What does a jury do in the trial?

Jury Instructions

At the start of the trial the Judge will give the jury a set of instructions. This is taken from the Crown Court Benchbook which gives guidance to all judges to use (I have edited it slightly).

“After the jury has been sworn and the defendant has been put in charge the judge will want to give directions to the jury on a number of matters including those set out below. It is for the judge to decide the order and style in which this is done. Such remarks should be tailored to the particular case which the jury is to try. The time estimate of the trial and normal sitting hours should be explained …

The jury should be reminded that they have taken an oath or affirmation to try the case upon the evidence, which is what they will all hear together in court, and told that it is the essence of the jury system that their verdicts will be based upon their common experience of the evidence and the discussions that they will have about that evidence in their deliberations at the conclusion of the case.

For this reason, the following points cannot be stressed too strongly and should be accompanied with a warning that ignoring them may well (as they have already been informed in their jury instructions) amount to a contempt of court which is an offence punishable with imprisonment:

  • Until the case has been completed, jurors must not discuss any aspect of it with anyone at all outside their own number or allow anyone to talk to them about it, whether directly, by telephone, through internet facilities such as Facebook or Twitter or in any other way. And, even after they have returned
  • their verdicts, whilst they may then talk about the case with others, they must be careful only to speak about what happened in the court room; they must never in any circumstances disclose anything of their discussions or deliberations.
  • They may discuss aspects of the case among themselves but should only do so when they are all together, not in ones or twos, and they must be sure that no one else is present. They should not reach any concluded views about the case until they have heard all the evidence, the advocates’ submissions and the summing up.
  • They must not carry out any enquiries or research into any aspect of the case themselves, for example by visiting places mentioned or looking up any information on the internet. They should only work on the case when they are at court.
  • They must take no account of any media reports about the case”

This an important part of the justice system and there have been cases where jurors have been sent to prison for breaching this and conducting research on the internet.

What does the jury do during the trial?

The jury will be told at the start that they are the judges of fact – ie they decide what happened in relation to the case, but the Judge is the judge of law – she decides on any legal issues that arise (for example, whether hearsay evidence should be admitted). For this reason, in all but the rarest of cases, there will be periods where legal questions arise and the jury are asked to wait outside (often in reality going down to their room for a coffee) whilst the legal questions are resolved.

Juries are given notepads and pencils to take notes if they want. There is no obligation on a juror to take notes however. To assist, the Judge will always ‘sum up’ at the end of the case. This includes a summary of all the important parts of the evidence.

Jurors can ask questions during the trial of witnesses by writing a note and passing it to the Judge.

They will not be any interaction from the Judge or lawyers with the jury during the trial. The jury won’t be asked at any time what they think of the case so far or anything like that.

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5 thoughts on “What does a jury do in the trial?

  1. Bobster42

    Interesting stuff thanks.

    “Jurors can ask questions during the trial of witnesses by writing a note and passing it to the Judge.”

    Is this a regular occurrence?

    Reply
    1. Dan Bunting Post author

      In my experience it varies greatly from jury to jury. They are not told at the start that they can ask questions, so many people do not know that they can. I think it would be helpful if they were as once a witness has been released it is often too late to ask them the question as they will have left the building.

      At a very rough guess maybe one in ten juries ask questions through the trial.

      Reply
  2. Pingback: The Vicky Pryce case and trial by jury: some resources | applying for law

  3. Pingback: The Vicky Pryce case and trial by jury: some resources | Public law for everyone

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