read the report in full to learn the answer to that one. Suffice to say, the report makes the following conclusions:
- all-white juries do not discriminate against defendants from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds;
- juries almost always reach a verdict and convict two-thirds of the time;
- there are no courts where juries acquit more often than convict;
- jurors want more information about how to do their job;
- written instructions improve jurors' legal understanding of cases;
- some jurors use the internet to look for information about their case;
- some jurors find media reports of their case difficult to ignore.
Professor Thomas says the report "should lay to rest any lingering concerns that racially-balanced juries are needed to ensure fairness in trials with BME defendants or racial evidence." But she cautions:
"It is also clear from the research that jurors want and need better information to perform this crucial role.
"The study recommends that all sworn jurors be issued with written guidelines explaining what improper conduct is, including use of the internet, and how and when to report it.
"The study also recommends that judges consider issuing jurors with written instructions on the law to be applied in each case.
"Both changes will help maintain the integrity of the jury system."