How Do Juries Reach Decisions?
Rolf Harris, the 84-year-old children’s entertainer has been on trial at Southwark Crown Court since the beginning of May. Once the Jurors retire to consider their verdicts the British and this time, Australian public will wait with anticipation to find out what their decisions will be.
However, before the Jury retires it will fall to the Honourable Mr. Justice Sweeney, a highly experienced member of the judiciary and ex-barrister, to sum the case up to them and help them find their route to verdict. He is respect by many solicitors as he set out for the jury a fair summary, reminding them of the main evidence in the case and providing directions on the law and how they must approach their deliberations so they can return verdicts.
At the beginning of the trial as with all criminal trials, each Juror swore an oath. They have each promised to faithfully try the defendant and to give a true verdict according to the evidence. They will be reminded by the Judge that what matters in this case is the evidence they have seen and heard before them. They are not to have regard to anything else.
Verdicts are wholly the responsibility of the Jury. They will be advised not to discuss the case with anyone, including those close to them. They are advised to only discuss the evidence when all Jury members are present in the Jury room. Even when the trial is over the Jurors will be advised they are not to discuss the case, even with their family members.
Given the high profile nature of the case, no doubt the Jury will be advised that with regards to the media, only they hear all of the evidence and they must not allow reporting or comment to influence their approach.
If they feel the Judge is commenting on the evidence as he reminds them of it, they should only adopt any view they think he might have about the evidence if independently they have reached the same opinion. The reliability, credibility and weight of the evidence are all matters for the Jury. The verdicts are theirs and theirs alone to give.
The Jury will be asked initially to reach verdicts, which are unanimous. If there comes a point when majority verdicts can be considered the Judge will bring them back into court and give them such a direction.
Simply put they will consider the evidence and make judgments they think appropriate. They will be guided by the Judge and told that the burden of proving guilt lies with the prosecution. The defendant doesn’t have to prove his innocence. Only if the Jury is sure the defendant is guilty should they convict him of an allegation. If there is doubt they must acquit.
Jury service is an essential civic duty. It carries huge responsibility. Following all the recent publicity surrounding the Rolf Harris trial, ultimately all that will matter now is what these 12 unknown people think and we will never know precisely how they came to their conclusions. All notes jurors make are destroyed once the trial is over. The law seeks to preserve the sanctity of the Jury room. The only indication we ever have as to what they think is when the foreperson reads out – guilty or not guilty.