Throw more light on juries, says Falconer
The secrets of the jury room could be laid bare for the first time under proposals unveiled yesterday by the lord chancellor, Lord Falconer. He proposes changing the law to allow research into how jurors in England and Wales reach their decisions, without identifying individual cases. Contempt of court laws currently ban researchers from questioning jurors about what was said in the jury room. The rules are so strict that even appeal judges cannot investigate the jury’s deliberations, if allegations of jury misbehaviour are raised on appeal. Critics argue that the ban means there is a risk of miscarriages of justice which cannot be looked into and remedied. The consultation paper asks whether this should change, but says the government is “not minded” to lift the ban on appeal courts investigating jury deliberations. It argues that this would undermine the finality of verdicts, inhibit frank discussion in the jury room, and leave jurors open to threats and intimidation. Instead, it suggests better guidance for jurors on raising allegations of jury impropriety with the trial judge, so it can be dealt with during the trial. The paper seeks views on whether, if jury research is permitted, researchers should be allowed to sit in with jurors while they ponder their verdict. It proposes that the con tempt laws should be changed to allow research with the consent of the lord chancellor, on conditions set by him after consultation with the lord chief justice. In a separate measure, from April 6 it will become illegal to sack someone for doing jury service.