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Jury unanimity

Comment 2nd July 2010

Abolish majority jury verdicts, introduced in 1967, and currently regulated by s.17 of the Juries Act, 1974. 

Why does this matter?

There is a practical and principled case against majority jury verdicts. They are incompatible with proof beyond all reasonable doubt, unless the minority is always wrong, which is clearly not the case. They create two-tier verdicts, and leave doubt in the public mind.  

Majority verdicts correlate worryingly with miscarriages of justice, such as the cases of Sally Clark, and Barry George. They also make it easier to acquit the guilty.  

Preventing wrongful verdicts would serve both justice and the taxpayer, since appeals and compensation for wrongful convictions can cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds. Not to mention the effect it has on the wrongfully convicted person. 

When all verdicts had to be unanimous, only 4% of juries hung. Canada, and most of the USA, retain unanimity. Majority verdicts were introduced by Home Secretary Roy Jenkins on grounds of jury tampering, although they have never been confined to cases where this is alleged, which suggests that this rationale was a pretext. On practical grounds alone, justice should aim to get it right first time around, not pick up the pieces after the damage has been done. Every wrongful conviction damages faith in the justice system, as do wrongful acquittals. Restoring jury unanimity would make all verdicts equal, and improve the standards of justice for all. 

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