In the wake of the Vicky Pryce fiasco there are, I think, going to be those who will question the legitimacy of juries and the jury system. After all, we are one of the few countries on the planet to trust the business of upholding the law to "twelve good men and true". France, for example, long ago gave up on juries in favour of judges making the decision about innocence or guilt. Some people have already suggested that we should go down the same route.
I'm not a big fan of this idea.
I will admit that the questions posed by the jury in the Pryce case - for example, "are we allowed to speculate on what the accused might have been thinking?" and "are we allowed to base our decision on evidence not presented in court?" - weren't the best questions ever. I mean, I'm only a journalism student with a very small understanding of British law and even I know those aren't brilliant questions. But the point still remains that if ever I find myself accused of a crime I would rather have twelve, not incredibly bright, but everyday sort of people, deciding my fate than a judge with thirty years of legal experience behind him.
This is not to say that I believe that judges have no place in the English legal system, because they obviously do. We need someone with legal expertise and a knowledge of precedent to ensure that a trial is conducted properly and to decide what the sentence is going to be when a person is convicted. But when someone is charged with trying to decide whether I am guilty or not, I want someone with the human touch, not someone coming at it from a purely legal perspective.
This is what I call the Twelve Angry Men principle. In that film if it had been left up to the judge I suspect that based on the purely circumstantial evidence presented, then the accused would have been found guilty and executed. But because there was a jury involved they were able to review the evidence from an outside perspective, bringing in their own experiences, knowledge and understanding of social situations and were able to prove the boy innocent. If ever I was accused of a crime, either falsely or legitimately, that is the way that I would want my fate decided, by twelve people with no preconceptions, no bias. Of course I know that's not how it is (everyone is biased), but a guy can pretend.
I can understand why people will be suggesting that we need to get rid of juries if the jury in the Pryce case are representative of all juries. But even if they are, I still maintain that it is the best system that we have come up with for deciding whether someone is guilty of a crime. It's certainly better than leaving it up to one man and trusting him to make the right decision. In the end, I would feel much more comfortable in the role of jury, rather than the position of executioner.