Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The importance of trial by jury

Abolishing trials by jury is a mistake. The purported rationale for such abolition is the length and delays that accompany such trials. However, this is not the jury's fault.

Systemic delays are the fault of the justice system itself. Undue complexity is also the fault of the system and, with all due respect, with judges who permit the process to become unnecessarily complicated. As the old saying goes, if you can't dazzle them with brilliance.... In any event, to lay the blame, and need for reform, at the feet of juries (and the accused) is misplaced.

Furthermore, to suggest that juries are incapable of understanding “complex” evi­dence is academic at best and insulting at worst. It also assumes that judges are better placed to understand so-called “complex” evidence. It is the State's role to ensure that the evidence is presented in a compelling manner. If it is presented in an untidy package, accompanied by a series of “inter alias” and “res ipsas”, then it is of use to no one, lay or judicial.

Judicial bias is also a concern. The idea that judges aren't autonomous machines of pure logic and are indeed influenced by upbringing, class, race, economic status and so forth may seem shocking. But, yes, judges are human. My opposition to abolishing trial by jury does not rest on any particular concerns about judicial bias. Judges are biased. We need to accept that. It does not make the justice system as a whole any worse. The “lived” experience of the judiciary is integral to our local jurisprudence. “Bias” can be good or bad. When it comes to the judiciary, I would prefer to view their biases as inherently good. Indeed, a little naivety is sometimes essential to protect judicial independence.

In the end, trial by jury was developed as a safeguard against State-centric intrusions upon our liberty. To completely eliminate the “ordinary” person from judicial processes that impact our liberty gives the State far too much control, especially in a society where such control has been exercised arbitrarily, heavy-handedly and sometimes with political motive.