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That I think flows from the public awareness that 12 members of the community have worked together to reach a unanimous verdict. Of course, it is the great strength and virtue of the jury system that members of the community have indeed come together and reasoned together in order to reach their unanimous verdict. It is truly a magnificent system for reaching difficult decisions in criminal cases.

It has proven itself in the centuries past and continues to do so today.

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Yet, this system is fragile. In those circumstances, the verdict may no longer be based on a reasoned approach to the evidence. It follows that the instructions given to an apparently deadlocked jury must be delicately balanced and carefully crafted. If they are not, the jury system as a bulwark of democracy will all too easily be breached. The importance and significance of the instructions or exhortation to an apparently deadlocked jury cannot be overemphasized. The jurors at this stage are tired, probably frustrated and certainly disgruntled.

They have given so much of their time and laboured so hard with the difficult issues that they are entitled to a careful and balanced instruction.

A Matter For The Jury by Peter Murphy | Waterstones

Given this purpose, the essential feature of a jury obviously lies in the interposition between the accused and his accuser of the commonsense judgment of a group of laymen, and in the community participation and shared responsibility that results from that group's determination of guilt or innocence. Trial by jury is the lamp that shows that freedom lives.

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Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider modern browsers only. If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you! Why do we use juries? What are their advantages and disadvantages? How do we decide who should sit on a jury? Simply holding views about different racial groups, or having some knowledge of the matter due to publicity will not necessary exclude an individual from the jury.

In the most serious cases — mainly, murder — the Criminal Code says the trial must be with a jury unless both the prosecution and the defence agree to have a trial by judge alone. Sometimes, accused persons have firm views about whether they want a judge or a jury to hear their case, often the result of past experiences with the court system.

Information About Jury Service

An accused who has been in trouble in the past and feels she has not been treated fairly, when in front of a judge alone, will often insist on a jury trial, believing she will get a better hearing in front of 12 ordinary people. Sometimes, simply as a matter of principle, accused persons want representatives of their community to pronounce judgment opposed to a judge. Sometimes the opposite occurs, where an accused declines his right to a jury because he does not want local people to know the details of what he is alleged to have done.

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A defence lawyer who is advising an accused may have different considerations. Cases which are mainly about the law are probably better suited to the assessment of a judge.


In a jury trial, the judge explains to the jury what the applicable law is; the jury then has to apply that law to the evidence and determine the verdict. A criminal trial must always begin with 12 jurors, and the law allows for up to two to be excused as the trial proceeds. Cases where the main question is what precisely took place between the people involved are sometimes better suited for a jury, but not always.

Even for a judge, finding a coherent, logical way through a tangled web of evidence can be a challenge. Juries are always told they must not allow sympathy to play a role in their decision-making, but in the real world sympathy is almost always a factor taken into account in choosing whether to have a jury trial.

About the Trial Process

An accused who will likely be seen with sympathy and compassion by other persons may more likely want a jury. Sympathy and compassion can also weigh against an accused, in which case they will more likely not want a jury trial. If a particularly vulnerable person is the victim or an important prosecution witness, the accused might want a judge alone: a judge must dispassionately apply the law, and provide logical reasons which show she has done that, no matter how sad or sympathetic the plight of the victim might be.

Similarly, if the crime alleged is particularly violent and the evidence expected to be graphic, a judge might be a better choice, as he or she will be less likely swayed by the horror of what they are hearing and seeing than might be the case with a jury, who might let feelings of revulsion and anger sway their reasoning. In the most serious situations murder trials the Criminal Code requires the trial be in front of a jury unless both sides agree to have a judge sit alone.

Three Main Steps of a Jury Trial

The theory is that in the most serious cases, where someone has died and someone faces imprisonment for the rest of his or her life, community representatives, under the guidance of a judge who knows the law, should make this important decision. In murder trials, we can usually be satisfied that the final verdict has been reached after the careful consideration and close attention paid by 12 ordinary community members who have brought their common sense and everyday wisdom to bear upon the issues they have been told to consider. We view juries as a fundamental protector of our liberties and freedoms, — 12 ordinary, independent fellow citizens who can protect us from the whims and arbitrariness of decisions made by officials who are beholden to the sovereign, a local figure, or other arms of government. When it comes to deciding who from our communities should sit on a jury, the process is designed to ensure independence and impartiality.

The first step is to summon a large group of persons selected from the community at random, to attend a court sitting to choose a jury.

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They make an effort to obtain as wide a cross-selection of community members as possible. However, The Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled, in relation to accused persons of a minority background, that they are not entitled to a jury pool which represents their group, or even one which has a proportionate number of their community, but rather, a panel which randomly represents the makeup of society at large. Jury selection usually begins with dozens of people, and sometimes or , gathered together in a courtroom or other facility large enough to accommodate the group.

Sometimes an even larger pool of persons is necessary to ultimately select 12 jurors when the trial is going to be quite long or the charges have been widely publicized.