Thursday, January 22, 2004

Tilting the scales

The government is planning to prevent inefficient and expensive hung juries by doing away with the requirement for unanimous verdits, and allowing juries to reach a verdict by 11-1 vote.

This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of a jury. Juries are not supposed to be efficent; the process is inherantly about reflection and doubt. This takes time and costs money, and sometimes results in deadlock, because in many cases it is possible for reasonable people to reach different conclusions (in mathspeak, the problem is sometimes underdetermined). Labelling dissenting jurors "rogue" and ignoring their input means that you prevent stroppy or unreasonable jurors from derailing the process, but you also prevent reasonable jurors from expressing doubts about the majority's view (the "Twelve Angry Men" scenario). The result will be more innocent people in jail, something I am unwilling to accept.

Goff's comment that "unanimity, in my view, is too high a threshold" makes it clear that this is really about making it easier for the crown to secure a conviction. And that is something we should all be deeply suspicious of.